My Friend and I Made a Pact: Just Tell Our Grown Kids We’re Sorry

It was heartbreaking to witness. My friend sat on my living room sofa, sobbing. I had never seen her cry before. She choked out, through tears, “Why can’t she just [blank] say she’s sorry?”

This sweet, gentle woman whom I’d rarely heard utter a mild swear word, much less the harshest of them all, was desperate for some kind of explanation. She was frustrated to the point of fury, and so sad. Why couldn’t her mother, after all these years, just say she was sorry? Our parents can break us to pieces, even when we are adults.

Validation and an apology can go a long way. (Photo credit: Tonya Rodriguez)

My friend has a very difficult relationship with her mother

My friend—let’s call her Sophia—is the kind of parent I strive to be. Calm. Level-headed. Principled. Not easily ruffled, and not a pushover. She’s clever and uses logic, not whim or raw emotion, to set boundaries for her teens. What I especially admire is how grounded she is in her convictions. Sophia is virtually impervious to shallow opinions.

Case in point: She drives an out-of-production car that’s over 20 years old. It’s bruised and ugly, yet she refuses to buy a new one. Not because she can’t afford it—she’s got enough savings to buy a fleet of Teslas if she really wanted to—but because she’s on pace to retire very comfortably in less than 10 years.

With that in mind, Sophia could not care less what anyone thinks they know about her based on what she drives. When her teenagers grumble about getting dropped off at school in a beater, she kindly asks if they’d prefer to walk instead. Sophia is funny, thoughtful, and mature. Yet on that chilly fall afternoon, there she was: broken to pieces in my living room because her mother was refusing to own mistakes from 35 years earlier.

We and our parents see things differently What really matters, after all these years?

When dealing with issues from childhood, does it matter whose memory is most accurate? Does it matter if Sophia’s recollection of her mother’s words back then aren’t precisely what was saidor if a particular situation didn’t play out in the exact order she recalls? I don’t think so. Yet those are the trivial details her mother chose for deflection.

What really matters is that, however it went down 35 years ago, a daughter was betrayed. She was hurt. Even if her mother didn’t carry out the physical abuse herself, she played a role in allowing it to happen. And it had lasting effects. Trauma she’d endured in childhood had warped Sophia’s view of how she deserved to be treated. As a result, she struggled through her late teens and early adulthood.

Meeting her now—a strong, wise, charismatic woman of 47—you’d never believe she was once a “disaster” (her word, not mine), but according to Sophia, she’s come a long, long way. The person I know is a confident party host, a strong mother, and a wise business woman who seems to have mastered the art of work-life balance. She’s my go-to confidant for marriage, parenting, and career advice. Life happens to the best of us, though, and sometimes old wounds start to open up again.

Validation and an apology can go a long way

A few months ago, when Sophia decided to seek closure and speak to her mother about the past, she had practically begged for validation and an apology. Sadly, she did not get either. And she probably never will.

As she poured her heart out that day on my sofa, recounting the betrayal and disappointment, Sophia wasn’t the stoic woman I know and love—she was a hurt child. She was a wounded daughter who, more than anything, just needed her mom’s comfort and assurance. If I could see that so plainly, how could her own mother be so blind?

Is it so hard to just apologize?

What we took from this: Just apologize

Sophia is fine now. She doesn’t speak to her mother. Their relationship is severed, and she believes it is for the best. That outburst a few months ago was a blip on the radar. She’s back to her normal, confident self again, focusing on things within her control and letting go of the rest.

I’m not sure I’m entirely over it, though. My friend was really hurting. How could her mother have been so cruel? So stubborn? So cold? So proud?

My friend and I made a pact that we would just apologize to our kids

Sophia and I made a pact that day: If and when our grown children confront us with some mistake we made during their childhood, we’re not going to argue with them. We’re not going to gaslight. We’re not going to make excuses or defend ourselves. Hell, our kids will probably be right anyway. And even if they’re not, so what?

If something haunts them from their childhood, shouldn’t their parents own our part in it, however large or small? Whether they’re eight or 48, they’re still our kids. If we can help them heal from something in the past that’s holding them back in the present, it would be cruel not to.

With my kids out of the house now, I’ve been thinking a lot about the pact Sophia and I made. My response is ready for when one of my grown sons comes to me with a mistake I made during his formative years. Whether I remember the infraction or not, whether I think he’s being dramatic or perfectly rational, my response will simply be, “I’m sorry, son. I love you so much. If I could go back and do better, I would. The best I can do now, though, is say I’m sorry.”

More Great Reading:

My Daughter Is an Adult and She Doesn’t Need My Advice

About Tonya Rodriguez

Tonya Rodriguez is an insatiably curious old soul trapped in the body of a neurotic suburban mom. She loves irreverent comedy, red wine, her husband, and two grown kids. Longhorn football makes her happy, and then sad. She works hard, runs for fun, reads a lot, listens to podcasts about politics and murder, and is currently transitioning from a career in marketing to...You can find her on LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram.

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