“Trust in the Lord with all your heart…“. So begins Proverbs 3:5. And over a hundred times the Bible talks about trusting God. “Sure” you say, “God presents Himself, and is presented as totally trustworthy. He does not lie and is holy and without flaw. Trustworthiness flows out of His perfect character. So that means I can, and should, trust Him.”
Trust is a tricky topic when it comes to families and especially the parent-child relationship. We have been programmed since childhood to believe trust is earned. The challenge with this view is that this means we basically need to be perfect in our relationships. Under this view when things go wrong in a relationship, we lose trust. When trust exits a relationship, communication becomes more difficult, suspicion increases and emotional distance grows. This is one of the reasons that friendships, marriage and business relationships often die when trust is lost.
I believe trust is the foundation of love. In the absence of trust it is virtually impossible for emotional connection and love to form. Apart from trust we will not take the risk of being open, transparent and of being hurt by someone we allow to get close to us.
This is the reason society’s view that trust is earned breaks down within our families and especially in the relationship with our kids. Think about it for a second. Family relationships continue even when trust breaks down. While a marriage may end our kids are stuck with us whether or not trust and love exist.
The question I was forced to ask myself as a result of the research conducted with thousands of kids and adolescents was, is trust earned? Imagine for a second looking at your five year old and saying never hide things from me, never lie, never forget to tell me anything important and do not break my trust, because you have to earn my trust from this day forward. How would that child feel?
- Hopeless, yes…
- Loved, probably not…
- Like giving up, definitely!
Why? Because that young child will feel like he/she needs to be perfect in order to be accepted and loved. Like us, a five year old needs to learn, grow and mature. Like us, he or she will make mistakes, say the wrong thing, do the wrong thing and not want to be exposed, especially if failure is met with frustration, disappointment or loss of privilege.
This is why earning trust gets in the way of being a great parent. If our kids fail us and we pull back our trust in them, they sense it. It comes through in our tone of voice, the questions we ask, and the way we talk with them. When they sense they are not trusted, they do not feel believed in, accepted or loved. They become frustrated because while they tried to be everything we wanted they failed. They cannot be perfect and now face added questions, doubts and suspicion because they weren’t perfect. Many kids I talk to feel like they can never earn their parents’ belief and trust.
If what I said above is true, that lack of trust leads to emotional distance, less open communication and willingness to interact, earned trust leads to a growing issue as the distance between us and our kids grows. Unlike friendships, we are stuck in these trustless relationships with our kids and they with us. While such a relationship would die outside our home, I find many parents and kids trapped in them by the mere fact that they are related to each other and live in the same home. The emotional connection and communication have broken down leaving frustration, hurt and kids avoiding their parents in far too many families.
So what is the answer?
Trust is not earned, but bestowed.
For the kids that helped coin the five “Ts” at family camp this was vital. For years their mistakes had led to questions, doubts and suspicion leading to feelings of not being believed in, trusted and loved. The resulting hurt and resentment was high and had to be discussed and worked through at length during family camp. Were the parents trying to hurt their kids? No, they were following tried and true parenting methods, but the outcome was not what they desired. Togetherness was lost and the kids avoided their parents as much as possible. This led them to make more mistakes as they sought to replace the emotional connection lost with their parents with other things, creating a vicious cycle.
If we really stop and consider trust, it really is bestowed. At the outset of any relationship whether friendship, romantic or even with our kids someone has to bestow trust on a relative stranger to move the relationship forward and closer. When trust is bestowed rather than earned it interrupts the downward spiral that expecting those around us to earn trust initiates. All of us are imperfect and along the way will let those around us down. This is especially true for our emotional growing kids who are maturing and trying to figure out life.
For some of us who have been hurt and have not healed within, the thought of bestowing trust is scary. When I was in this position I needed someone else to reach out and bestow trust on me so I would even step into a new relationship. We inherently know when we are in this position and may even understand it is not healthy, but that does not make it easy to change. A hurt person is sensitive and often identifies every risk or negative in a relationship as they seek not to be hurt again. Often this in itself will break down a relationship as the person who initially bestowed trust to enter the relationship never ends up feeling trusted. It is vital that we do not end up in this position with our kids.
The benefits of bestowed trust
Bestowed trust is essential in family structures. Our kids will fail, will cover things up and may even lie. So how can they be trusted? Simply look past the issue and to their feelings, desires and goals.
- Did they set out to hurt us? No
- Do they want to mess up their lives? No
- Do they want to succeed? Yes
- Do they feel bad about their mistakes, but not let on? Yes
- Did we give them a reason to hide something from us given through our past response to failures? Probably
- Did something in them or a friendship cause them to go beyond what they desired when they made their mistake? Likely
- Do they need to understand the reasons and emotions that led to their mistakes, evaluate and learn from them? Definitely
Here is where earned trust gets in the way. How are our kids going to learn from their mistakes if they do not feel trusted? Apart from trust they will not have deep conversations with us about what was going on and the factors that led to their poor decisions? They will not talk with us, reflect and learn when they think their failure and mistakes will be used against them and lead to more suspicion, doubt and desire to control them.
Lack of trust will shut down communication. Kids will distance themselves from us, tune us out and do very little self-reflection on their own which short-circuits the learning they need to mature into wise, thoughtful and successful adults.
This is the reason I now believe trust is bestowed. Our kids and spouses will fail us because we all are imperfect. If we choose to let each other’s shortcomings break our trust, we will treat each other differently, more like strangers than family members and emotional connection will be lost.
When my kids make mistakes, we discuss them. They come to understand the reasons they made those decisions and I clearly communicate that I choose to trust them in spite of their failure or even lie. This approach draws them closer, makes them grateful I am their Dad, increases their desire to please me as well as their desire to succeed and not make that mistake again.
Does this lead them to feeling like they can and will do it again because they were not punished? Not at all because I have found by entering these conversations with kids that they do not like failing and feel bad about making mistakes all on their own. By helping my kids understand their feelings and the factors that led to their mistake, I help them avoid the sense of guilt, shame and failure they dislike in the future. They learn, grow and mature and rarely have made the same mistake twice.
When we overlook breaches or give grace to our family and choose to trust, their love for us increases, as does their desire to be close to us and please us. This is vital in families as we will be together a long time. If our goal is to be close and together, we must bestow trust on each other or we can end up as three or four lonely family members simply coexisting.
Bestowed trust leads to a more loving, caring, listening and cooperative family culture.
In the last blog there was a drawing of three pillars, with Time, Transparency and Talk holding up the Capstone of Together. The foundational stone was Trust for a reason, as it is what the rest is built on, and the greater the trust, the stronger the structure leading to togetherness. Trust is the bedrock of love! When we stop trusting each other we lose the ability to talk deeply with each other, learn from each other, and be transparent. Love and trust bring us closer to each other and build the emotional connections that result in our desire to spend time with one another and be together.
In God’s Family:
These features are also reflected in our relationship to God. The strength of our trust is the bedrock of our ultimate relationship, our “Togetherness” with Him, an ongoing and intimate connection as part of His family. As we’ll see ahead, Time, Transparency and Talk flow out of that foundation of Trust.
If this series has spoken to you and you’d like to know more on the teachings from Revive Family then we invite you to enroll in our free online course Influential Parenting Academy.