The Mommy Vortex: Actually, I’m NOT Sorry
During a recent visit to my child’s pediatrician, the doctor walked into our exam room, flustered, and proceeded to tell me what a very busy day she was having. My first reaction was to apologize to her for adding to her already busy day. Yes, I actually apologized for bringing my sick child to the doctor. At the time, I didn’t think anything of it. In my mind, I was simply being nice. But was such an apology really necessary to demonstrate my compassion for her busy day? Where was the fault that would require an apology?
Later that night, my son needed help opening a jar of apple sauce. “Mom?” he asked tentatively, “I’m sorry, but I need help opening this.” I stopped short. Why was he apologizing for asking for help? Then I quickly thought back to the (countless) number of apologies I had uttered in one day to others, just, you know, to be nice. The doctor. The pharmacist. The cashier. The woman who stopped to hold the door open for us. And that was just in a two-hour window.
And now my child was apologizing in order to get my help. Not. Good.
Why did I constantly feel the need to apologize to win favor from others? Why did I need to be so nice all the time? Not that I’d advocate being unkind to anyone. But apologizing for not having done anything is truly disempowering. It is the polar opposite of entitlement.
After the apple-sauce incident, as I looked back and analyzed my behavior I couldn’t deny that by constantly apologizing for nothing, I was continually putting myself in a submissive position around others. And, I had to admit to myself, I was doing it because at some very basic level, I wanted them to like me. I needed them to think I was nice.
To be honest, I’ve always felt the need to connect with pure strangers. I never saw anything wrong with small talk at the bus stop or exchanging pleasantries with the cashier. But apologizing for nothing all the time is just not necessary. It does not equate to being kind or connect us in any meaningful way. It simply says that I don’t think I’m worth another’s time for their help or services.
Normally, it would take me months to unpack that sort of revelation. But my two children are now modeling my behavior.
They should not have to apologize for going to the doctor, asking for assistance at a store, or even for taking some time to contemplate a food order. Nor should I. Apologizing is like saying our time doesn’t matter as much as yours; or, if I’m being truthful, it communicates that I don’t matter, or at least that I don’t matter as much as you.
That sort of thinking is a distinct blow to anyone’s self esteem, especially young children who are still growing into themselves. It is my job as a parent to guide my children on this long, complex, distinctly human journey. And I can’t have them apologizing to others for no reason at all. They are worth more than that, and frankly, so am I.
It is a struggle, but every day I try to catch myself before I utter an “I’m sorry” for the most benign situations. I can do better, yet I’m seeing a change in my children, albeit slowly. It will be a long journey before I’m fully cured of the need to constantly apologize . . . but recognizing that I matter—and communicating to my kids through my behavior that they matter—is a step in the right direction.
Rosemarie Coppola-Baldwin is a practicing attorney and a dedicated mother of a two children. A Georgetown University graduate, Rosemarie has practiced law at a major New York City law firm and for the City of New York. Rosemarie has been a guest lecturer on women’s civil rights and related legal issues at St. John’s University (New York), and offers pro bono legal services to a variety of entities.