Do I reach out to someone I've hurt but doesn't want contact from me?
May 29, 2014 1:55 PM   Subscribe

Would it be upsetting to have someone who wronged you--really, really, really wronged you--to contact you out of the blue to apologize? Over a decade ago I was a stupid, histrionic, selfish, needy and endless pit of WANT and ME-ME-ME kind of a person. I alienated everyone I knew and ended up moving away from my hometown. It took me a long time but I grew up and I realize how terrible I was then. Now I want to apologize to some people I wronged. Is it out of line for me to send a letter when I was asked to make no further contact over a decade ago? I don't deserve or desire a reconciliation but I do want to apologize and thank them for putting up with me--instead of just being a destructive person, I'm sure I would have ended up a dead person had it not been for them.

I was a despicable teenager towards my foster parents. When I came of age, they and my foster siblings sent me a letter (I was at college) stating that while they loved and cared for me and always will, they'd rather not have any further contact with me.

I obliged, and in the years since I've straightened out. I'm ashamed of the drama and pain I caused; while I'm not looking for absolution or to reconcile, I do want to apologize and thank them for taking care of me over those turbulent years. Can I reach out since it's been so long? I really don't think it's in our interests (either party) to meet or anything; I'm thousands of miles away anyhow. I just want to send a letter and say: I'm so sorry and thank you for being good to me--I hope my crapping all over your goodness didn't keep you from extending that same kindness to others. Again, I'm so sorry.

Is this wrong to do?

Am I just bringing up bad memories for my benefit? Have you ever received an apology you didn't ask for? I'm conflicted because I feel that apologizing is the right thing to do but I don't want to be intrusive, which I believe any contact from me would be. However, if part of my growing up and paying for my actions is the fact that I don't get to apologize, I'm willing to accept that too. I'd appreciate any insight anyone has to offer.

Thank you for your thoughts.

Private emails can be sent to whoarehughes [at] gmail [dot] com.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (56 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Nope. They cut you off. It is their choice to contact you. Odds are they haven't thought about you in years, and your contacting them will remind them more of the bad things than make them think you've grown. Leave them to that peace.
posted by Etrigan at 2:01 PM on May 29, 2014 [4 favorites]

The way you show you're sorry is by continuing to respect their wishes.
posted by Jairus at 2:01 PM on May 29, 2014 [15 favorites]

I guess it depends on how you wronged them. Did you cause them physical or emotional trauma or where you just a grade-A asshole?

If you were just an asshole, I think a letter would be okay after a decade, so long as you really and truly expect nothing in return. If they don't respond, then never contact them again.

If you did something like assault their daughter or something, I would consider not sending a letter as that could be triggering.
posted by greta simone at 2:01 PM on May 29, 2014 [31 favorites]

If you think it'll be intrusive, don't do it.

Also, you got a bad hand dealt to you if you were in foster care. They understand that, I'm sure. You're fine, I promise.

If anything they'd probably like a letter thanking them and letting them know that you're doing well.
posted by the young rope-rider at 2:02 PM on May 29, 2014 [12 favorites]

"Am I just bringing up bad memories for my benefit?" Well, yeah. That's not bad or unreasonable, but it isn't something you can really do. Your impulse is to apologize and make it right, while their last expressed wishes to you were that the way to make it right was to not contact them again, not even ten years down the line.

Sometimes we screw up in ways that we cannot make right with the wronged party. The best we can hope for is being better in the future.

You might establish some sort of easily Googleable online presence so that they can find you if they want to, and you can apologize then, if being able to apologize if/when they need it is important to you.
posted by hollyholly at 2:02 PM on May 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

Don't do it, especially if they specifically asked you not to. This serves only to make you feel better. Your contacting them could be quite unpleasant for them, even if you really have changed.

Remedy the guilt by being the best human you can be as you move forward.
posted by futureisunwritten at 2:02 PM on May 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'll go against the current - I'd write a letter. Make it short, make it clear you have no expectations on their time and no expectations that they respond, let them know things are going a lot better for you (without getting into details - this isn't an annual brag letter you send out at Christmas), and sincerely thank them for what they did for you. I might even make a donation in their name to a foster kid charity or something and say you're doing this as a token of your thanks.

Don't give your phone number or email in the note but do put your address on the envelope so they can choose to get in touch if they want.

