Keris Stainton‘s fortnightly column on married life…
My 4-year-old son, Harry, has recently developed a new habit. He does something naughty and as soon as I start to tell him off says, “I want a cuddle”, cuddles me, saying, “I’m sorry,” and then … immediately does the naughty thing again.
This doesn’t actually surprise me all that much since it’s almost exactly how his father (my husband) thinks apologies work. David does something that upsets or annoys me. He apologises (once I’ve brought it to his attention, of course). And then, some time later, he does the same thing again.
I remember a Catholic friend laughing at me when I suggested that confession was just a way of excusing bad behaviour. Steal a bike. Confess. You’ve still got a bike you didn’t have to pay for. She said you had to really mean it, really be sorry. And, presumably, not keep the bike.
I can’t count the amount of times me and David had the same argument, along the lines of, “What’s the point of you apologising if you’re just going to do the same thing again?” The man’s got more metaphorical stolen bikes than he could possibly ever ride. His attitude seems to be the same as Homer Simpson’s: “But I never thought you’d find out!”
Harry has actually taken it further than his father’s ever managed. One day last week, he even stopped, mid-crying fit, patted the clip in my hair and said, “That’s beautiful.” How does he know he can get around me like that? To be fair, David knows better than to try it. I think. Although, then again, stopping me mid-rant to tell me I’m beautiful might just work. I might suggest it.
I think Harry might be too young for this to be a learned behaviour, so is it perhaps genetic? I know from talking to friends that this seems to be more of a male habit than a female one. Often I think women beat themselves up about mistakes much more than men do. So when they’re sorry, they’re really sorry. Men, I think, may see an apology as a get out of jail free card. Yes, I’m generalising here. Sorry.