Toward evening they heard the LORD God walking about in the garden, so they hid themselves among the trees. The LORD God called to Adam, "Where are you?"
He replied, "I heard you, so I hid. I was afraid because I was naked."
"Who told you that you were naked?" the LORD God asked. "Have you eaten the fruit I commanded you not to eat?"
"Yes," Adam admitted, "but it was the woman you gave me who brought me the fruit, and I ate it." (Genesis 3:8-12)
"If I don't scream, how can I get my kids to do anything?" That's the question on the minds of many at the beginning of my seminars. At the end, hopefully, the questions run something like this: "How can I start over with my kids, now that I know I've blown it time and time again? Is it okay to apologize and start anew?"
Obviously, I like the latter questions better. And obviously, I like to answer those questions with a resounding, "Yes!" Yes, we can reverse bad patterns of interaction with our kids. Yes, we can always start anew with a ScreamFree approach to our parenting. And yes, we can (and should) apologize to our kids as a starting point.
But not everyone is comfortable apologizing to their kids. Or to anyone else, for that matter. In truth, few of us are.
Take Alec Baldwin, for example. I'm sure by now everyone has heard about and even listened to his vitriolic voicemail spew to his eleven-year-old daughter. Calling her names and threatening her with wrath, Mr. Baldwin "lost it" in a way that should make all of us glad we're not celebrities. Can you imagine your worst blowup with your kids — let's hope that was his worst — being broadcast all over the world? Can you imagine being that mortified little girl, having to relive his outburst, and everyone's reaction to it, again and again?
If there were ever time for an apology from a parent to a child, this would be it. And apologize he did ... sort of. Mr. Baldwin issued a public apology for his actions that was absolutely necessary from a PR perspective.
And given the nature and content of his attempted apology, the PR perspective was foremost on his mind. Mr. Baldwin used this public humiliation to shed light on his ongoing custody battle with his ex-wife Kim Basinger. What came out was a classic example of the "I'm sorry, but ..." apology.
Ah, the "I'm sorry, but ..." apology. Or, as I like to call it, the "I'm sorry, Butt!" apology. I call it that, because the end purpose of such a statement is to effectively promote yourself as the good guy and to blame someone else as the real responsible party. When you do this, you essentially deflect any guilt from yourself and call the person you originally offended, or someone else nearby in your circle of relationships, a "Butt!"
For Mr. Baldwin, this came out as, "I'm of course sorry for yelling like that at my child. BUT, I've been in this horrible situation of parental alienation for so many years that I sometimes lose it in response." The real guilty party, according to his apology, is his ex-wife and the custodial system that she uses to keep him away from his daughter. What he's really intending to say is, "I'm sorry, but my wife is the real Butt here!"
The movie "Regarding Henry" provides another classic example of the "I'm sorry, Butt" response. Just before getting shot and starting his life on a drastically different, and healthier, path, Harrison Ford's arrogant character goes in to his daughter's bedroom to apologize for screaming and getting reactive at her earlier in the day.
He states, "Daddy was angry. I admit it. I was angry. BUT you know how Daddy feels about his things, and you know the rules about touching those things." In effect he's telling his daughter, "I'm sorry for yelling at you, little girl, but you were a butt for touching my stuff in the first place, so you're really the guilty party!"
Dads are not the only perpetrators of this farcical attempt at making things right. Some mothers are masters at the apology that somehow makes the recipient feel guilty. I've heard countless tales of adult women finally confronting their mothers about the pain they still feel from their childhood. No matter how lovingly the confrontation gets delivered, so often the response is a form of, "Well, I'm sorry, but I did the best I could. And raising you wasn't easy, particularly with your father, blah, blah, blah."
The truth is that we've all been guilty of this type of playground reasoning. Going back to our youngest days and continuing into our adult years, we can all point to times when we too have issued the popular argument.
- As siblings, defending ourselves to our parents
- As spouses, turning the tables on our husband or wife
- As parents, trying to locate the real focus on our kids
The only way out of this mess, the only way to use apology moments as the building blocks to great relationships, is for each of us to accept one undeniable truth: No one can make us do anything.
No one can make us do something reactive; no one can make us do something we later regret. Our kids cannot push us over some emotional edge, and our situation can never be used to defend our actions. Never.
This is true for Alec Baldwin. This is also true for you and me. My kids cannot "make me pull this car over" or "make me come up there" and my situation, despite however desperate, cannot make me lose control. It doesn't matter if my blowup is found to be understandable by some, or defendable by others. What's at stake is the only thing I really do have control over — my own integrity.
I know this is a tough truth to swallow, because it means letting go of all the excuses we've used throughout our lives and letting go of all the "I'm sorry, Butts" we've offered as efforts to promote ourselves and project all the blame. However, if we want to truly revolutionize our relationships, then we have to accept and live according to those truths that truly set us, and our kids, free.
I'm sorry, but that's just the way it is.