“But, Mom, I didn't do anything!” “She started it first!” “It wasn't my fault!' These are common refrains we hear often from our children. We turn to them and say, “Apologize to your sister.” And, we then hear those refrains again. This week, my Parsha and Parenting shiur was on the topic of life lessons that Teshuva can provide for us and our children. One aspect of Teshuva we discussed was the first step “Hakarat Hachet” “Recognizing the sin.” In this step, the person has to be able to acknowledge that he has done the wrong thing- not an easy task! Children often deny wrongdoing because they are afraid of our reactions or the consequences. However, the first step in fixing a wrongdoing is admitting you have committed one.
The Gemara in Yoma 22a highlights the need for this Hakarat Hachet when it comes to Teshuva. Shaul, who committed the sin of keeping Agag the Amalekite alive, was sentenced to death and the monarchy was taken away from his family. In contrast, David Hamelech, who was guilty of causing the death of Uriah Hachiti so he could marry Batsheva, was cleared and forgiven. The Maharsha asks why was Shaul was dealt with with more stringency? The difference was in their reactions to sin. When David Hamelech was told by Natan the Prophet that he had sinned he simply responded, “I sinned before G-d.” But, when Shmuel told Shaul his sin, Shaul responded, “ I sinned violating G-d's word,” and added the words, “for I was fearful of the nation, bowing to their demands.” Shaul blamed the Jewish people for causing him to sin. Dovid took responsibility for his mistake and did not attempt to shift the blame on anyone else.
So, the apology that we have forced our child to give to his sister is meaningless unless he can accomplish the first step of Teshuva, Hakarat Hachet. How do we get our children to take responsibility for their mistakes and end the “blame game”? 1. We need to normalize mistakes. We relay the message that people make mistakes- we all “mess up” at times. We will always love them no matter what mistakes they make. They will then feel more comfortable admitting that they were in the wrong. 2. When we hear them blaming another for their misdeed we need to point that out to them. “It's not about whose fault it is. It is about whose responsibility it is.” 3. The concept of free choice applies here as well. They had the choice to choose that behavior. No one forced them to choose that path. 4. We need to model taking responsibility for our own mistakes. We own up to our mistakes and apologize. Even and especially if it means apologizing to our children if it is warranted. Apologies to our spouses in front of the children is also an opportunity for modeling Hakarat Hachet. 5. When we notice our children involved in the wrong behavior, rather then pointing out what they have done we ask them, “What is it that you think you have done wrong?” The apology then must include that act of wrongdoing: “I am sorry that I took your skirt without permission.” Saying “I'm sorry” alone is never sufficient. This step forces them to “recognize” that which needs to be done differently the next time.
That is the beauty of Teshuva that we relay to our children. There is a “next time” with a clean slate. We, their parents, and G-d, the Parent of all, are always prepared to give them another chance.