One of my favorite quote on parenting comes from John Gottman Ph.D., who founded the Gottman Institute in Seattle, an institute that has been dedicated to understanding marriages and families for the last 30 years.
“The most three most powerful words that a parent can say to a child are ‘I am sorry’…”
You may wonder how he came to utter these words and you would have to read his books and listen to his talks. His research has been truly amazing which, for me, establishes him as a humble authority in the field of psychology. And his quote reveals his own experience as well as a human being… So my take on his quote is that when a parent recognizes her mistake and speaks to it verbally to her child, the effect is profound and amazing. It allows the child to know that human beings make mistakes. It allows the child to observe and experience a sense of quiet dignity in her parent. If there is anything that cuts down toxic shame, it is these three most powerful words!
Again, you may wonder why? Let me give you my interpretation: because it shows that as a parent, you give yourself permission to be imperfect! And as a parent, you model vulnerability and most importantly, that gem of a pure heart, humility. If you want to pass on accountability and the ability to connect with others to your children, model your own accountability with empathy. Obviously, having the ability to know one’s mistakes does imply a true sense of self-reflection and courage. It does not imply a mindless and quick “I am sorry”, a sentence which uttered in that manner only placates the wound in the child for a quick, expedient fix that serves only the parent.
As Brene Brown has shown in her research, it takes courage to show vulnerability and humility. Here is another word, Courage, a word that has in its etymology, the word heart (“Coeur” in French which means heart in English). And it takes courage as a human being to recognize our fallibility, our imperfection. So take heart, face your own imperfection, face your own mistakes with your children and watch the magical effect of those three words on their sense of self!