Once it is in the mail - don't think of it again. Don't hope/wait for a response, don't expect anything.

I'm glad things are going better for you.
posted by arnicae at 2:04 PM on May 29, 2014 [149 favorites]

For the very little it is worth, I'd endorse sending it.

That doesn't mean it will be welcome, or couldn't go wrong. Maybe make it plain you don't expect a response, or absolution, and leave it to them to do what they like.

It's been 10 years. A lot has changed. A single letter seems reasonable to me.
posted by pseudonick at 2:04 PM on May 29, 2014 [9 favorites]

I think it would be ok in this instance. I generally oppose people attempting to contact those they have wronged who have asked for no contact as it seems to me the apologizer typically is focused on releiving himself or herself of the burden of what they have done as opposed to having the victim's interest at heart, but to me this has a different flavor.

Especially since they were foster parents. By sending this letter I think you let them know they did a great job with a super shitty situation as you turned out ok as an adult. This letter gives them something, and is not just you seeking relief. Plus if they really don't want to hear from you they can see the name on the envelope and throw it away.
posted by WinterSolstice at 2:05 PM on May 29, 2014 [51 favorites]

I would write to them. Keep it brief, and avoid any dramatics. Just tell them you're sorry, you're doing well, etc.

It's been ten years. When they told you not to contact them, they were dealing with a volatile teenager, and they were probably at the end of their rope and felt like they needed to protect themselves- but now you're an adult, and it's very possible that they have regrets as well.
posted by showbiz_liz at 2:07 PM on May 29, 2014 [22 favorites]

Especially since they were foster parents. By sending this letter I think you let them know they did a great job with a super shitty situation as you turned out ok as an adult. This letter gives them something, and is not just you seeking relief.

Also, this. They probably thought they had failed you, and they may be very relieved to know that they apparently didn't.
posted by showbiz_liz at 2:08 PM on May 29, 2014 [50 favorites]

Yes- this isn't a jilted ex who wants one more chance, this is a troubled kid who's cleaned up their act and wants to let their former guardians know they aren't dead in a ditch somewhere.
posted by showbiz_liz at 2:18 PM on May 29, 2014 [30 favorites]

I'm weighing in on the side of yes, a letter is fine.

There is a tension between the desire to apologize and the desire to respect someone's wish not to hear from you again, and how to navigate that tension is confused by this conception that apologies are inherently selfish acts that benefit only the person giving the apology.

Whether you apologize should be guided by considerations like:

-how fresh is the wound?
-how deep was the wound?
-how much time has passed since you were asked not to contact them?

How you apologize should err on the side of being brief rather than some rambling missive from you. On the other hand it should be long enough that it would seem to have some meaning. Who would want to get a post card with one sentence on the back? (for example). The apology under circumstances where you were asked to never contact people again should probably avoid being an obvious overture to request future contact. If you're sending a letter you could include a return address on the envelope, for instance, but don't write your address, phone number, etc. on the letter.

And for god's sake make sure it's actually an apology instead of being freighted with "this is how great I'm doing now guess I didn't need you in my life after all hahaha" undertones.
posted by MoonOrb at 2:18 PM on May 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

I would send it. It sounds like you are no longer the person they didn't want any contact from, but the person they probably hoped (but maybe couldn't believe at the time they made their declaration) you'd become. Well done you, for turning your life around. It's something many of us want, but rarely accomplish.
posted by cecic at 2:19 PM on May 29, 2014 [12 favorites]

I am usually very vehemently against this sort of thing, from personal experience - I have someone in my life I have requested no contact from, who resurfaces every five years or so with an apology that harms rather than helps, and proves all over again that he does not understand or respect my feelings.

I do think that the foster family issue makes a difference here, though.

If there's a middle option I'd suggest that - anyone you are still in contact with from that time in your life who would be willing to put out a gentle feeler on your behalf to see whether contact would be welcome?

If not, then I would say, cautiously, that it's okay to write and send the letter. I would leave out the bit about hoping they continued to foster others. I would just focus on apology, thanks, and good wishes for the future. Short, genuine, and just the once, unless they open the door by responding back to you.
posted by Stacey at 2:19 PM on May 29, 2014 [3 favorites]

just jumping in to say YES YES YES- they've even told you that they will always care about you. They should want to know that you're doing well. It may indeed fill them with one of the deepest joys they have experienced. There are some people in our lives whom reaching towards with kindness and love will always be a good thing and this is one of those rare relationships.
posted by cacao at 2:24 PM on May 29, 2014 [15 favorites]

I think this is a hard call because of the "we love you we just can't deal with you" bit.

