Everyday Christian: Saying sorry to my four year old son

Hats are the most frequently lost item in our household. We are constantly walking from one side of the house to the other, wishing we had x-ray vision, or some sort of hat emergency flare to activate. Seriously, I spend a lot of time searching for hats.

So when my husband, 4 year old son – we’ll call him ‘G’ – and one-year-old daughter  attempted a sleepover at Grandma’s place recently, it will come as no surprise that we simply could not find their hats.

G was set to go to preschool the next day. “But mum,” he implored, “I cannot go to school without a hat! They won’t let me play!” (G hasn’t learned to contract words consistently yet. So he can sound quite formal, which I find delightful).

I know that I’ve made a million mistakes before this. And there will likely be a million more. But this one hit me really hard.

“Don’t worry,” I said. “We’ll pop up to the shops and see if we can find you another one.” In my head, buying another hat to keep in the car seemed like the perfect solution to all our hat-searching worries.

And off we went to Grandma’s. First stop: the shops to buy a new hat.

We let G chose. He’s at that age where giving him choices in the right circumstances can really bolster his confidence. The hat he chose was bright orange, in a parachute fabric. It had a broad rim at the front, and a large flap to cover his ears and neck. They’re called legionnaires caps. Who knew?

When we arrived at Grandma’s house, G put the hat on and showed her. “Look Grandma, I have a new hat!” Without waiting for a response, he ran inside, forever eager to upend all of Grandma’s fun toys.

“It’s such a silly-looking hat!” I giggled to Grandma, on my way into her house. It was a light-hearted comment in a moment where I was enjoying my son’s innocence and, well, dorky cuteness.

The next day, Daddy took G to preschool, his new hat in his school bag. But when he got to school, G wouldn’t put it on to go outside. It didn’t matter that he wouldn’t get to play outside. It didn’t matter that he’d miss out on playing with his friends. He simply would not put on the hat.

It took a while to conjole it out of him. He was so excited about it yesterday. What’s wrong with it today?

“Mummy said it looked silly,” was his forlorn response.

When my husband called me to tell me how the drop off went (it has often been … fraught, so debriefs can be helpful), he told me what G said. And my heart sank. He must have overheard what I’d said to Grandma.

I know, as parents, that we’re not perfect. I know that I’ve made a million mistakes before this. And there will likely be a million more. But this one hit me really hard. I cried for quite a while. I’m crying now, as I write. I think it’s going to be a memory that stays with me, like the time I made fun of my Uncle at a Christmas lunch, thinking we were joking but as the words came out of my mouth, I realised I’d gone to far and actually hurt him. Regret, is what I’d call it. And a pain of hurting someone I love dearly, because of something I said without thinking.

I think what upsets me the most is the thought that G overheard me making fun of him and what must have gone through his head. Mummy – his place of refuge and safety – thought he looked silly. Ugh, it’s horrible.

It was just as important for me to say sorry as it was for my son to hear it.

The week we brought G home from the hospital, we had a visit from our pastor. He gave us some advice that I have come back to again and again in the last four year rollercoaster ride of parenting. Say sorry to your kids.

By the time G had come home from school, it seemed like he’d forgotten the hat and its symbolism. His teachers had found him another hat and he had played and had fun.

But still, we had a chat about what he’d heard me say, why I’d said it (because he was cute) but that I shouldn’t have called him silly, and definitely not behind his back. I apologised and we spoke for a moment about why mummies have to say they are sorry sometimes, just like kids do sometimes, too. And we prayed together – I told God out loud that I was sorry for hurting G with my words, and asked Him to keep helping me be a good mum who is careful with the words she uses.

In a way, it was just as important for me to say sorry as it was for my son to hear it. An admission that I don’t always know what I’m doing – the act of being vulnerable with my son –  is something I think, on reflection, is quite valuable for him to see. We are not perfect. I am not perfect. He is not perfect. It’s why we’re teaching him about the One who is. We (try to) point to Jesus.

It’s not the first time I’ve had to say sorry to my son. It won’t be the last time. But it was a hard one. And I have continued to pray that God helps me to be more mindful of my tongue and my tendency to poke fun.