Women apologize more than men. Studies have proved it. Commercial campaigns have been built around it. “Women apologize all the time,” we’re told. If anything, women need to stop saying “I’m sorry” so often.
Except they don’t.
While women may apologize all the time at work, in life, to friends, or to their kids, there is one area where women don’t back down: parenthood. I don’t have studies to prove this; I just have experience. I’m sorry if you don’t agree (there I go, apologizing first again), but this is the perception dads around the world have: mothers never apologize.
To maintain power in a parenting relationship, women will not back down in times of conflict. Men are often forced to pick and choose their battles and live by the saying, “Happy wife, happy life.” Women flex their influence in the relationship as a negotiating tactic that forces their husbands to back down and apologize, which keeps wives on the higher ground.
I have a theory about how my marital dynamic has evolved this way. My wife and I dated for just two months before we got pregnant. We didn’t have the normal courtship to work through our conflict negotiation. We were instant parents, and that changed the dynamic right away. Instead of establishing ground rules of being equals for an extended period of time, she was put right to the head of the class, because now she was a mother.
Ever since, I’ve felt like the King on a chessboard that moves one square at a time, while the Queen whizzes around wherever she pleases. As gatekeeper of intimacy and key decision-maker in the household, my wife—like all mothers—has all the power in our relationship.
And I’m not alone. Ask a dad when his wife last apologized to him, and he’ll say, “When we have a standoff, I’m usually the first one to apologize and try to calm it out,” or “Wives apologize?” or “Not often.”
Even if the apologies do come, they feel less than genuine. “Whenever I do manage to get one, it’s always strained, slightly sarcastic, or just completely fake,” dads tell me.
It’s a stereotypical generalization to suggest that wives don’t apologize, but in a Mars / Venus world, it’s one that has become self-evident and even the butt of jokes.
Saying “I’m sorry” doesn’t have to be a sign of accepting fault. It’s a gesture of acknowledgement that something regrettable has happened. It’s a peace offering to meet in the middle and work towards reparations. It’s a first step. One, too often, that dads find themselves making.
Not every marriage is immaculately perfect. Husbands and wives fight. Over big things, over little things. It could be about the dishes, money, habits, jealousy. No matter how much in love you are, or how perfect your relationship is, you will fight.
But how does the fight end?
In order for a man to take his rightful place as his kids’ co-parent, a woman needs to meet her husband in the middle. That means relinquishing some responsibility, and acknowledging that she’s not always right.
When I see advertisers attempt to portray women as overly conciliatory, the message doesn’t ring true. Pantene once ran a commercial showing women apologizing in everyday situations. The point was to make the women appear weak by deferring to others in their workplace and relationships, but it didn’t make sense. Saying “I’m sorry” isn’t a bad thing. It comes as second nature for anyone with a sense of etiquette or empathy. (Or anyone who is Canadian, like me. You could run over my foot with the grocery cart, and I’d say sorry for standing in your way.)
The ad went on to portray women standing up confidently saying “sorry, not sorry,” in what felt like an aggressive, rude, sarcastic tone. It didn’t feel positive and empowering at all. But it did underline the fact that women are the stronger in relationships, and they don’t need to apologize for it.
So much of modern marketing tells women to stop apologizing. Dads wish they would start.
Buzz Bishop is a radio host and father of two boys from Calgary, Alberta. He writes about adventures with his kids at dadcamp.ca. He has been married to Jennifer for 5 years and is still waiting for her to apologize.