I did some blogging at one time to put info into the hands of someone who was not speaking to me. I felt that got good results, better than trying to contact them more directly. So if you are willing to wear your heart on your sleeve and you have some idea where they might read something public -- like the local paper that they used to subscribe to or something like that -- writing your letter and publishing it somewhere might be a way to say you are sorry without making them feel threatened or disrespected. Though writing personal stuff like that in a very public way is a lot trickier than pouring your heart out in a private letter. For that and other reasons, it is certainly not for everyone.

Someone who really wronged me never apologized like I wanted for many years but did make amends in some sense and I eventually let it go and took that as a form of apology, in some sense. So perhaps another possibility is finding a way to do something nice for these folks without being intrusive. The individual who hurt me had a habit of finding out I had a particular kind of problem third hand, through mutual acquaintances, and then doing stuff to fix my problem while mostly avoiding me as much as possible since I basically hated them. One thing I learned from this person, who I think is a decent person with problems who just screwed up horribly, is that sometimes the most loving thing you can do is just give the other person their space.

So I am very on the fence here about direct contact but I don't think that means you can't do anything at all.
posted by Michele in California at 2:30 PM on May 29, 2014

I think if it's a snail mail letter, that's probably OK. Just put a return address with your full name legible, and then it's their choice whether to open it or not.
posted by Sara C. at 2:34 PM on May 29, 2014

There aren't really enough facts about your conduct to know whether this would be frightening/horrible, or just solid closure for them (and you). If you did something unforgivable like murdering a pet or molesting someone, you should respect their wishes. If you were just a jerk... after 10 years it might be ok.

If you do write such a letter, it would probably be wise to craft the very first sentence of the very first paragraph to quickly establish that what follows is an apology without reservation, excuse or expectation of forgiveness or contact and your heartfelt but long-neglected words of thanks and deep appreciation for all they did.
posted by Hylas at 2:45 PM on May 29, 2014 [6 favorites]

Under almost any other circumstance, I would say don't wrote the letter, but what you describe here is different. I'd say do write, make it clear that you aren't looking for more than to make a clean apology, express appreciation, and wish them well.
posted by rosa at 2:49 PM on May 29, 2014 [3 favorites]

If you are honestly not expecting to receive any sort of response or expect anything from them then I'd send the letter. If nothing else they'd probably be glad to hear that all they went through with you wasn't for nothing and that you got your act together. I would snail mail it, include your contact info but make it clear you do not expect a response back.
posted by wwax at 2:51 PM on May 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

I would appreciate receiving a letter of apology from someone who wronged me as long as it is a statement only and doesn't make me feel like they're trying to re-insert themselves into my life or are expecting a response. I would probably prefer a physical snail mail letter over anything online because being contacted online feels like there is less personal space and more of a sense of immediacy and a live presence, at least that's how I feel. I would want it to be my choice whether or not to have any further interaction beyond reading the letter.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 2:54 PM on May 29, 2014 [5 favorites]

Yes absolutely write and send a letter. I don't know why people would say otherwise. It's been a decade, this isn't a bad love relationship it's more familial. Be sure to say thank you to them in the letter, and like other people suggest, don't expect a reply. But honestly, I would be surprised if you didn't get one. Human beings are wonderful forgiving and loving people, do all you can to foster that in yourself and others.
posted by katypickle at 2:57 PM on May 29, 2014 [4 favorites]

I think you should send it. This is your foster parents we are talking about, not an angry ex. These are people who told you they love you and therefore would be glad to hear that you are doing better and would appreciate a sincere apology.

