How to Apologize to Your Adult Kids Like a Pro

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Why Can’t My Parents Apologize To Me?

Fighting with your adult kids feels terrible, but what happens after the yelling is over? If you are like most parents, you avoid apologizing to your kids. There is just something really difficult about apologizing to our adult children.

We teach our kids to apologize as an important part of being a good person. And yet, most of us are unable to offer a sincere apology to our own adult kids!

Parenting is not an easy job, and it’s impossible to avoid making mistakes along the way. Unfortunately, sometimes those mistakes can harm our relationships with our adult kids. When this happens, and you need to apologize, it can be challenging to know what to say and how to say it.

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For many parents, it’s just too scary to be emotionally vulnerable with their adult kids. Recognizing and taking ownership of unhealthy behavior, makes us vulnerable. And frankly, that can feel terrifying! Below is a short list of the most common reasons parents struggle to apologize to their adult kids.

  • Parents feel like they are always the ones who have to be in charge and be right.
  • Parents may feel like they have done everything they can and that their kids should be grateful.
  • Parents may worry that apologizing will make them look weak or that their kids will take advantage of them.
  • Parents may not want to admit that they were wrong or that they made a mistake.
Why is it so hard for parents to apologize to their kids?

Why Don’t My Parents Apologize?

The Pain of Unapologetic Parents

Growing up, we were taught the most important lessons in our childhood homes. Things like telling the truth, playing fair, and learning to apologize for our bad behavior. It can feel like a double standard when our parents made us apologize, and yet they are unwilling to make amends. Looking back, it might seem like the family rule was: do as I say, not as I do.

There is nothing more frustrating than feeling like someone you love is behaving like a hypocrite! For many of us, one of the hardest days of our lives was when we realized that our parents are flawed humans. No longer our superheroes, we began to understand that parents make mistakes too.

When our parents refuse to apologize, it sends a destructive message. As children or even as adults, this can leave us feeling invalidated and resentful towards them. Or even worse, what if they hurt us deeply and refuse to apologize?

Learning To Apologize Starts In Childhood

Learning to apologize is a basic skill of social development. That is why it is so ironic that most parents are unable to apologize to their own children.

It’s natural to expect our parents to apologize when they do something wrong or hurtful, but many parents avoid offering an apology. This can result in a variety of confusing feelings such as anger, frustration, hurt, and shame.

It is easy to fall into a cycle of negative messages about our self-worth when our parents do not acknowledge our pain or apologize for their actions. Feeling unheard and unseen is not only hurtful, but it can also affect the level of trust we have with our folks.

Why Some Parents Don’t Apologize

1. They feel like they’re being treated like a child.

Many parents feel like they’re being treated like a child when their adult child tries to hold them accountable for their actions. They may feel like they’re being scolded or that their child is trying to take away their authority. This can be a difficult thing for parents to deal with, especially if they’re used to being in charge.

2. They don’t want to admit they were wrong.

Admitting that you were wrong can be hard for anyone, but it can be especially difficult for parents. Parents may not want to admit that they made a mistake because it can make them feel like they’re not good enough. Additionally, admitting that you were wrong can also make you feel vulnerable and exposed.

3. They don’t want to lose their child’s respect.

Many parents worry that apologizing to their adult child will cause them to lose respect. They may feel like they need to maintain a position of authority to be respected, and apologizing can undermine that authority. Additionally, some parents may believe that apologizing will make them look weak or powerless.

4. They don’t know how to apologize.

Some parents may not know how to apologize because they’ve never had to do it before. They may not be sure what words to use or what actions to take to express remorse. This can be a difficult thing for parents to overcome, but it’s important to remember that there is no perfect way to apologize.

All parents make mistakes, but emotionally mature parents learn how to apologize.

Parents Make Mistakes

The awkward reality is that most parents are emotionally immature. So many of us were raised to shut down our emotions or hide them when we were little kids. A true apology is more than saying some basic words. Most families did not teach how to apologize beyond the words “ I’m sorry”.

It’s important to understand that our parents are human too, and they may carry their own unresolved pain and trauma that influence their behavior. They may also hold onto the belief that apologizing makes them weak, inferior, or flawed. Additionally, some may have grown up in cultures or families where apologies were not expressed or valued, which can make it hard for them to see the importance of it.

Admitting Mistakes And Taking Responsibility

Despite being a grown adult, when we have children and become parents, we do not automatically develop healthy relationship skills. We might be able to say the words “ I’m sorry” but we don’t always know how to make a full apology to the person we hurt.

Even though we know the importance of being able to apologize, most parents are afraid to do so. There is a fear that by apologizing we lose power, respect, and position as a parent.

Honestly, if parents don’t learn to apologize, they will lose the respect of their grown kids. Adult kids are not interested in a relationship that feels one-sided and continues to make them feel like a child.

Why Does My Mom Always Have To Be Right?

As a trained Marriage and Family Therapist and a relationship coach, I believe that one of the most important skills we can have is to know how to give a proper apology. Learning to apologize is a critical skill for all adults. Apologizing can diffuse conflict while giving the other person a sense of dignity. And most importantly, it can make room for forgiveness.

Follow the basic steps below for apologizing to your adult children. Honestly, these steps also work for any type of apology. It’s important to remember that as parents, we are always role models. Even after our children have become independent, we are still modeling relationship behavior. Ideally, our adult kids should be able to look to their parents for love, guidance, and support.

