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Relationships • Parenting

On Apologising to Your Child

There few things more appalling for the parent of a grown-up child than the realisation of just how much one has, over the years, deeply hurt the person one most loves in the world – and has done so out of nothing more noble than stress, self-absorption and profound stupidity. To compound the agony, children are not – by nature – inclined to extend time or complex sympathy towards their flawed parents; they need them to have been there at the start, and to have been sane, kind and gentle and can’t be expected to search too deeply for reasons why they weren’t. It is normal to move on, take the hurt elsewhere and bristle at any cack handed parental attempts at reconciliation.

Still, you may not be able to leave at that. Something inside you may crave a chance to speak at greater length:

Forgive me for interrupting you; I know you’re hugely busy at the moment. I’m so proud of you for everything that you do.

I just wanted to say a few words about some of the things that we never get around to discussing, but that are always on my mind; about some of the difficulties that went on between us and in the family more broadly when you were younger – and that I feel desperately sorry about, more than I will ever really properly be able to say. I’m speaking not with any expectation that things can change, but just to let you know how much regret I carry, how much I love you and care for you – and how much I want you to feel free and unburdened.

It must be hard for you to imagine perhaps, but your mother/father and I were so young – at least psychologically – when you were little. There was so much we didn’t understand – about ourselves and about one another. We both had complicated pasts that made us less than ideally suited to be together. We got impatient and intolerant. We didn’t know how to find the words to tell each other difficult stuff. A lot got buried and then came out in very wrong ways. We tried hard not to let things impact you, but ultimately and evidently not hard enough. There were things you heard and saw that I’m agonised about; it wasn’t fair – ever – to put you in that sort of situation. Bringing you into the world was the finest thing that your mother/father and I ever did.

Work didn’t make things any easier. It must also be hard for you to imagine just how rocky things were in those days. I had to put in so many more hours than I would have wanted. Sometimes whole weeks went by without me being able to properly connect with the family. I don’t expect you to understand, let alone forgive me. There could have been other ways to arrange my life, I know; other people find it after all, but I couldn’t. I lacked imagination, I was stubborn and scared – and overwhelmed by a rigid sense of duty – which meant that the people I was doing all this for suffered far more than they should.

When it came to your education, I lacked imagination. I think I must have conveyed the impression that I was obsessed with your results – but I didn’t care as much as I implied. I was just worried and that fretting came to find a home in a blunt way around school. Truly the only thing that matters to me is your happiness, it’s what I always felt – but was too narrow-minded properly to recognise and articulate.

It isn’t your business to understand all this. I just want you to know that I’m the proudest parent in the world. I’m also a deeply flawed one – and you’ve every right to feel as you do. What I need you to know now is just how much I’m aware of things, and how committed I am to making them better in any way I can – even if that means shutting up and leaving you to it.

I never want you to come and see me out of duty, only when you want and when it feels completely right. I am always here for you; I love you so much.

Your child will perhaps never (and perhaps never should) understand entirely – and therefore see you as just an ordinary person afflicted with the usual range of human weaknesses and prone to the normal, deep mistakes of existence. They won’t ever be fair to you. And that’s fine. But the two of you can maybe be closer, much closer, if you dare to speak.

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