When they told you not to contact them, they meant they couldn't deal with you the way you were then. You're not asking them to deal with you; you just want to apologize and acknowledge what they did for you and let them know it wasn't wasted. I can't imagine why you wouldn't.
posted by fingersandtoes at 2:57 PM on May 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

On second thought I'd like to add one exception to what I stated above. It doesn't sound to me like it's the case here specifically but if there was anything involved where the other party may have felt stalked then it might not be a good idea to send even a letter of apology. It would mean risking that they would have to relive that horrible state of mind the moment they hold the letter in their hands. I was stalked once and did eventually receive a letter from her a few years after the active stalking ended. I had heard from old friends that she had gotten better and had received treatment or therapy of some sort. Still, I couldn't even get myself to open the letter. Just touching it felt like letting something toxic back into my life. I picked it up and carried it to the fireplace like a rotting dead fish and burned it unopened. I'm happy she got better but just seeing her name made me relive the emotional stress and toxic anxiety I had experienced because of her.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 3:07 PM on May 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

If you do decide to contact them (and all the pros and cons are pretty well covered above!):
* Snail-mail letter only: not email, hunting them up on facebook, or anything else. Drop it in the mail and forget it, whether they choose to respond or not do NOT send a second letter.
* About that snail-mail envelope: don't just put your return address, put your full (first & last) name as they knew it.
* Consider sending the letter to whatever social services/foster care organization assigned you to them, rather than directly to their house.
posted by easily confused at 3:12 PM on May 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

You could look at this as more of a thank you than an intrusive apology letter. I think they would love to know that the adult you appreciates their effort at helping you through a terrible time in your life.
posted by cairnoflore at 3:39 PM on May 29, 2014 [12 favorites]

I say do it. I was stalked by an ex and he sent me a letter apologizing eventually. It pissed me off at the time but now I'm really glad that he did. More so that I know he recognized the wrong in his life and that I didn't deserve that. It is nice to hear that sometimes. I never responded and don't want to. Ultimately I really appreciated it.

This is a family situation. I really think they will be glad to hear from you.
posted by AlexiaSky at 3:53 PM on May 29, 2014

No. Respect their wishes. As someone who has been hurt tremendously and went no contact for several years (albeit an entirely different situation as yours), I would NOT want to be contacted by the person who caused my grief...not even for an apology. If anything, I'd probably see it as trying to absolve the guilt/move on from the grief you caused - and therefore selfish (ie: I can't handle the guilt/need closure, let me disrupt your life so I can get it). After all, you've stated you have no desire to see them or be part of their lives, so why bother interrupting their lives at all? You'd be dragging all of those painful memories (which they clearly would like to forget) back into light for.... what? What are they supposed to do with your apology?

Leave them be.
posted by stubbehtail at 3:53 PM on May 29, 2014 [5 favorites]

I think you are okay sending the one letter -- a single one, only, unless they initiate contact -- apologising. Make sure that, when you write it, you aren't hoping this means they will respond, because it will come through in the letter. I'd recommend having a few people read it first to make sure it sounds okay.
posted by jeather at 3:55 PM on May 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

The people who are telling you to go ahead and write them are ignoring the legal aspect. Assuming you're in the United States, it is illegal to contact someone who has asked you not to do so. They sent you a letter... I don't know how many years ago this happened, but when you receive something like that in writing through snail mail rather than email it is specifically done for legal purposes. I'm assuming this "letter" you received was also sent with some sort of usps confirmation? If so it was DEFINITELY sent with a legal play in mind.

Do not write them. If you do and they don't like it, you can find yourself with a restraining order depending on the state you're in.

I sent a letter like this to someone a decade ago and it was a lawyer who told me to do it. If this person EVER contacts me again even to apologize I'm taking further action.
posted by olivetree at 4:22 PM on May 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

They stated "they'd rather not have any further contact" but you want to contact them anyways? No, don't do it. Respect their wishes and move on. Contacting them only serves to help you not them, and shows that you are, not were, an"endless pit of WANT and ME-ME-ME kind of a person".
posted by Lay Off The Books at 4:23 PM on May 29, 2014 [4 favorites]

I am usually vehemently against this kind of thing, but there are so very many extenuating circumstances here, and it sounds like you were very very young at the time - young enough that you were still forming. I say send it.
posted by smoke at 4:28 PM on May 29, 2014 [6 favorites]

If I were them, I'd want to hear from you the type of thing you're planning to share.
posted by The Minotaur at 4:57 PM on May 29, 2014

I'm another one who would normally be a hard NO but I think this is the rare exception, mostly because these were your foster parents. I'd second all the suggestions about making it a straight apology stressing no expectations in return, and thanking them. I also agree that your motivation seems genuine and not something you are doing for yourself.

