Working On It

I Finally Figured Out Why My Kids Resent Me — And How To Fix It

I had trouble connecting with my kids as they got older. Now I know why.

by As Told To Matt Christensen
Originally Published: 
Ariela Basson/Fatherly; Getty Images

I struggle with apologizing. Especially when it comes to my sons, who are 22, 20, and 14. When they were younger, I didn’t think much of it because, well, I was the parent. I was the boss.

But as they grew older, our relationships became much more complex. I noticed that they seemed to resent me, and I needed to figure out why. I was growing as a parent, and instead of having a ‘like it or lump it’ sort of approach, I tried to work with them and explain things. It didn’t always work. I realize I lacked the consistency I’m trying to achieve now. I wanted to prioritize learning how to apologize as the boys started becoming young adults.

I still get frustrated at home and that leads to me lashing out. For example, the other night I noticed that my youngest son had left his laundry sitting in the basket on the floor while I was out of town. I had folded the laundry before I left. I was gone for three days. But he couldn’t find the time to put his laundry away.

When I noticed, I yelled for him to come downstairs and take care of it. I admit, I was tired from the weekend and frustrated with some other things, including some larger chores I’d asked him to do that weren’t done. When he came downstairs, I told him — as calmly as I could — that leaving his laundry on the floor for that long was unacceptable and irresponsible.

“Working On It” is a regular series about self-improvement. In each installment, a dad talks to us about a bad habit he has, how it affects him and his family, and what he’s doing to work on it. Here, Mike, a father of three boys, discusses how his stern approach to parenting and inability to apologize created distance with his kids and how he’s trying to do better.

I’ve tried to get a better handle on my anger and frustration. I don’t necessarily believe that anger is always bad. It’s an emotion we all feel, and it highlights certain things we don’t think are right. With the laundry, I think I was angry at the fact that I took the time to fold it for him, and I felt really disrespected that he couldn’t even put it away. I realized that, as a 14-year-old boy, he’s also busy with a lot of things. He’s just started football, which I know is a big commitment. I understand. But I was angry.

One of the reasons I think I struggle with apologies is because I worry about my apology not being accepted.

With regard to apologizing, the change has been slow. But I’ve made a lot of progress as the boys have grown. As they began developing their own understandings, and could express themselves and what they’re feeling, I started to feel that I owed them more than simply assertions and actions. I needed to explain things so that there was a common understanding, and apologize when I was wrong.

I had an opportunity to practice apologizing when my older son ran into trouble at work. His manager called home, and I found out he was late getting some sort of online certification completed. The manager said my son was a good employee, but he was out of options regarding the certification. I was his last resort.

So, I got in touch with my son and called him to task. I didn’t yell, but I was stern. And I was wrong. It was none of my business, and I stuck my nose where it didn’t belong. So, a few hours later I pulled my son aside and told him that I was sorry. I admitted that I shouldn’t have done anything more than relay the message I was given. I told him he was an adult and he could manage his own affairs.

After that, our relationship changed markedly. He became less withdrawn and avoidant. He hangs out more with the family now. And when we are together, it’s much more enjoyable for everyone.

One of the reasons I think I struggle with apologies is because I worry about my apology not being accepted. When we meaningfully apologize, we become vulnerable and place ourselves in the hands of the person we’ve upset. That can be scary. What if they don’t accept? What if they hold a grudge? What if the relationship can’t be saved? I don’t want that to happen.

When we meaningfully apologize, we become vulnerable and place ourselves in the hands of the person we’ve upset. That can be scary.

I realize now, though, that the point of apologizing is to take responsibility for your actions. I want people to know that, when I screw up, I am sorry. And that I want to work on our relationship.

My father refused to apologize for anything. Parents set the tone and example for their kids. So I know that I have to do better. If I want my kids to be good adults, then I need to model myself as a good adult. I should be the one that shows them and explains why I’m doing what I’m doing. I haven’t ever worried about being a bad example, but I have seen some of my behaviors in them. When those behaviors are ones that are less than helpful, I know I have to explain and apologize. I don’t always do that, but I am trying to get better.

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