When someone hurts you or does something mean, they say “I’m sorry”. Usually, the victim’s reply is “That’s okay”. Unless it’s someone in my house.
Because it’s not okay.
I mean, it happened and a lot of the time, I can give benefit of the doubt that what happened wasn’t intended to be hurtful; but saying you’re sorry doesn’t make it okay. It doesn’t erase the pain and it doesn’t put back that chip of trust you just whittled out of someone. Just because you didn’t mean it doesn’t make it okay.
My family will say “I forgive you”. Because we CAN forgive you. But to say that it’s okay is effectively saying that “what you did wasn’t something you needed to apologize for”. There are definitely those times–times when someone really DOESN’T need to be apologizing. Maybe they were reaching for something, fell, and happened to knock something off into your lap. It was an accident and no harm was really done. Maybe that IS okay. But let’s say some drunk driver hits and kills your dog. That’s NOT okay. But you can forgive them.
I feel like there’s a different message sent with each of these things; and I feel like when a child apologizes for something and is met with “it’s okay”–they are being told that their apology was either unnecessary or meaningless. Or really, that what they did was allowable. That’s how we use the words “it’s okay” everywhere else in our lives. Often, parents offer permission to do things with the words “it’s okay”. I’m not looking to give permission for the next time this person is considering doing what they are apologizing for. And really, how many people are using those words and either DON’T mean it, or even worse–are saying something that they have been culturally programmed to utter at the appropriate time but really holds no meaning for them. Like “hello” or “nice to meet you”. How deeply does anyone think about these things? They are programmed reactions to a specific type of situation. Much like “I’m sorry”.
We’re not really big on “I’m sorry” in my household as it is. In fact, saying “I’m sorry” really doesn’t mean anything until you follow through and DON’T. DO. IT. AGAIN. My 10-year-old has already learned that the words mean nothing but are a cultural contract where you are promising to not repeat your act of harm. Both kids know that the proof is in the pudding and you need to 1) make reparations; and 2) commit to making sure it doesn’t happen again. In fact, when faced with a child’s apology, my 5-year-old will often say “Just don’t do it again, please” (she’s so stinkin polite) (and cute) (and really sparkly).
The same is true in my marriage, where after 15 years, “I’m sorry” is rarely uttered. Not because we don’t do things that we’re sorry for; but because “I’m sorry” is rarely a phrase that’s going to make a difference. There are plenty of other things that you can say to show what you REALLY mean in these situations. Things like “I’m really going to work on cooling off before opening my mouth so that I’m not so hurtful” or “I need some help figuring out how to manage my priorities so that this stuff doesn’t fall through the cracks”. These are commitments. And they are far more specific and meaningful than “I’m sorry”.
Perhaps it really IS just semantics, but words have a way of brainwashing us. In this day and age we seem to be growing children that lack self-advocacy skills; and adults that don’t always set meaningful goals to change things that aren’t going well. This might be very small, but I’m thinking that all of those little things add up…. right?