Sisterhood Blog

When Not to Apologize

By Deborah Kolben

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Deborah Kolben
Deborah Kolben and her daughter, Mika

This is the second in a Sisterhood series on women, apologizing and Yom Kippur.

A few days after I brought my newborn daughter home from the hospital, I started crying. All the time. When I made toast. When I took a shower. It wasn’t that I was depressed, it just seemed that all that excess water and hormones needed a way out. I was warned about this, but still, after each time, I would turn to my husband and apologize.

Never mind that I had just gone through the most physically and emotionally challenging event of my life. Or that I was bleeding and lactating and my body was doing things I hadn’t known possible.

Can you see where I’m going with this?

As girls and then as women and then as mothers there’s something that makes us feel like we need to apologize. We apologize to make others feel better. Or when we’re unsure of ourselves.

Now that my daughter is 3 and heading off into the world — or at least to preschool — we’ve talked about sharing, manners and apologizing. I’m starting to really think about what I want to teach her about these things, especially the apologizing part.

I’m not quite sure what she actually grasps at this stage, and while I want her to say she’s sorry for things that really deserve an apology (hitting, being mean, not listening to me!), I don’t want her to spend her life feeling like she needs to apologize to everybody.

I remember it from as early as grade school, girls raising their hands to comment or ask a question. So often they would include a qualifier, or start a question with phrases like “I’m sorry, but I just don’t think…”

I recently had the pleasure of meeting Heidi Hoover, the rabbi at Temple Beth Emeth in Brooklyn. In a piece she wrote for Kveller.com, she included a story her mentor had told her about raising girls and boys. She said she needed to teach her son how to treat other people, but needed to teach her daughter how to be treated.

I’ve been thinking about that, and while I try not to take life advice from glossy magazines, I did read something in Fitness about how women apologize more than men, adding an “I’m sorry” before asking for the time or asking the dry cleaner to get out a spot. All that apologizing can undermine a woman’s authority and confidence. And it’s an exhausting way to go through life.

“By taking responsibility for things that aren’t your fault, you denigrate your self-esteem,” Linda Sapadin, PhD and author of “Master Your Fears: How to Triumph Over Your Worries and Get On with Your Life” told Fitness.

So while this might be an untraditional approach in the days leading up to Yom Kippur — and as much as I want my daughter to know when it’s time to say “I’m sorry” — I want equally for her to know when she doesn’t need to apologize and when it’s time for somebody to apologize to her.


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