The idea that parents should never apologize to their children is so completely idiotic that I can hardly drum up the effort to write anything about why it is so important to do so. But usually, those of us who do apologize to our children tend to do it after yelling at them or grabbing them or something along those lines. Today, I have a good example of something more subtle that required an apology from me.
Sam and I were getting ready to go to school. She likes to brush her own hair, but she is not very good at it yet, and I haven't done a good job at defining for her (or myself) whose responsibility it really is. So most days, I try to talk her into letting me brush the parts that are tangled, and if she really resists, I don't push it. That's lazy parenting right there, but it's been okay because I'm not too uptight about her hair looking messy and she's not so resistant that she never lets me brush it. But still, it causes unnecessary friction, and it caused this morning's situation.
So we were in the bathroom getting ready and she told me emphatically that her hair was not very tangled, and that she wanted to brush it all herself, with no help from me. I checked and she was right - it was not very tangled - so I told her that she could do it herself today. She did her usual great job on the front, but the back was still a mess. Then she asked if she could put some gel in her hair. We don't do that every morning, but I always let her if she wants to. I told her that, sure, she could put gel in her hair, but only if she let me brush the back first.
She got very angry. She gave me a dirty look and locked herself in the bathroom. (She does this because she needs to be alone to calm down - amazing maturity, I have to say.) After a few minutes, she came out, but she was still mad, and she went downstairs. When I came down, she yelled at me that she wanted to be alone. I could tell that she was very upset, and I also respected the fact that she wasn't throwing a fit, but just expressing her anger and working on letting it pass. While I waited for her to calm down, I thought about what I had said, and I realized that I had tried to manipulate her. It was unfair of me to tell her she could do something herself, but then try to get her to let me help with a bribe/threat. And I've done this many times with things other than her hair. It's something that might be appropriate for a toddler, but it's not appropriate for someone mature enough to know that she needs to be alone to calm down.
So I left her alone for a few more minutes and she eventually came to me and started talking about other things. But I sat down at her level and asked if I could talk to her. I told her that I was sorry for what I said about her hair. I told her that it was unfair of me to tell her she could brush it herself, but then not let her use the gel unless I got to brush it. I told her that I should have stuck to my word and that I was wrong. I didn't tell her that I had tried to manipulate her because I thought that she wouldn't understand that word, but I wish that I had because that is how she will learn the meaning of those big words.
And even though I apologize to her regularly, she looked a bit surprised, and definitely grateful. Her face relaxed, and she said, "Yeah," and gave me a hug.
It was a nice thing. I'm going to have to address the hair-responsibility issue with her. Maybe we'll talk about it this afternoon and see if we can work out a system that makes us both happy. But, once again, I also have to update my view of my daughter. She is older and wiser than I treat her. I'm afraid this will always be the case. Keeping up is the hardest thing of all.