I don't know how many years ago this happened, but when you receive something like that in writing through snail mail rather than email it is specifically done for legal purposes.

The OP states that this was over a decade ago, so it's entirely possible the sender was not using e-mail at the time.
posted by Room 641-A at 5:35 PM on May 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Depends what you did. If you were just kind of an asshole that's one thing and it might be nice to own up to it. Although in that case, who does it really help? Personally, I'd be annoyed unless it included a check for some money or something. Ha.

If you ruined their lives or damaged their well-being in some lasting way, they probably want to forget you ever existed and you'd be preventing them from moving on. In that case, you should really butt out.
posted by AppleTurnover at 6:15 PM on May 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

They asked you not to contact them; respect it.

I get occasional messages from my estranged half-sister, who I cut off over ten years ago, and it's upsetting every time, even though I don't even consider responding. It wasn't a decision I took lightly, and I don't like to be reminded of that very painful/stressful time. Edging back in with an apology or even just vague "hope you're doing well" sentiments is still disrespectful.
posted by ktkt at 6:49 PM on May 29, 2014 [5 favorites]

it is illegal to contact someone who has asked you not to do so.

No, it definitely isn't. (That is why restraining orders exist -- to create a legal boundary in cases of threat and harassment.)

OP, you may get more targeted advice if you say what the circumstances were of your parting from your family. Advice here really will change depending on if you did normal or even aggravated bad kid stuff; or if you, say, molested someone.
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:01 PM on May 29, 2014 [4 favorites]

Oh heavens, foster parents probably had to say to you what they said because they thought you needed to have that restriction. I have met many children who behaved as did in my work in the child protection area.

I say send your letter with all the words you wrote above. Leave it at that. if they want to be in touch, they will but you have made your apologies which you need to do. That's what grownups do, and now you are a grownup.

Congratulations by the way for all the hard work you have done to make it this far. I wish you continued success.
posted by OhSusannah at 8:25 PM on May 29, 2014 [7 favorites]

Another voice in favor of sending a letter, specifically because these were your foster parents. My feeling is that most people saying "don't send" are thinking of ex lovers and friends, with whom one has a very different relationship than you do in a parent-child relationship. If these people were kind enough to take in a troubled teenager in order to try to love and guide you, then they likely still have parental feelings toward you regardless of how things went at your lowest point. Parents get these things. These specifically said they would always love and care for you - believe them, and give them the benefit of learning that the person they love has straightened out and become the happier person they hoped you would be. I'd guess the least that would come from you dropping a single letter in the actual mail is their relief in finding out you're doing well, and it would very likely result in a return in correspondence. Either way, though, they get no pleasure or benefit from only knowing you at your lowest, so give them a glimpse into who you are now. Good luck to you.
posted by AthenaPolias at 9:11 PM on May 29, 2014 [4 favorites]

You've posted anonymously. Please share with us exactly what it is that you did so we can advise you properly.

I agree 100% with people here who have said if you did sexual harm to someone in their family and/or intentionally hurt their pet, then you really do need to continue to leave them the hell alone.
posted by hush at 11:18 PM on May 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you're sincerely sorry, write and send a letter. ONE letter. Include that you understand that they asked you not to contact them, but that you've [finally] woken up and realize just how much they did for you, and how very far out of line you were. Make sure you note that you're not seeking a response, that this letter is a one-time thing, and you won't bother them further. And don't. Close that door on your side.

Return address the envelope. That leaves the door unlocked if they have a change of heart and wish to respond.

They did, after all, make a difference in your life. And that was likely their motive for fostering in the first place.

I, personally, would feel absolutely blessed to receive this kind of message a decade later from someone that hurt me, even if I'd told them I didn't want to hear from them ever again. Knowing that my prayers for someone had been answered - even if it was years later than I'd wished - would make me quite happy. Odds are, I'd end up responding.

Someone who has truly forgiven has long let go of the hurt, and is a much healthier person as a result. Those that are still busy holding onto anger or hurt are only damaging themselves. Don't ask for their forgiveness - that's not how it works, forgiving means that the person has let go of the pain, not that they've accepted/tolerated/condoned the wrong.
posted by stormyteal at 12:27 AM on May 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

Do they have a church or similar they visit regularly ? Maybe pass the letter on to their clergy person? Or send it via the agency that placed you??

I think you could maybe use a go-between of some kind.

