May 27, 2014

A Little "I'm Sorry" Goes a Long Way

Okey dokey my friends...I can see the handwriting on the wall already about what the response will be to this post. Some of you will probably say, “Thank you soooo much for this,'s better than sliced tomatoes in the summertime." And others of you will probably say, “HOW DARE YOU!!!”And some of you may say words I could not repeat without losing my ministerial license.

That’s okay. Let the chips fall where they may. I love chips. I’m sitting here eating some right now. You can’t have enough chips.

Many parents (whether natural or adoptive) wonder why there are such strained relationships with their adult children. And here’s what I want to say about that...

Photo credit:
 A little "I’m sorry" goes a long way.

We have the capacity to learn from every person and every situation. 
There’s no failure – only learning – IF WE CHOOSE TO LEARN.

I have learned from examples good and bad.

When I became a Mom I decided I was going to be extremely generous with two words: "I'm sorry."

I try to make a point to give an "I'm sorry" quickly when I realized I have just treated my children unfairly, raised my voice when it was uncalled for, said something hurtful, or done anything that could be detrimental to them.   

When it comes to giving an apology to my kids, it’s never been something I have a lot of angst over. 

Think about it: when has a true apology really harmed anyone? 
Usually it only helps.

I would rather err on the side of saying I'm sorry to my kids when it's needed,  than to miss out on apologizing when I need to. 

And when I give an apology, I’m committed to doing so without qualifiers. So for instance I don’t say, “I’m sorry I just screamed at you, but I’m really tired.” That’s not an apology that’s an excuse!

An actual apology goes like this: “I’m sorry I screamed at you. That was totally uncalled for. Please forgive me.”

When my kids were little and I shared this commitment with some people about being generous with saying I'm sorry,  some people advised me that I'd lose the kids' respect if I apologized a lot. They might begin to think I was weak, or not the one in charge. Well guess what? They are 24, 23 and 17 now and I’ve got a bit more time, wisdom and experience under my belt. Here’s what I want you to know about how things have turned out in our "apology generous" household:

Our kids LOVE to be with me, and with their Dad.

The kids and me -Mother's Day Lunch, 2014
Our two young adults don’t HAVE to go on vacation with us, but they ask if they can, every year.  We go on cruises or road trips and have an amazing time together.

My teenage daughter doesn’t HAVE to go on business/ministry trips with me. She asks to.

They don’t HAVE to ask, “What are you doing tonight, Mom? Let’s watch a movie together..." but they DO, all the time!

Jordan (23) & me on Mother's Day
My oldest two don’t have to do all the holidays with us. They WANT to. 

Yesterday was Memorial Day. They could have gone anywhere with friends, but what did they want to do? Spend it with me and their Dad! Jordan's friend, Sammy McDaniel, a pastor's son from Ft. Myers, came and spent the whole weekend with us. We started the day with my almost-famous sweet rolls, lay on the couches in the family room and watched The Monuments Men.  Savanna asked me to take her to Bealls Outlet and we went there for a while, then came back and grilled out. We had dinner together and talked for a long time before heading back to lay on the couches again to watch The Desolation of Smaug, and enjoy warm brownies out of the oven. Yeah, basically a perfect day.  Perfect for us, anyway.

Savanna wanted to take a selfie of us at church last week

My kids don’t HAVE to stay up late, talking with me until two in the morning. They WANT to.

So, this generous "I'm sorry" policy has worked preeeeeetty well for us.

What I Notice

Here’s what I see in adoption world.  

Adoptees weren’t the grown ups in the adoption scenario. We weren't the ones who made the decisions back then. And though we never made ANY of these decisions, so many adoptees are the ones who are expected to live apologetically and walk on eggshells.  And what many of us get from our parents (natural or adoptive) is not an apology, it's an excuse. A qualifier.

Maybe the excuse is REAL. But you know what? An excuse doesn't heal a relationship or a situation or help things move forward in any way.
Instead of, “I’m sorry," some of us hear…

I'm sorry, BUT...

YOU need to understand, I was under pressure...

YOU need to understand how things were back then...

YOU need to understand I didn't have a choice...

YOU need to understand…the agency never told us…never prepared us for what you would need...

YOU need to understand, we were told you were a blank slate who would adjust...

YOU need to understand that although you never got what you needed, neither did I…

Is it any wonder why some adoptees back away?

It seems that just a simple, "I'm sorry" are the hardest two words for some. Well, that and a natural father's first and last name.

My Dad and Me

In the past year my (adoptive) Dad and I have grown closer than ever before. We talk a lot more than we ever have.

You know what started that? He read my story here on the blog and at the conclusion of it, he said two words: “I’m sorry.”

Not I’m sorry, BUT.
Not I’m sorry, HOWEVER.
Just, “I’m sorry.”

No qualifiers.
No excuses.

Just an honest “I’m sorry," straight from his heart to mine.

It's amazing how my Dad and I can communicate so openly, now. So much healing has occurred. And the best is yet to come!

Where is the personal responsibility?

This is  main ingredient that is missing from so many relationships.

As soon as anyone starts talking like I am right now, someone pipes up with, “Do you have to be so judgmental?”

Deep breath. I’m about to lose some of you here, I know it. But here goes.

Anytime some people are called out on their behavior, they pull the judgment card. Truth be told, we all have to answer for our choices. We can try to avoid it but at some point we WILL be called to account, if not by people in this life, by God Himself. We can’t just make bad choices and then keep crying, “Why are people so judgmental?!” when we don’t like what we hear.

Am I called to be the judge of others? No. God is the judge. At the same time, I am called to judge what may be unhealthy or unwise for my own life. God asks us to forgive but He does not ask us to be a doormat. Sometimes it’s flat out unwise to trust someone who can’t seem to take any responsibility or give an apology. 

There’s a difference between forgiveness and trust. You can forgive someone but trusting them or having a different level of intimacy in your relationship is a different story.  I believe it's important to walk in forgiveness toward everyone.  Developing a close relationship with the person after the forgiveness is a separate issue. God expects us to forgive everyone but He does not necessarily expect us to be in close relationship, even if the person in question is a parent.

A close relationship is earned by developing trust over a period of time -- it is not automatic.

Some say, “Well, doesn’t the Bible say to honor your parents?” Yes, and what does honor mean? Respect certainly, and walking in forgiveness, but again – it doesn’t mean an automatic closeness. That kind of relationship is earned -- not demanded.
Maybe You've Already Tried It

If you're reading this and you're generous with genuine "I'm sorry's," to no avail...can I just say I am so sorry you are going through that?

If your son or daughter does not respond whatsoever and you have given an honest apology, my heart goes out to you. I know it's rough when you've taken this route in a relationship and it hasn't resulted in any progress.

I've shared it here many times before, but it bears repeating. One of my favorite scriptures is Romans 12:18: "If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone."

This means you do what you can do -- as far as it depends on you. 
As far as it depends on you -- apologize. 

Sometimes it will bring things closer together, other times not. But at least you tried.

If you haven't tried, why not?

If you fail to give any apologies without qualification, it’s not rocket science as to why things are tense in your relationship.

No relationship can survive without an apology at some point, because we are all human beings -- and we will all make a mistake at some point and have to ask forgiveness.

Saying two words has the potential to change your entire world. But you’ll never know unless you give them, and without an excuse attached.  

That will require dropping your pride, dealing with your pain, as well as humbling yourself.

Ducking now.