The Required Apology

A young mother asked me, "Should a parent require her child to apologize if the child is not sincerely sorry for the offense?" Should the child be required to apologize if in fact she has "right" on her side?

Here's the dilemma as reported by the mother who is asking the questions.

Five girls ages nine to eleven were vacationing at a resort for a week. All the girls know each other from other contexts, and are good friends. One of the five however stays at the resort for the whole summer. We'll call her Amy. When the other girls are not there, sometimes Amy plays with Grace who also spends the entire summer at this resort.

The five girls were inseparable. One was rarely seen without the others close behind. They swam together, they shopped together, they had sleepovers; they ate their meals in each other's apartments. To their credit, they got along fantastically well, no small task for five girls in such close proximity.

In fact, they called themselves "The Fantastic Five", and bought matching sweatshirts to commemorate their solidarity. Sometimes they included a younger member in their group. When their activities were of a nature that a six-year-old could participate they became "The Fantastic Five Plus One". They were kind and they looked out for each other and for the "six-year-old. By the way, the six-year also sported a matching sweatshirt.

They did not however play with Grace. Grace didn't seem to mind being left out because she had another group of friends to hang out with.

One evening, their last together before vacation's end, "The Fantastic Five" was playing outdoors, running around, laughing, and generally having just good unstructured fun. Grace's group was outside too. Her group was having fun too, but it was a different brand of fun.

Grace shocked "The Fantastic Five" by mooning them and her group challenged them to a "rumble".

I'm sure no malice was intended. "The Fantastic Five" however, decided to get a little righteous. In the heat of the moment, feeling they had right on their side; believing they had a cause to fight, (mooning is wrong, and rumbling is dangerous) they took their righteous indignation to their mothers for support, and to engage them in the "game". They knew they'd get support from the "older" generation. How wonderful to be "right"! How intoxicating it was to have a cause where their mothers would be on their side. There was a grandmother in the mix too. She of course could be counted on to be mortified by the mooning and the rumbling.

Armed with support from the older generation, the girls, the members of "The Fantastic Five" carefully planned their next move. They wrote a note disclosing Grace's indiscretion to Grace's parents, carefully wording it so that it would sound like it was coming from an adult. They did not sign the note. They wanted their message to have some credibility and some clout. Anonymity and a tone of authority they thought would best achieve their mission.

They taped their tattle tale note on Grace's door hoping her parents would find it before Grace did. Then they ran like the blazes so as not to be caught. They came back trembling! Their hearts were pounding so fast and so furiously you could almost hear the frantic thumping from the upstairs hallway, the hallway that housed Grace's door, the door that was now displaying their note for all to see. Such high adventure! They took turns going out to peek at Grace's door to see if the note had been discovered. When their look out saw Grace's mother approaching she swiftly left "the scene of the crime" and reported her observance to her cohorts, indicating that she was pretty sure she, and therefore they, had not been discovered.

They hardly slept that night wondering what would happen in the harsh judgement of daylight. Would Grace's parents know who wrote the note? Would they get into trouble for what they'd done? Was it a crime to masquerade as an adult? Would someone call the police? Would Grace get into trouble…more trouble than they'd intended?

At some level, they knew they'd betrayed Grace and her friends who were just having fun. But they were right! They had the mothers and the grandmother on their side. Mooning and rumbling are wrong! Grace's parents should be informed of their daughter's inappropriate behaviors. They didn't count on what happened next.

Of course, their identity would not remain a secret. The next morning, Grace's mother, according to reports from "The Fantastic Five" told the girls that Grace would never have done such a thing! This made the girls angry because now they were being accused of lying.

Amy's mother who hadn't been part of the adventure from its inception required Amy to apologize for the whole thing! She just wanted to restore peace to a situation that had been allowed to get out of hand. Besides, Amy's mother and Grace's mother are friends.

Amy didn't want to apologize. She didn't think she'd done anything wrong. However, her mother persisted in her insistence on an apology, and perceiving no other choice, Amy agreed to comply. Seeking support from her friends, Amy asked the four of them to accompany her to make the insincere apology. They unanimously declined, saying, "No, Grace should apologize to us".

One mother forbade her two daughters to make such an insincere apology. The other encouraged her daughters to accompany Amy for moral support.

O.K. readers, it's up to you. Who owes an apology to whom?

    —M. LaCourt