Let’s commit to being a good example instead of a terrible warning, agreed?

Learning how to give a true apology will change your relationships for the better.

How To Truly Apologize To Anyone

Try using these basic steps of a good apology with your adult kids next time you mess up. We are never too old to learn new ways to repair the damage that we cause in our relationships. All people mess up, but being able to “own” the pain you have caused is a vital life skill.

Use “I” Language:

When apologizing to your adult kids, it’s important to use “I” language rather than “you” language. Instead of saying, “You should have known better,” try saying, “I should have explained things more clearly.” This way, you take responsibility for your actions, and your kids can see that you’re trying to understand how you hurt them.

Acknowledge their Feelings:

Sometimes, being right is not as important as acknowledging your child’s feelings. Even if you disagree with their interpretation of events, acknowledge that your actions caused them pain. This will go a long way in showing your child that you value their emotions and want to improve your relationship with them.

Avoid Excuses:

Excuses may feel like an easy way out, but they won’t help you mend your relationship with your adult kids. Instead, try to focus on what you did wrong and how you can make it right moving forward. Apologies don’t need to be complicated, but they should come from a genuine desire to address the situation.

Follow-Up With an Action:

Apologizing is only a small part of the process. Repairing the relationship takes time, effort, and consistency. Follow up your apology with an action that demonstrates your commitment to change.

Be Patient:

Building trust takes time, and your adult kids may not be ready to forgive you right away. Be patient and understand that it may take several conversations and actions to rebuild your relationship. Respect their boundaries and work to earn their trust back one step at a time.

How To Make My Parents Apologize To Me

If you are an adult kid of a parent that refuses to apologize, the following steps are for you. Please remember that it is not our job to make people change their behavior. The only thing adult kids can do is clearly communicate the hurt that is happening as a result of their folk’s behavior.

Some parents will take the time to examine their behavior and will make changes. When this happens, it’s important to remember that they might fall back into their old patterns. Change takes lots of effort and energy, and sometimes we fail to show up as the improved person we want to be.

Parents Need To Take Responsibility

If this happens with your parents, try to be gracious and respectful. Remind them that you want a healthy, equal relationship as adults. Encourage them to be curious about why they fell back into their hurtful behavior.

Most of us make our worst relationship mistakes when we are tired. Maybe wait a day or two and then ask them to talk with you about the painful behavior.

Sometimes it’s the adult child that has to lead the way for family change. Generational patterns of behavior are hard to identify the longer they continue. It’s okay to be the black sheep of the family if you are moving toward personal emotional health.

When you talk to your parents about their hurtful behavior, try using a non-judgmental approach.

How to Talk to Your Parents About Their Behavior

If you’re struggling with unapologetic parents, it’s important to approach the conversation in a way that is non-judgmental, empathetic, and honest. Use “I” statements to express how their behavior made you feel, and avoid blaming or criticizing them.

It may also be helpful to validate their perspective and emotions and ask them if they’re open to hearing your feelings. However, keep in mind that even with the best intentions, some parents may not be receptive to feedback, so be prepared for any outcome.

Setting Boundaries and Seeking Support

Sometimes, despite our efforts to communicate with our parents, they may not change their behavior. In this case, it’s important to prioritize your own mental health and well-being by setting boundaries and seeking support.

This can mean limiting contact with them, seeking therapy, or reaching out to a trusted friend or family member who can empathize with your situation. Remember that healing is a process, and it may take time to accept your parents’ limitations.

When Parents Apologize It Brings Healing and Forgiveness

Healing from the wounds of unapologetic parents is a journey that requires compassion, patience, and forgiveness. It’s important to acknowledge that your parents may never change their behavior, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find closure and peace within yourself.

Forgiveness does not equate to condoning or excusing someone’s behavior, but it does mean releasing the burden of resentment and choosing to move forward. This can be a long and difficult process, but with time and self-compassion, it is possible to find healing and closure.

Learning to apologize to your adult kids will strengthen your relationship.

Final Advice For Parents And Adult Kids

For The Parents

Remember, apologizing is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of strength and a commitment to the relationship with your child. By using “I” language, acknowledging your child’s feelings, avoiding excuses, following up with action, and being patient, you can show your child that you value their relationship and want to make things right.

Don’t fall into the trap of being a hypocrite because apologizing makes you uncomfortable. Challenge yourself to grow and take ownership of the pain you might have caused your adult children.

For The Adult Children

Growing up with unapologetic parents can leave deep emotional wounds that impact our lives, relationships, and self-worth. However, it’s important to remember that our parents are human too and that they may carry their own burdens that influence their behavior.

Having honest and compassionate conversations with them can help, but sometimes, setting boundaries and seeking support may also be necessary. Healing and forgiveness are not easy, but they are possible through self-compassion and a willingness to let go of resentment. Remember, you are worthy of love, validation, and support, and you deserve to find healing from the pain of unapologetic parents.

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Melane Ann is a writer, blogger, and life coach. In 2020, she turned her experience in midlife divorce and creating a new life for herself into midlifeismagical. With a master's in Marriage and Family Therapy, Melane focuses on helping women over 50 navigate their relationships and commit to healthy aging. She and her new husband share 7 children between them. Melane jokes that she has a black belt in blended families! In addition to her writing, Melane works virtually with her coaching clients from her home office.

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