As a psychologist, I am privy to the gaping distance of understanding that so many parents feel with their adult children. Many of these parents are in enormous pain. In some cases, their children have cut off contact with them for years, while others for only a few months. Some for obvious crimes of parenting and others for seeming misdemeanors. I make no judgment. I know that what can seem innocent or even well-intended from the parents’ perspective can be experienced as hurtful and disorienting from the child’s. I also know that adult children don’t cut off their parents unless they think they have to.
There are many steps to healing a parent and as many to heal the relationship with a grown child. You must first start by acknowledging whatever mistakes you made as a parent. While this is a crucial step, many parents protest for the some of the reasons I list below. I also list my reasons why I think you should do it anyway.
“I did the best that I could.”
Yes, you probably did. But, you have to acknowledge that it might not have been enough. Your child may have needed something different from you that you were unable to perceive, or to carry out at the time. Saying that you did the best that you could is something you should remind yourself of, not your child.
“Just because I apologize doesn’t mean that I deserve to be rejected or mistreated by my child!” That’s absolutely correct. Making amends for past mistakes isn’t the same thing as saying you were a terrible person or parent. It’s a willingness to see your behavior from your child’s perspective and to acknowledge that are separate realities in every family.
“I shouldn’t have to make amends. I deserve respect. My parents never apologized to me.” You do deserve respect, but respect is more likely to be received when it’s given. And the rules have changed: today’s children of all ages are on a far more equal playing field than parents of almost any other generation. And you don’t have to — it’s just that it increases the likelihood of a better outcome.
“Why should I try to make amends? It won’t change anything.”
It may not. There may be nothing you can do to save your relationship with your grown child. But making amends is something that you do as much for your own integrity as for him or her. It helps you to feel as though you have made a sincere and heartfelt attempt to address the relationship. It can help you to feel better about who, you are regardless of who your child says you are.