I dunno, tho. I can not think how to do this w/out it being possibly seen as a creepy way to get back into their lives.

I understand your desire to do this, but I think you should do some sort of ritual or gesture that symbolically thanks them, but does not include actually contacting them.

I'm surprised by my position here, but I think maybe you should not do this unless a go-between might work for them.

My two cents.
posted by jbenben at 1:13 AM on May 30, 2014

Seeing as you're not in jail, you're not dead, and you graduated college, I'm wondering how awful your behaviour actually was? You seem to think it was really really bad; maybe it's time to start talking about your adolescence to a professional to get an outside perspective on what you went through. Maybe that's where your impulse to go over old ground should lead you first.

Good luck. Sounds like you've done exceptionally well.
posted by glasseyes at 3:44 AM on May 30, 2014 [3 favorites]

You've got lots of advice here but here is my take, which is I think a bit different than others. Your family cut off contact with the person you were, not the person you are. My sense is that they did the right thing because you at the time was destructive; the you now has figured out a lot that has helped you in a positive way. I think your family might want to know who you are now and contact should be initiated in a way that lets them decide if they want to know you more. I would write a letter letting them know the things you described in your post but do so in away that makes it clear that you do not want anything from them and do not want to impose yourself on them. No expectations on your side - you may not hear from them but you can rest easy in knowing that people who cared about you now know that they did the right thing at the time by cutting you lose.

Being a foster child is a very difficult road - I'm glad for you that things have turned out well.
posted by bluesky43 at 6:23 AM on May 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm a foster parent. I've had one voluntary placement break down because the kid decided, after being chucked out once and then coming back on the basis of a second-chance set of pre-agreed placement conditions, that lying and underhanded manipulation were still his best courses of action. Chucking him out for realsies was wrenchingly hard but eventually it just had to be done for the sake of everybody who lives here and isn't him.

He knows that I am absolutely not interested in talking to him right now, and that nor will I be for as long as he maintains the passive-aggressive up-yours attitude that constrains all his present options so very very tightly.

He did things for which an apology should absolutely be offered. So far he hasn't had the balls to try to offer me one to my face; he's tried to pass on a half-hearted attempt by circuitous means through other people. I doubt its sincerity, as his weasel skills are well honed.

But if he were to turn all that around, and seize control of his life away from the drug-addled bunch of drongo thug Illuminati believer mates who appear to be running it for him now, and was doing OK ten years later and wanted to tell us about it, I'd certainly want to hear about that. The simple fact of being a dickhead I can't live with doesn't make him somebody I don't care deeply about.

If he does find a way to do OK, the actual delivery of the apology owed will pale into complete unimportance. I'd accept it politely and sincerely of course, but only to make him feel better. As things stand now, the only reason the lack of it makes me sad is because I understand so well why it's not forthcoming; that's just one symptom of overarching issues that I simply don't have the power to fix, which feels bad. If they were fixed by their owner, I'd be vastly relieved.

As a foster parent, I recommend sending that letter, and if you're going to offer an apology, do that in a straightforward and businesslike way. Don't go on and on about it, and don't offer it more than once. Its function is to clear your air so you can get on with giving them the news that they will actually be glad to hear, which is that you're out of your pit and doing well.
posted by flabdablet at 9:04 AM on May 30, 2014 [12 favorites]

The type of people who foster do it out of a deep sense of wanting to make a difference in a child's life (well, most... Not all).

For them, they reached a point where they felt they couldn't meet that expectation and you didn't want it, so they cut off contact.

Assuming you just pulled some Catcher in the Rye shit, I'd write a letter. Yes, there is a risk you might reopen wounds they don't want open. But what good is a life without reconciliation and at least TRYING to use love to apologize and make amends for the selfishness we all go through? As long as you try with the utmost respect and deference.

But you must not expect anything in return. Just write a tight letter telling them you deeply admire what they did for you, and you will never forget it, even if at the time your actions betrayed those feelings.

