If you did something to hurt your parents’ feelings, the right thing to do is apologize.
How do you make a proper apology? The first step is to be sure your apology is sincere. To be sincere, it is important that you can understand what you did to hurt someone and to feel bad for the hurt you caused. If you cannot sympathize with the person you hurt and understand their feelings, you are not ready to make a sincere apology. When you are able to apologize, the next important thing is to be sure you have learned from what you did, and resolve to change your behavior so that you do not repeat it.
A person who apologized and is not sincere and repeats the transgression is not really sorry.
One thing to note though is to be sure that what you did to hurt them wasn’t something necessary for your happiness. In these situations, an apology for what you are doing isn’t necessary, however, an apology for any hurt feelings may be appreciated, or simply acknowledging that you understand they are hurt, even though it was not your intention to do so.
Feelings are complicated, and we cannot control how others will respond or feel when they are presented with a situation. One complicated situation that often causes hurt feelings is when an adoptee decides to voice their desire to reach out to their birth family. This is complicated because the adoptee is generally not looking to hurt anyone’s feelings. They are simply trying to put the pieces of their puzzle together. If the adoptive parents have hurt feelings about this situation, they should not project them onto their child. It is not the child who is hurting them, but it is their own insecurities and fears. The adoptee is not looking to be hurtful, but instead to gain more understanding of themselves. How their parents respond to this is not something they should feel responsible for. If their desire to seek out their birth family causes hurt feelings, seeing a counselor together may be a good idea.
What about if you hurt your adoptive parents by saying the dreaded words, “You aren’t my real parents.”
I must say, this phrase is extremely hurtful to an adoptive parent, and does necessitate a sincere apology.
What is a “real” parent? Who is a “real” parent? Adoptive or biological?
The truth is that both adoptive and biological parents are “real” parents. Biological parents created you and gave you life. Without them, you would not exist. Adoptive parents have raised you, provided for you, taught you, and are generally responsible for your life after they adopted you. Both of these parents are “real” parents. Neither can be replaced. Both have had a significant role in making you the person you are. While their roles may be different, they are both very real.
If you use this phrase and hurt your adoptive parents’ feelings, you absolutely owe them an apology. Be sure the apology is sincere, and that you have learned from the situation and will not repeat it.
It is not okay to intentionally hurt the feelings of your parents. If you are struggling with your adoption, it isn’t fair to punish those that love you. Instead, you should see a therapist, counselor, or join a support group for adoptees. It is completely normal for adoptees to sometimes feel uncertain about their adoption and to wonder how their biological family came to decide to place them for adoption.
Talking about your adoption with your adoptive family should not be a cause of hurt feelings. You are not wrong to want to know your history, birth story, and information about your birth family. However, it is important to acknowledge that the conversation may hurt your parents’ feelings if it isn’t handled in a sensitive manner. If you are careful to acknowledge their feelings, it will likely lessen the odds that it will be a hurtful time for them, and instead, they may be able to focus on your curiosity and excitement rather than their own fears or insecurities.
If you are worried that your interest in your biological family may cause your adoptive parents to have hurt feelings, you may want to consider discussing it in family therapy. A therapist could work with the family to be able to discuss the topic openly and help each person work through any feelings they may have as you proceed. The therapist will be able to help each family member process what they are feeling and why. However, being interested in learning about your biological history should not be a reason to apologize or to feel responsible that you hurt your parents. Again, their feelings are their own, and you are not intentionally causing them pain. Your feelings are equally important in this situation, and both sides need to acknowledge each other’s feelings and work through them.
Being an adoptee and hurting the feelings of you adoptive parents can be a complicated situation. It is important to be able to identify the situations that require an apology and behavior change, and which situations require an honest discussion that allows both sides to feel heard and understood.
When should you apologize?
If you are an adoptee and you said something with the intention of hurting your parents, you should apologize and resolve to not do it again.
If you are an adoptee, and you hurt your parents by trying to find out information about your adoption, you should evaluate your methods and delivery when having the conversations, but you should not apologize or stop looking for the information you need. Instead, you can express regret that the conversation was one that caused discomfort to them, but also that it is something you need for your personal development. You should not apologize for your curiosity, but you can sympathize and apologize for the need to bring up some hard to deal with emotions for them.
