Why We Need To Stop Apologizing For Taking Up Space



I sat down to write this month’s column (it’s really fun saying that, sounds so fancy!) Move over Carrie Bradshaw, two can play at the witty column game while they sit in their apartment dreaming of shoes & sex and yes they can also be a woman in her mid-30s with a toddler and a husband. But I digress, I digress.

I was going to write about how to re-teach ourselves some of the truths we know and teach our children but then I got sidetracked. Mulling over what to really mull over, I started thinking about not just what I hoped I was passing on to Ryan but also what I really don’t want to pass on. What I need to work more on adjusting in myself so that I don’t perpetuate in him as he grows up. There are more than a few, but the biggest one that kept popping up was apologizing. I say I’m Sorry! I am so sorry! Excuse me, sorry sorry. Etcccccc all of the time. Like. ALL OF THE TIME.

 This is not about apologizing when you are wrong or make a mistake. That of course is important and is about integrity and accountability. What I am talking about is the seemingly innocuous use of I’m Sorry that I find myself saying 10, 20, I don’t even know how many times a day sometimes.

Why do I do it? Why do I do it so much? Once I took subway just a few stops and must have apologized no less than five times in one trip to people. Did I actually do something that warranted an apology to another person? Not really. Maybe somehow in an instance or two, but not all of them.  What I realized is that I am constantly apologizing for things related to taking up space. My space. The space that I am entitled to hold and own in the world and by apologizing I am slowly, little by little, diminishing my place in it and myself.

Take slouching as an example. You kind of just sort of slouch over a tad, just a little, your chest goes forward a bit, and then little by little, you are sitting in a conference room or at a cocktail party and you are actually taking up 50% less physical space. Side note: my posture is awful, another time, another goal, maybe in 2020. I heard someone speak about this intelligently once, and I don’t recall who or why but they spoke about how particularly as women we slouch as a socialized way of actually trying, on some level, to take up less space in a room. Somewhere along the line of being taught to become well-functioning, polite, proper women, we learned that that meant ceding some of our space to others.

Now, as a mother, I find it is worse. I see myself sometimes without even realizing it, apologizing just for, BEING. For example, we are somewhere and Ryan isn’t having a meltdown or being particularly messy other than what a toddler is normally like at a restaurant or on an airplane and I just feverishly apologize for our existence.

 Oh excuse me, I’m sorry (as I brush someone’s arm in the aisle as we pass).

Ah, I’m sorry (with a semi eye roll at the man across the way because Ryan is making a bit of noise).

Sorry, Sorry (as Ryan makes a little mess at the table out for lunch while we eat).

 The list goes on and on. And why/what am I apologizing for exactly? Being disruptive? Maybe a bit, but we aren’t doing anything wrong. We aren’t infringing. Perhaps we are not the best passengers a flight attendant is ever going to see or patrons that the hostess is going to seat at her restaurant but we deserve to be there. Outside of really making a ruckus and a mess, I shouldn’t apologize for us. I shouldn’t apologize for myself, in the world, as a mother, being a little more noisy and loud and taking up more space than I used to. And I certainly don’t want to be teaching my son that he should be either.

 I want Ryan to be courteous. I want him to be polite. I want him to apologize when he is out of line and to understand that his actions can hurt people physically and emotionally. But I do not want him to apologize for just, being. I do not want him to learn that his mother is apologizing for him and for herself, when we are just making our way through life the best way that we know how, maybe making a little bit of a mess and some noise along the way. That’s life. That’s being human. That’s parenting. And that person that I am apologizing to, they are somebody’s child. Once they too were a little human careening through the world, bumping around and trying to make sense of it.

As women and mothers apologizing and shrinking down holds us back more than we know. If we can change these habits little by little, for ourselves, for our peers, for our children, we can take back more of our space and our power. And we can raise powerful, strong, compassionate children.

And now I am about to say I am so sorry this article went on and on. As I do. Instead, I will say thank you for taking the time to read it and sharing these minutes and this space with me.

Jacqueline Courtney lives in Brooklyn, NY and is the mother of a 2.5-year-old boy named Ryan, Founder & CEO of Nearly Newlywed, a startup advisor and writer.