As a previous poster said, this is assuming you didn't do something like assault their daughter, or some type of physically/emotionally violent act.
posted by jjmoney at 9:11 AM on May 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

[This is a followup from the asker.]
People wanted more background. I apologize for the length. Here's what I did:

In a span of a few years I managed to introduce my younger foster siblings (also teens) to pot, trash the house by throwing parties while my foster parents were out of town (at least twice). I regularly stole pocket money that was lying around. I showed up high at my parents' 30th anniversary party and proceeded to humiliate them in front of family and friends by causing a scene. I even pawned a computer that they gave me for school. Truancy officers were regular visitors at the house. I repeatedly promised my foster parents to "be better" when I had no intention of doing so. They tried to help me in any way that they could; I was just craftier. Plus, my wise teenage self didn't think that I needed helping. While I never went as far as physically or sexually assaulting anyone or anything (pets, as some have suggested) in that household, I came close and I did endanger. As a teen I took joy rides--drunk--with my younger foster siblings in the car. Somehow I never caused an accident or hit anyone but I know could I have; it's criminal, dangerous, frightening and deplorable. This is what I'm ashamed of most and what I wish I could take back.

Now in my spare time I mentor kids. I'm not trying to excuse my actions, but it's made me realize that a lot of my behavior wasn't all that aberrant for a very troubled teenager. However, I think a commenter put it best with the response that sometimes we hurt people in ways we can't make right. I guess this is how I feel today. I try to make it right by keeping my distance and living by their example, whether they know it or not.

What spurred my desire to write to my foster parents was that I got married last year. I've been writing thank you notes and came across the invitation that I never dared to send. I know I can't change anything and like someone else said, barging into their life to tell them how sorry I am is inherently selfish. However, I wish I could say thank you to them for supporting me and loving me the way that I was able to thank our wedding guests. Because that's what they did. They supported me and loved me at a time when I was quite unlovable. I think it's something that I just have to accept and if I want to say thanks I have to do it in a way that is private and not reach out.

Another issue is that although I've kept my head down and happily lived very quietly (little to non-existent online presence), I've received some good notoriety in my professional life as of late. I go by an uncommon nickname and took my husband's last name so it's not easy to figure out it is me. My foster father works in the same field and while we haven't crossed paths yet, but I think it's only a matter of time now that I'm published. I only hope that if or when I am approached I will find the right words to say instead of running off like a coward.

Thank you very much for all of your thoughts--on both sides of the issue. I'll take it to heart and of course discuss it with a counselor/therapist.

To the foster parents who answered, thank you and bless you. Truly.
posted by cortex (staff) at 10:46 AM on May 30, 2014 [8 favorites]

Yeah, I think that's within the realm of sending the letter. It's not nothing, and it is absolutely shit behavior, but my guess is that if one of their biological children did these things, they would have reconciled long ago.

"Don't send" would, to me, be something like burning their house down, murdering a pet, molesting a child, or reckless actions actually resulting in a death, not just "someone could have been killed".

You were a shit, but not an irredeemable shit. And if they don't want contact, they won't open the letter. The ball is ultimately still in their court as long as it's a snail mail letter clearly marked with the name they knew you by.
posted by Sara C. at 10:52 AM on May 30, 2014 [3 favorites]

I agree with Sara C: you are one of the vanishingly small people who are in a position where sending an "I am sorry" letter years later is okay. Snail mail, make sure they know it is from you, and make sure it comes across that you don't want anything from them. (Using wording like you did in the paragraph starting "What spurred" would be a good start.) I still think you want this letter to be read over by a few people.
posted by jeather at 11:56 AM on May 30, 2014 [3 favorites]

Thanks for the update.
Given that information I'm absolutely in favor of sending a letter by snail mail. I think the restrictions many have laid out still apply. Treat it as a one-time thing. Do not expect a reply. Make this clear in the letter itself. Be OK with the idea of not getting any response. Do not follow up/repeat unless actively invited to do so by them.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 12:51 PM on May 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

Great update, OP, it really changes the optics of your question. Can I just say there is something wonderful about the way you write - you truly do have a way with the written word - that makes me think you maybe are that rare, redeemed person who could craft a sincere note of gratitude and apology striking the exact right tone, expecting nothing in return.

I wonder, OP, knowing unacceptable teenage you as they did -- did they expect you to actually abide by their wish never to contact them again, given that you had probably never obeyed them about anything before? It sounds like you had crossed so many boundaries with them so they had to get drastic and cut you out entirely. (And I'll note their harsh, clear message seems to have had some very positive effects on your life). Anyway, I keep thinking back to @OhSusannah's comment here. Sounds like this is A Thing with foster families and their WTF-out-of-control teens. I dunno.

