We hear a lot of controversial statements about trust. The general gist seems to be a warning not to trust freely, because that opens up the possibility of others abusing the trust you are bringing to the table and harming you in the process. On the other hand, organizations strive to build a trustworthy image, to convince people to trust them and ultimately buy their services. Being trustworthy is portrayed as a waste of time for individuals, if nobody is looking. Idealistic, utopian people do that. In the end, the world will take advantage of them, because unfortunately, the general opinion sighs, we do not live in an ideal world.
I personally believe in trust. If we can’t trust, or we decide to only trust ourselves (a much more difficult feat than it sounds if done properly), how can any human society, even a family, function?
Being trustworthy has nothing to do with other people or circumstances. It simply means that a person lives up to a consistent set of values, no matter what. Mistakes are allowed, but they are openly and honestly acknowledged, and amends that mirror one’s values are made.
In our distrustful world, being trustworthy is attached to goals: we want our customers to be able to trust us, so that they will become loyal customers. I want my children to trust me because I want to have a good relationship with them. I want to show my friend that I am trustworthy, because I value our friendship and don’t want the friendship to end.
In an ideal world, nobody should need a reason to be trustworthy. It comes with being a good person, leading to living at peace with oneself.
Naturally, we want our kids to grow up to be good people, but we also want to help them “survive” in the real world, that world where trust and trustworthiness is attached to a pricetag.
So how can we do this as parents?
First of all, I personally place a high value on trust. I want to live in a world in which people can be trusted, however unrealistic that is.
Kids learn from what they see their parents doing, positively and negatively, so the first step is to be trusting and trustworthy as a parent. Part of that is owning mistakes, apologising sincerely, and most importantly, making better decisions in future similar situations. It’s no good getting angry in a situation, apologising, and then doing it again.
Another big part is trusting your kids. This is a difficult one. As parents, it’s important to stay vigilant and open-minded to catch any problems before they become major problems. Nobody is a saint, least of all kids who are right at the beginning of trying to figure out what I’d right and wrong, and where they stand in the world.
Take lying for instance. Every child tries to get out of an uncomfortable story with a little lie at some point in time. How can we let a child know that we trust them, while making sure that they don’t get accustomed to using lies as an easy way out of difficulties?
I think that this is how it works. The first assumption has to be that they are trustworthy, even if there is a little voice telling us that something is not quite right.
If things don’t quite line up, keep your eyes open, without becoming controlling.
If you have evidence that you are being lied to, bring it up. Confront the child with the evidence, but, and this is really important, without getting cross, and without humiliating the child, or accusing them. I would do this by saying something to the effect of you are telling me that the story was such and such, but I can see things that tell me that the story must be different. Can you explain this to me?
That brings the difficult situation onto the table, that one situation that the child was trying to avoid by telling a lie. Then follows the honest, sometimes very painful story after which the child expects harsh judgement, maybe punishment if that’s the kind of upbringing you go for as a parent, and feeling terrible. Only – that doesn’t come, because as parents, we stand by our kids. We are accountable for their behaviour legally, and are morally responsible for ensuring that they become adults who live by their own values.
So, instead of reacting emotionally and blaming the child for their failure to reflect what we think we have taught them, we start thinking about how best to amend the situation together. We also have a conversation about trust and trustworthiness. I always use situations like these to confirm that I trust them, because I believe that this is the only way any relationship can ever work. Without trust, we need to spend an excessive amount of time proving things to ourselves and to others. I also point out that trust is a two-way thing; I choose to trust, but if I see that I’m making the wrong choice, I have to protect myself and anyone else, and stop choosing trust. Instead, I’d have to start validating every story, questioning them and demanding proof and evidence. They easily understand, even at a very young age, that choosing trust is the nicer option for everyone. But that, I explain, comes with a decision to make an effort to be trustworthy, and to owning your mistakes when you make them.
At the end of this, they know that I’m a safe person to come to about any mistakes, because owning it didn’t turn out to be as bad as they had imagined. They also know that I actively choose to trust them – whatever happened before to trigger the conversation, and however likely it is to be repeated. They know that I expect them to try to live up to the trust they are receiving. They also know that I will stay at their side, no matter how injured I may feel, and will work through the problem with them.
This has worked very well for me and my kids so far. Each child has had some conversations like this, over little things and biggish things. Each has come out of it feeling exhausted but loved and feeling better for having cleared the situation up. In fact, I’ve even been asked for help to eradicate bad habits in consequence. They are all growing up to be strong personalities who will stand up for what they care for and for each other, and each has a positive approach to trusting people, in different ways, mind you. Trust and other values are something that they are able to talk about, and something they have an opinion about, because it’s something that we have discussed.
The path is not easy, it requires a lot of patience and awareness. Getting angry as a way of communicating my own values and expectations would be a much easier albeit short term solution. But in the long run, it’s proven to be worth the effort and the sometimes repeated frustration.
I’m proud to be their mum.