Saturday, October 28, 2006

Question of the Week #12: Trust -- An Admittedly Silly Parable

Two wise men in monk's robes once sat in the lotus position on a mountain top in the early morning mist. So deep was their concentration that if someone had been walking by on the nearby trail, they might have felt the rumblings from the profound thoughts tumbling around within their shaved heads.

"I have determined," one said after a time, "that a newborn babe should have the complete trust of his or her parents. The infant is completely innocent and has done nothing to betray such trust. Only later, when the inevitable temptations of life intercede, might the parents' trust adjust itself to a more realistic level."

The other wise man nodded sagely. "But isn't it also true that the newborn has yet done nothing to earn trust from the parents? Perhaps such faith should start at zero and grow throughout life as children show themselves to be trustworthy."

As they did every day, the two men began debating this issue. They were still at it hours later when a mother walked by in shorts, hiking boots and a backpack from Prada. (Hey, if she has to hike all the way to the top of a mountain for us, she might as well do it in style so she can enjoy the experience.) Her two children accompanied her, one of them a teen and the other a few years younger. She listened to the argument for a few minutes until she couldn't stand it any more.

"Hey," she called out.

The men stopped talking and looked at her in surprise. They had been so deep in conversation that they hadn't noticed the onlookers. That's when the mother told them the truth of the matter.

"You two," she said, "need to get out more."

You see, the mother cared little for such philosophical silliness. She knew that the trust between her and her children flowed in both directions and had a very real impact on their day-to-day lives. By knowing what her children were and were not likely to get up to, she could make sound decisions about what activities she could safely approve and how closely they needed to be supervised. Similarly, her children had learned that she would treat them with compassion, love and fairness. When conflict situations arose, they were likely to confide in her and resist jumping to negative conclusions about her intentions.

She explained this to the two wise men, after which they blinked and looked at each other in apparent confusion. After a few awkward moments, one said, "Let us discuss, my brother, why we are here."

His companion's face brightened at the prospect of being back on familiar ground and they began debating happily once more.

So how does trust work between you and your children? To me the interesting issues aren't so much about the level of trust that exists, but how you arrived there. When kids make the occasional poor life choice, how do you get back to a place where you have faith they won't make that particular mistake again? And what do you think is important for helping your children develop trust in you?

Oh, and for the record, I agree with the mother -- that encounter on the mountaintop was probably the only time those two (ahem) "wise" men have even met a child.

As always, I look forward to hearing your opinions.


  1. I have a 9 and 11 year old, so they are not necessarily at the ages to make poor "life" choices.

    For me, Faith and Trust are linked. Initially, you have to have faith, and trust fluctuates through the year(s). If damaged, then consistently better choices would repair any trust that is lost. Just as we, as parents, have to be consistent - it provides some predictability.

    Communication is key and to check in with each other frequently. Expectations (from both parent and child) have to be communicated periodically. If they make mistakes, then you guide them making amends and learning from those mistakes. You express clearly what you need from them to repair any lost trust - so there is no guessing.

    I think for my children to have trust in me, I have to have trust in myself, that I raised them to know right/wrong, manners, to be responsible, compassionate, etc. I have to exhibit consistency and let them know they can make mistakes every now and then and give them the tools they need to feel competent in solving their own problems (or at least assisting in the solution).

    If they stray away from those lessons as anyone does, then gentle reminders to get them back on track is usually all that is needed. I address the
    behaviour or choice without defining the child by them, then my children know that the change needed is obtainable.

    How we interact with them results in whether or not they can trust our authority, fairness and capability as their parents. We have to parent with respect, to get respect. Same goes with trust. We cannot expect something that we are not willing to give ourselves.

  2. My older daughter made some poor choices along her way, when she was young. On three separate occasions she stole money, and it was terrible to cope with. Today she has a conscience and is a good person who wouldn't think of taking what isn't hers. The truth is I'm not sure how she got there from where she started, but every time she did something wrong, privileges were revoked, and she started from zero until she re-earned our trust. We started, and re-started many times together, but I think we finally succeeded. We never gave up. That's important, not throwing in the towel, so to speak.

  3. Ok great blog but you know what picture you formed in my mind? The two moose in Brother Bear! I can imagine them debating stuff like that - after they've finished telling their echo to shut up obviously!!!

  4. Trust is not necessarily knowing your child is always going to make the right choices in life, but about being absolutely certain that he/she will come to you for help if she doesn't make the right choice.

