Rarely do altercations occur verbally or physically where both parties can’t reflect on something they did that was wrong or, at a minimum, not helpful. An apology to your young adult doesn’t require saying it was all my fault, which will come off very insincere if you don’t believe it. Still, we can always find something that we can take responsibility for:
- “I should not have screamed at you”
- “I should not have grabbed you”
- “I should not have called you names”
- “I should not have walked away”
- “I should not have made fun of you”
Apologizing the Right Way
Start with taking some responsibility for an interaction that didn’t go well. Second, apologize the right way. We’ve all had the experience of watching leaders, especially politicians, feign an apology. Statements like “I’m sorry you feel…” or “I’m sorry you took my actions…” or “I’m sorry, I never intended…” are all fake apologies. Such fake apologies by parents will contribute to further resentment from the young adult. No apology should be followed by a “but,” “however,” or some attempt to explain or justify an action. We need to drop our ego, our need to be right, or our fear of being perceived as weak. Sincere apologies require strength, vulnerability, and the risk that our young adults may reject this gesture.
Begin the Healing Process
My recommendation is to gather from the young adult their perceptions of hurtful or abusive experiences that they remember about their childhood. Please indicate that you want to know specific situations that still bother them so you can take responsibility for your actions. You don’t want to argue or debate what happened. Sit down and write out a sincere apology for the situations that the young adult brought up. Handwrite it because it will be more personal. Specifically, say you feel a sense of sadness about the situation and apologize for your actions (your part) that were hurtful or abusive and indicate you can’t have a do-over as a parent but would if you could. Indicate that you would like your child’s forgiveness but understand they may not be ready to offer this. Finally, indicate that you are committed to being a better parent in the future and desire a better relationship with your young adult.
If you are really willing to be vulnerable, you will meet with your young adult child, read the letter to them, and give it to them. They heard you say the words and they have a written record of what you said. No words, no matter how carefully crafted and sincere, ensure that the young adult will change. But if we overcome our need to be right, and feelings that keep us negatively fused to our kids, we can let go and challenge them to do the same.
Additional Resources Related to Apology:
- Apology: The Gift We Give Our Young Adults
- Asking your Young Adult About Parenting Actions that were Hurtful or Offensive
- Tip Sheet on Apologizing to Your Young Adult
- A Letter from A Grieving Mother - November 14, 2023
- Book Recommendation: Rules of Estrangement: Why Adult Children Cut Ties and How to Heal the Conflict - November 13, 2023
- When a Young Adult’s Transition to Independence is Complicated by Special Needs - October 27, 2023