Friday, March 12, 2010

Humble Pie

Michael came home this afternoon from picking the twins up from school, and he told me about a little run-in he had with another parent there for pick-up. The woman was apparently busy talking on her cell phone and as a result, cut someone off in her mini-van. Michael called the woman out on it, telling her that she had cut someone off because she was on her cell phone while driving (which is illegal here, for whatever that's worth). The woman responded by becoming defensive and telling Michael to mind his own business.

There is another parent at the same school who consistently parks his big pick-up truck in a clearly marked no-parking zone in front of the school while he waits for his child to exit the school. It's a very narrow street, so one side of the street is clearly marked No Parking in order to allow traffic to move through. Yet this guy parks there nearly every day, and blocks traffic. And every time I squeeze past him in my truck, I roll down my window and tell him, "You're not supposed to park there. You're blocking traffic." And every time, he gets nasty with me. The other day, he told me, "I'm sick of your mouth!" I kept driving up to the pick-up area, and when I pulled over to pick Joey up, the guy pulls up beside me in his truck, rolls down his window and continues yelling at me. For pointing out to him that he was in the wrong.

I remember one time when I was waddling through the parking lot of Target, hugely pregnant with Finn, and some guy starts backing his car up without even looking. He came very close to hitting me. I threw my arms up, at which point he rolled down his window and flipped me the finger. Seriously.

These are relatively minor, although aggravating, incidents. There are plenty of non-traffic related instances when people screw up and just can't bring themselves to be humble about it. Instances in which words and/or actions hurt people and damage relationships.

Why is it so hard for people to acknowledge when they're out of line and apologize for it? And more to the point, why is it so hard for people to actually take an honest look at themselves and truly realize when they've been wrong? I think there are elements of both shame and pride at issue. I think some people are so worried about being liked that they're afraid of what might happen if they let their guard down and admit that they're actually fallible human beings who make mistakes sometimes. What is ironic is that they're failing to see that humbling oneself and showing remorse actually tends to make a person more likeable, more real.

My dad was a crummy father when I was growing up. Drunk a lot, violent a lot, absent a lot. I did not grow up having a good relationship with either of my parents. There came a time, though, in my adulthood, when my dad sat me down and cried over all the wrongs he had committed as a parent. No excuses, just a lot of heartfelt remorse. We were able to forge a very loving and positive relationship after that.

We struggle to instill humility in our kids. Especially Kevin. Maybe it's the age, but I think Kevin is genetically programmed to refuse accountability, to deflect blame, and to have a really hard time being sorry. His bio father was the same way all through his life - he never outgrew it. So, it's a worry of mine. But how to teach kids humility? I am not especially a fan of the practice of forcing kids to apologize when they've done something wrong (although I do find myself doing just that at times). I think all it teaches is how to deliver words without any real meaning behind them. Anyone can say "I'm sorry," but to actually mean it - to have remorse - is a different story altogether. And I don't mean guilt and shame - I mean remorse: feeling sorry for a word or deed, wanting to make amends, and making an effort to not repeat the offense.

I think the best way to instill this in our kids is by modeling it. By showing humility to them and in their presence. It's a good thing - a wonderful thing - to say to your child, "I was out of line. I'm sorry I hurt your feelings." It helps them see how important and valuable they are. It gives them validation. It allows them to see that the world will not come crashing down on someone who admits they're wrong. And it lets them experience the good feelings that being on the receiving end of a sincere apology evokes.

I say all this with the admission that I'm not always so good at this practice myself. But it's something I'm working on.


Monica Crumley said...

I can relate... I've apologized to my kids for not being a great role model at times or for flying off the handle when it wasn't such a big deal after all. Parenting is not static... I think it's a continuous learning curve and hopefully we keep getting better at it and not backsliding...

Angie said...

I too wonder what the hell is wrong with some people. Your absolutely right in saying being a positive role model is the best way to teach your kids.

Talley Images said...

I agree... its important to model the behavior you want your kids to exhibit...

And I just do not understand how or why some people act the way they do... I mean they really just like stepping on people... I just dont see how you can live with yourself like that

heather said...

A very good reminder. I've heard that from parenting pros that the best thing we can do when we make a mistake is own up to it and ask our child's forgiveness. It shows them that we all make mistakes and humility. I know it's something I could be better at, too.