Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The other side of Trust

Two months ago I wrote about trust from the perspective of parents trusting their children. There is another side of trust: children trusting their parents. If you feel like it's hard to trust your children think about what it's like to be a child. Children are completely dependent on the adults in their life. If your child doesn't trust you they don't have the option of grounding you or punishing you or creating consequences for your behavior. It's daunting to think of all the different areas of life, all the little things, all the possible ways that we can betray our child's trust. And if we screw that up it will affect our child's relationships for a long time, possibly for the rest of their life. Are you worthy of your child's trust?

The development of trust starts at birth. Do the adults turn down the lights for the new born's sensitive eyes? Is this new person nursed when she's hungry, changed when she's wet, burped when she's uncomfortable, and given skin to skin cuddles where she can listen to that familiar heart beat that kept her company for all those months in the womb? The infant learns to trust when her needs are consistently and lovingly met. That doesn't change. Children learn to trust when their needs are consistently and lovingly met. If you respect your children and take their needs seriously you will be worthy of their trust.

You can have a good relationship with your children, you can feel fine about how your family interacts, you can feel great about yourself as a parent and still not really have the trust of your child. Even parents who would say they are people of integrity, honest, righteous and trustworthy fail to treat their children with respect. Parents regularly use bribes, rewards, punishment, and other forms of control to manipulate the behavior of their children, instead of building a strong relationship of free flowing trust. Children have a hard time trusting parents when they have no confidence in the parent's ability to let go of their need for control or being the one with the power.

Your child should be able to trust you, period. They should know that you have their back, you unconditionally love them, you will take them seriously, and you will do everything in your power to support them in following their passions.

Your children should be able to trust you to:
Make them your priority, nothing is more important than your relationship with your child.
Be willing to discuss your reasons for a request.
Be willing to take "no" for an answer.
Be accepting of who they are.
Accept that they may or may not like foods based on flavor, texture or how they feel that day.
Pick them up and drop them off on time.
Take their friendships and romantic relationships seriously.
Tell them the truth.
Cuddle them when they are hurt or scared, no matter what the time of day or night
Be right there for them when they need you.
Give them space when they need time alone.
Help them find answers.
Listen and really hear what they are saying.

They need to be able to trust you to:
Never say, "I told you so."
Never laugh at their expense.
Never tease them about their body, their speech, accidents, behaviors, or anything else.
Never say, "Because I said so, that's why."
Never forget that you invited them into your life, it was your choice, not theirs.
Never hurt them physically.
Never try to control who they are or try to make them more like the person you expected them to be.
Never set them up for failure or make things extra hard to "teach them a lesson."
Never lie to them.

And when you are having a bad day, when you respond harshly, when you say "no" and then realize that you had no reason not to say "Yes!" your children need to be able to trust you to own your behavior. They need to know that you will apologize, make it right if you can, and that you will continue to try and get your own needs met in different ways so that you can better meet the needs of your children.

I have not always been worthy of my children's trust. For far too many years my patience was worn thin and my frustration level was high, and I did not find the resources I needed to parent from a better place. I parented reactively, falling back on ingrained parenting methods. I would avoid supporting my children's interests when it pushed me out of my comfort zone. I would say they had to do things that I could have easily done for them as a gift to make their day a little easier, brighter, more fun. I said "no" as my default answer. I yelled and made my children cry. Here is what I know: it's not too late to for trust. However, it is harder to re-establish trust with a 10 year old who spent years as the focus of my frustration than with a newborn who instinctively turns to a warm breast to suckle.

It takes time and patience (with myself) as old patterns are gradually erased and new patterns are established. It takes unwavering commitment to putting my relationship with my children first. It takes finding new resources, learning new ways, meeting new people, pushing myself past my comfort zone and embracing different perspectives. My children do not always trust that everyone's needs will be met. That is because their needs haven not always been met. My children do trust that I am trying. They know the kind of parent that I want to be and they are patient with me when I fail. They know that I trust them. They know that I respect them as people and that I am trying to making sure everyone's needs are met. Trust does not stand alone, its foundation is in our relationship. We don't try to build trust, we nurture the relationship.

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