    My 19-year-old daughter is making what I consider a poor life choice as we speak. She is pursuing a relationship with a 34-year-old man in Illinois (we live in Louisiana) that she met "online". I cannot forbid her this, as she is legally an adult. She knows I disapprove, and she knows why. She knows I paid for a background check from the Illinois State Police. He is supposed to visit us during the Thanksgiving holidays; a situation I am not excited about, but more palatable than the alternative of allowing her to visit him in Illinois.

    I trust her, because she didn't try to "hide" the facts of this relationship. I trust that if something happens to frighten her or hurt her, that she will come to me for help. I trust that she will remember the standards by which she was raised and that her family will always be there for her.

    Trust is not about knowing your children will never disappoint you (they will), but about knowing your children will never deceive you.

  5. Almost four years ago I was resting peacefully in my hospital bed. The drugs were in full swing and I was skinny again. That was until my husband rolled in a bassinet and in it was an infant who looked just like him.

    "That isn't mine," I declared as I looked at the little, bald with sprouts of sporadic dark hair and wrinkly little kidney bean shaped baby.

    She wasn't anything like I had dreamed, known or imagined. Here I am, almost four years later here to say, "She isn't mine and I can't trust her for 2 seconds."

  6. Anonymous6:41 PM

    I have a 14 year old son. His father and I have taken our cues from him in regards to what he is ready to handle regarding social situations. We are willing to let the rope out,yet he knows that it's just as easy to reign it back in. When he is facing a "new" challenge we tell him "it's a test" as of yet he hasn't failed. Growing up I always told him "make yourself proud" never make "me" proud. The payback has been that he has made me proud, and he knows it.We do alot of role playing when he is facing a new situation. Usually done in the car. It's a great place to have these interactions. We are both looking straight ahead and there doesn't seem to be the pressure of direct eye contact. At 14 there are times when you may not know if your child is listening, in the car they do hear. When a child hears that you understand and can relate to what is going on, trust does develope. He knows that I am willing to listen to not only him but to his friends. He enjoys the fact that his friend like to talk to me. That they like sitting around and telling me what's going on in their lives. I think he feels that if his friends can trust me he can too.

  7. Alright, well, I dont have kids, so I cant see both sides of this issue.. but I know that trust is something that is a constant cause of conflict between myself and my parents. I frequently feel as though I stand at a trust level of zero, in my parents' eyes, and it's almost as though they are expecting me to mess up.. and because they don't trust me, I dont trust them: it's a catch-22 situation, because I am extraordinarily uncomfortable talking to them, or opening up to them, because I'm afraid of how they will react; I don't want to push any buttons, or give them any reason to further belittle my decision making skills, so I just don't tell them anything at all. As a 22 year old, I feel that I need to be able to make my own mistakes. Yes, I will screw up. Mistakes are an important part of life. I think a parent's role is, as Misty pointed out, to raise their children to know right from wrong, and to give their children the tools with which to make decisions, and then trust their discretion to make use of these lessons.

  8. theresalucas9:25 PM

    My kids are still rather young, 6 and 2, so trust at this point I feel is more on my shoulders than theirs. Granted, the 6 year old is at the age where occassionaly fibbing is to be expected, so I watch for that, but I don't feel it's something to worry about yet. If I didn't attempt to teach her that lying is not ok, then we'd have a problem for sure. But I try to address it as it comes up.

    But mostly I feel that I must be the trustworthy one now. I must be trusted to provide a stable, loving home. I feel they should be able to take for granted the fact that they are loved unconditionally and that they will always be taken care of emotionally and physically. My kids need to trust that I am not going to be unpredictable or distant.

    It's not always easy, kids can push buttons with the best of them. But I am still the adult with (hopefully) the ability to see things more rationally. I also hope I can be trusted to set a good examle for them.

  9. Anonymous2:14 PM

    As a child, I think I had implicit trust in my parents. Now as a woman, they have broken my trust, especially emotional trust by invalidating my feelings and trying to make me into what they wanted instead of letting me find my true self. I guess that partly answers the other question. Obviously, they have lost trust in me as I have strayed from the mold they shaped me into.

    How do I think it ought to be? I think parents and children start with mutual trust and they should endeavor to keep it, partly through open communication, acceptance of the other, and attempts to understand each other.

  10. Anonymous3:39 AM

    love, rita's opinion is what I go with. When the kids were growing it was a constant refrain "you don't trust me" or, "can't you trust me to make my won decisions". But everything came together when 1. my sons, when they became adults, told me that they felt that I had given them all the necessary values & now it was up to them and 2. when my daughter told me "we always know exactly where we are with you and that you love us come what may".