Sometimes, parents just need to feel that their efforts to do their best job in being your mom and dad are noticed. If you are planning to try to contact your birth family, your parents may feel like they weren’t enough for you growing up, or that they somehow failed to be good parents. Assuring them that they are always your parents, no matter what, but that you have the need to find out about your biological history even with having a good relationship with them. Assure them that you would be interested in pursuing a search no matter what your life had been like, and what type of parents they would have been. If you let them know this isn’t a failure on their part that you are searching but is something that you just need to do for your own growth, it may help to eliminate the feelings that they find hurtful.
It may be helpful to ask your parents how you can make them feel more comfortable with your choices. Some may want to help you search, and to be a part of your healing process. Others may feel most comfortable with not knowing what you are doing, or if you make contact. Each adoption is a personal journey that is not duplicated by any other journey. So, while one family may find comfort in a group effort, another may need things to be done in a more discreet way.
Whatever your situation, it can only help you to acknowledge the feelings of all involved, including yourself, and to make decisions while trying to make everyone as comfortable as possible, and with minimal hurt taking place. Again, if the subject is just too difficult, seeking family therapy is a good option, as are support groups.
Whenever you hurt anyone’s feelings, you need to evaluate what you could do differently the next time so you can avoid any hurt feelings.
In some cases, writing things down is a good alternative to actual conversation. When you write things down, you have time to think about the words you are using, and time to change things if they need changing. Writing also gives the receiver of the letter a chance to process their feeling rather than an immediate response during conversation. The words can be reread and it is helpful in eliminating misunderstandings.
The hard part about writing is that you don’t have the tone of your voice to help communicate the way you may mean things. Sometimes, the tone in a note is mistaken and can cause an unnecessary misunderstanding. I would encourage you to keep that in mind if you choose to handle these types of situations in writing rather than with a conversation. When writing, it is hard to understand humor, as the tone is not heard, so being more straightforward in your writing may be the way to go. Save the humor or sarcasm for actual conversations, and when everyone has had a chance to get comfortable with the subject.
Sometimes, when choosing to write, several notes back and forth may need to take place before both sides are ready to have a discussion in person. This is okay. When writing things down, it helps to avoid the heat of the moment responses and helps to keep arguments and hurt feelings from happening. If several written notes are needed to reach a place of understanding and calm, then let that happen. Try not to add pressure to an already stressful situation. Everyone must process things at their own pace.
If you would rather communicate with a conversation in person, but are worried that what you want to discuss will cause hurt feelings, there are some options to help.
One way to help keep feelings under control is to have the discussion in a place that would keep either side from becoming loud or boisterous. Offer to take your parents to dinner at a restaurant. In a public place, there is a better chance of trying to keep emotions in check, rather than to escalate emotions to an argument or cause a scene.
Another great option, as I mentioned before, is to have the conversation with a family therapist. A therapist will be able to help everyone process the information they are sharing, as well as to help eliminate misunderstandings by being a mediator. When there is a neutral party who can help each person see the other person’s point of view, without judgment, it can help keep everyone on track and calm.
It is important to remember that anytime you hurt another person, you should take a moment to try to see things from their perspective and to empathize with their feelings. Try to take a moment to understand why they were hurt and how you can help make them feel better. While you may not be able to prevent the hurt feelings, sometimes taking the time to empathize and acknowledge that you understand and that you regret that your choices are hurtful is enough. Other times, depending on the situation, you may need to sincerely apologize for hurting them, and make a change in your behavior to resolve to not repeat the hurtful mistake.
Whatever the situation is, remember, these are your parents. Your parents love you unconditionally and may forgive any hurt you cause. Truth is, you have hurt their feelings before, whether you know it or not. Just as they have likely hurt your feelings before. However, you all still have love for each other and have forgiven any unfortunate moments between you that need forgiving. Whatever the circumstances, if you find yourself in a difficult situation with your parents, you can work through it. Honest communication, empathy, and calm can get you through the situation and to a place of understanding.
If you are worried about your relationship, or about any deep hurt feelings, therapy or support groups can help you process the feelings and give ideas on how to move on.
A sincere apology is needed when feelings are hurt. Good luck, whatever your situation. Be sincere.
Jennifer is a mother to 3 children (one biological, two adopted). She is also a mom to numerous pets. She enjoys volunteering in her children’s classroom, reading, and crafting in her spare time. She has been married for almost 15 years.