Forgiving your parents…

By Guest Author Juliris E. De La Rosa

When someone commits an act of betrayal, it goes without saying that the victim might start to reevaluate their relationship with the perpetrator. S/he might completely end the relationship or s/he might forgive the perpetrator.

This is not always easy when parent or parents commit an act of betrayal to their children. Children, including adult children, cannot easily abandon their relationship with their parents, and generally choose to go through the process of forgiveness.

When the adult child goes through the stages of forgiveness, their commitment (how close parent and adult child feel) trust (knowing that both parent and adult child can rely on each other) and relational satisfaction (how parent and adult child feel about the relationship) with their parents will change throughout the process.

In a study by  Braun, Rittenour, and Myers, 61 adult children ranging from the ages of 18 to 64 were asked to write about a moment when their parents betrayed them. They saw betrayal as emotional or physical abuse, non-supportive behaviors like not accepting the adult child’s significant other, favoritism in the family, etc.

They note the three stages of forgiveness:

I.         Impact – When the victim starts to wonder whether they deserved the betrayal in the first place. Along with that comes refusal to believe and accept the betrayal and a lack of emotions.

II.         Definition – When the victims ask the perpetrator why they committed the act of betrayal in the first place.

III.         Moving On- As the name suggest, this is where victims decide to let go of any negative emotions, feelings, and thought about the betrayal and move on with the relationship

Participants experiencing Impact try to avoid any type of communication with their parents. The first stage is where this is little to no commitment, trust and relational satisfaction resulting from the initial shock of betrayal. Participants in the second stage, Definition, wanted to know why their parents did such acts of betrayal. In the third stage of forgiveness, Moving On, participants wanted to move on with the relationship with their parents.

Participants felt different levels of commitment, trust and relational satisfaction during the three stages of forgiveness. As the next stage of forgiveness came, the levels of commitment trust and relational satisfaction increased.

There have always been studies about marital betrayals and friendship betrayals, but little exists on betrayals between parents and their adult children. Parent and adult child relationships differ from all the other types of relationships in the sense that you cannot choose who your parents are. When you are in a relationship with a friend or significant other, you have the option of ending the relationship if it is no longer in your best interest to stay in that relationship, whereas with your parents, this relationship has more permanence.

For that reason alone, we, as the adult children, should forgive them if they do indeed commit an act of betrayal. It is important for society to invest more time into parent and adult child betrayals so we can get a more in-depth look at what happens to a relationship that cannot be so easily broken forever.


Brann, M., Rittenour, C., & Myers, S. (2007). Adult Children’s Forgiveness of Parents’ Betrayals. Communication Research Reports24, 353-360.


Published by


Michael Rabby, PhD, serves as a consultant, author & professor specializing in social media, relationship building, and statistics-based research. Here, I muse about these things, along with the occasional comment about music, sports, and whatever else strikes my fancy. After all, it is still communication.