No matter what you choose to do, the way you have turned your own life around is beyond impressive. Congratulations, and my very best wishes to you.
posted by hush at 1:58 PM on May 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

Do you know, I'm was thinking of anonymising this but I won't. I'm going to differ with the consensus here.

To my lasting shame, under circumstances similar to what you have described (only actually worse and more frightening) I once said to a child of mine it would be better if she went into care because I couldn't stand the way she was messing up our home and the whole family's life. I said it in anger and I'm still ashamed. It certainly wasn't pre-meditated.

Kids frequently do not negotiate their teenage years gracefully. Some, more than others, need a lot of help, and have a lot of factors working against them. It's very hard for all concerned - but I think there are always reasons. The belief that some children are naturally bad is one of the most pernicious concepts ever. You say a lot of my behaviour wasn't all that aberrant for a very troubled teenager. Too damn right. They were just lucky it wasn't their own biological kid.

If you had been the biological child of this family, would they have done this to you? Specifically, waiting till you were safely out of the way but just on the brink of pulling yourself together, to cut you off in that manner?

Your story is amazing. And I'm only a stranger on the internet but still, maybe get an outside, professional perspective on what happened. As well as writing your letter if want to.
posted by glasseyes at 3:38 PM on May 30, 2014

As a nurse, one of the most amazing things that happens, that helps get you through all the ugly stuff, is when someone who you took care of comes back and says hello and you get to see how their story worked out, how some people do actually get better. It's a gift. This is not exactly the same thing, but I'm sure your family wonders what happened to you, and a no expectations letter would let them know that the hard work they did to launch you did do some good. By all means, tell them you're well! They loved/love you! I bet it would make them happy.
posted by eggkeeper at 12:03 PM on June 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

paying for my actions

There are a few things you mentioned in your followup that you could literally pay for -- taking money, causing damage to the house.

I'm not saying this would be the right route for you to take, but if you chose not to write a letter you could still send them money. You might know enough about their lives to know if this would be anonymous or not, and how they would react.
posted by yohko at 7:14 PM on June 15, 2014

Your story is very honest, and your update is what has prompted me to respond. Based on your description of your teen years, you were a troubled teen. I work with high school kids, and what you describe doesn't blow my hair back in the least. Based on your post, I was expecting much worse behavior. You were not a gem, but you were not an unforgivable monster either.

I have a half brother who was given up for adoption. I only recently met him. He is 47, in jail, has major anger issues, and addicted to meth. He had a mostly loving adoptive family, but made some very wrong choices in his teen years. He was not written off entirely, but was certainly ostracized. And he has never moved past this. He blames his behavior on the fact that he was given up for adoption by our mother (who was 18 when she had him, and was forced into a Catholic adoption factory). Underneath everything he is a kind man, but he has allowed his life to go to shit.

I tell you this story because I have seen first hand the toll that being in (even loving) foster/adopted care can have on a person. I don't know the situation under which you went into foster care, but I can imagine that it was especially haunting in your formative years, which could explain (not excuse, but explain) your bad behavior. Your foster family, which you have described as wonderful, certainly were hurt by you, but their choice to write you off seems a bit cold to me. I am not a parent of any kind, so I am not speaking from experience, and I hope you don't take offense to this. I am sure they are generous and loving people, but based on my life experience, my sympathies lie with the foster child.

I personally am very impressed by you and the life you have made for yourself. I would imagine that your foster family would be proud as well. I would hope that a decade would cool the flames they felt when you were a reckless angry teen. I agree with many posters here, that you should send a letter. If they do not want to open it, that is their choice. If it makes them sad or uncomfortable, that is unfortunate. But I do not think the letter you want to send would ignite trauma or victimize them at all. I would only worry about you. It is easy to say "expect no response", but can you really do that? If you can live with the unknown of how your letter was received, whether it was even read, then by all means, send it! Sometimes the most healing thing to do is just say it for yourself, regardless of your audience. If it will help you to know that you did what you could to atone and thank your foster family, you should go for it. If it will break your heart to never hear back or get the letter returned unopened, write it but don't send it. If you feel that this will lead to a slippery slope in which you ruminate about the unrequited gesture, do not send it.

Congratulations on rising above yourself and your past.
posted by hippychick at 5:02 PM on June 25, 2014

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