I can’t tell you how many times I heard it – the angry voice of my elder son. “But Dad, you promised!”
Sometimes it was a small thing; sometimes a tough goal set by the adult, proudly achieved by the child, and then the reward went undelivered. Or worse, the rules of the game to receive the prize were changed after the initial objective was accomplished.
“But that’s not fair!” was the protest, accompanied by tears and outrage.
The reply: “Life’s not fair.”
My response? I seethed. There were generally a few words exchanged after, out of earshot of the child.
Fairness and trust
The few fights I remember were over this issue. I thought it was huge; the other parent thought it was a non-event. We were at opposite ends of the values spectrum, and not only on this topic.
I believe in keeping my word – to anyone. And keeping our word with children is a critical part of establishing and teaching trust.
To me, this is Parenting 101, as basic as feeding them, kissing them goodnight, taking them to school. Of course life isn’t fair – some of the time. Whether they’re toddlers or teens, we need to prepare our kids to meet those circumstances. But we don’t have to create them through our own behaviors.
The importance of our word
Parenting is more than just “showing up.” And responsible parenting has nothing to do with age, gender, marital status, geographic location, physical condition, financial resources or anything else.
Is it easier with a partner, in a caring family, when you’ve lived enough of your own life to not resent the compromises? To parent without physical or financial constraints? Sure. But there are challenges in every situation. And whether you’re 20, 30, 40, or 50, in a two room apartment or on a two acre estate, parenting means recognizing the role that little things play in forming our children.
As a single parent
I knew I never wanted to hear “But Mom – you promised!” And I knew, as a single parent, I’d be hard pressed to deliver both myself and activities that used to be easier under different financial and logistical circumstances.
I have made promises I’ve been unable to keep; mostly to myself. But aloud, I learned to qualify statements – We can go, if possible, but keep in mind that… And more often than not, I have been able to follow through. But by qualifying my statements, I haven’t broken promises – or trust.
I’ve also had some “undoing” to accomplish along this road – the aftermath of occasional time spent with the other parent, who keeps his word 50% of the time, at best. Cleanup duty, as it’s always been. Is it time for me to let go of that? Maybe. But it’s hard, because I’ve always done it. And perhaps I still feel guilty about not being able to provide two trustworthy parents.
Whatever role you play in a child’s life – parent, grandparent, caretaker, teacher – think twice before you give your word.
Kids need to know who they can count on. When they have trust in our best intentions and delivery on promises, they learn to give their word, and mean it.
Is it easier with a partner, in a caring family, when you’ve lived enough of your own life to not resent the compromises?
Is it easier to parent without physical or financial constraints?
Well I would offer a resounding yes to both those questions – certainly, in my experience. But there are challenges in every situation. And whether you’re 20, 30, 40, or 50, in a two room apartment or on a two acre estate, parenting means recognizing the role that little things play in forming our children. And that includes the actions they absorb from us and our example – especially when it comes to keeping our word.