My mom has apologized for her past behavior more than once. I had recently told my therapist that all I wanted was for my mom to acknowledge that my childhood was pretty awful, and for her to just apologize for her role without getting defensive or trying to explain it away. My therapist asked if I could consider writing my mom an email about it. I said I absolutely would not.
And then I did.
I didn’t make a list of my top 5 grievances like my therapist recommended. Instead, I couched a few lines about childhood trauma in a larger email about how hurt I am by my brother’s estrangement.
My mom responded with a long message, which was mostly about HER and not ME, but whatever. In the middle, she apologized for being “such a horrible mother.” That comment made me mad. I knew she wanted me to reply with an appeasing, “Oh, you’re not a horrible mother!” It felt like unabashed baiting.
I read the email to my therapist, and she challenged me to read it more generously. What if my mom actually does believe what she wrote? What if I could just take the words at face value? What if I could hear her trying actually to apologize for being a horrible mother?
I feel uncomfortable with this because in a lot of ways she was an OK mother. I was always (over) fed, clothed, provided for. But, in other ways—like the profound emotional neglect (I still can’t bring myself to use the more active noun “abuse”)—she was not.
I didn’t reply to my mom with platitudes. Instead, I said things that were true: that I appreciated her email and that I know things were hard for all of us.