Why This Common Habit Is So Harmful For Our Daughters

by Rachel Garlinghouse
Originally Published: 
Scary Mommy and shapecharge/Getty

“I’m sorry, Mommy,” my daughter said, thrusting a paper toward me. It was her most recent spelling test with a C- written on the top of it. “I tried my best,” she continued, her eyes brimming with tears.

She’d been diligently working for months on practicing the latest spelling words, both at school and on her homework, but the stars weren’t aligning. Spelling was so damn hard for her. And despite her best efforts, she brought home papers riddled with red ink.

I locked eyes with her. “You don’t need to apologize. Do you hear me?” She nodded, hot tears trickling down her cheeks. “Doing your best is what matters in this family. That’s what you did, and I’m so proud of you for it.”

I hugged her and handed her a tissue, adding, “It takes a brave girl to do something, even when it’s hard.”

Even in 2019, this isn’t a speech I have to deliver to my son. Because girls are still over-apologizing. After all, they’re expected to be sugar, spice, and everything nice. Whatever the hell that means.

Combating societal expectations is exhausting. But it’s necessary.

Actress Viola Davis knows this all too well. During a red-carpet interview, she proclaimed, “What I’ve been telling my daughter lately is to stop apologizing.”

Davis’ daughter, eight-year-old Genesis, was adopted by Davis as an infant. She’s accompanied her mom to star-studded events including Davis’ Hollywood Walk of Fame star presentation and movie sets. Yet, even watching her powerhouse, award-winning mother command spaces full of people, she still needs reinforcement.

Essentially, that it’s okay to not be sorry for not being sorry.

Davis continued by speaking to women, sharing that we’re at a point in our lives and in history where “we need to step into our power and not give it over to anyone or apologize for it.” She added, “And understand that in whatever we do, we deserve to be there and we deserve to have a voice.”

If the first black woman to win an Emmy for best drama series has to teach her daughter this important message, we certainly do too. Because not even Davis’ bad-ass roles as Veronica Rawlings in Widows or Annalise Keating in How to Get Away with Murder is enough to drive the point home. At the end of the day, Davis is a mom who knows what our girls need to learn. ASAP.

Perhaps you were raised like I was. Even when our parents didn’t directly tell us to be polite, kind, and quick to share and take turns, society did. I remember watching one of my favorite movies growing up, The Little Mermaid, where King Triton repeatedly flipped his lid on his daughter Ariel.

In one scene, Ariel fails to show up and perform in a musical number with her sisters, leaving King Triton embarrassed in front of his kingdom. She lost of track of time during another one of her expeditions. When her father confronts her, Ariel gushes an apology.

The scene has always stuck with me. Triton is perpetually disappointed in Ariel, and Ariel is relentlessly justifying being a normal teenager. This includes apologizing and seeking approval. She knows what’s expected of her. To put on a performance for the entertainment of others and to please her father.

It’s an unhealthy cycle. And Davis reminds us that girls and women need to stop falling back to “my bad” at every turn.

Serena Williams doesn’t apologize for kicking-ass on the tennis court and carving out plenty of quality time for her hubby and daughter. Chrissy Teigen doesn’t make a public “oopsie daisy” proclamation when once again, the Internet calls her out for something as ridiculous as bottle-feeding her child. And despite demands, Mindy Kaling isn’t sharing who Katherine’s biological father is–because she can do as she damn well pleases.

Yes, these celebs have fame, power, influence, and money that we don’t have, but they are still real women who are raising daughters. And all of our girls need to know that being human and stepping into our own light, whatever that is, isn’t apology-worthy. Not even close.

My own daughters have had their fair share of moments when people expected them to justify their actions and apologize for being human. For example, my second daughter wears swim trunks because they’re more comfortable and more her style than a fringy, neon two-piece. I’ve empowered her to do so, buying a matching shark trunk and shirt set for her to wear to the pool.

When adults have questioned her swimsuit choice, I’m quick to clap back. Because there is zero reason for her to feel a single ounce of shame and apologize for wearing swim trunks. The person “offended” with certain attire is the one with the problem, not the child wearing it.

A few years ago, I took my daughters shopping so they could spend their birthday money. One of them was trying to choose between two action figures when a store employee insisted that my daughter follow her to the doll aisle where she’d surely find a better suited toy. My daughter, who is introverted, was completely stunned. I let the employee know that my daughter was happy to choose a superhero toy, buying it with her own money, and we weren’t interested in any advice or opinions.

Our daughters need to know that it’s okay to take up space, to prefer certain books or toys, to excel in a sport that is stereotypically designated for the other sex, and to be proud of their bodies, no matter the shape, size, or ability. They don’t need to confess an “I’m sorry” and offer reasons why their appearance, talents, intelligence, or personality are acceptable.

We don’t need to waste precious time and energy working to make others comfortable with who we are. Despite what the past has taught us and what society still expects of us, no apology is necessary.

Viola Davis’ sage parenting advice is nothing short of amazing. We need to let our girls and ourselves shine, unapologetically.

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