Rule #2: Don’t Trust
Last week, we pointed out living by these rules are some of the biggest causes of addictions as we grow up. These are the reasons that some people can go through detox, endure the withdrawal period, seem to be clean, come home and go right back to their addiction. It’s more than physical. Because they learned they weren’t supposed to feel, learned not to trust and learned not to talk, they have nowhere to turn to deal with the feelings coming up, so they medicate them.
We learned about how we can teach our children not to feel in part 1. In just the same way, we must teach our children to trust. Relationships are built on trust. Without trust, you can’t have vulnerability. Without vulnerability, you can’t have emotional, mental or spiritual intimacy. Without emotional, mental or spiritual intimacy you can’t have a good relationship.
Of course, some are saying, “You have to be careful teaching your kids to trust people. They can really get hurt.” See, you learned this lesson while growing up too.
“Oh no, I’ve never taught my children not to trust me or not to trust anyone.” Good, I hope that’s the case. I know for me, I’ve violated this rule too many times and I’ve seen it violated.
Let me share 8 ways we teach our children not to trust.
Not gossiping about our kids. Gossiping about other people in front of our kids. Kids aren’t stupid. They can see when we treat others well to their faces and then talk about all their flaws, faults and problems behind their backs. What do we think they learn from that? They can only surmise we do the same to them. All those nice things we say to their faces won’t mean squat because they’re sure we must be talking badly about them behind their backs.
Additionally, since most of their relationships are going to be fundamentally based on what they learn from us, they’ll think everyone must do that. Everyone must gossip. Everyone must say nice things to their faces but bad things behind their backs. It will be hard for anyone to break through that wall and gain their trust.
We must watch what we say to and about others. Our kids are learning to trust or not.
This ties in with the Don’t Feel rule. Have you ever laughed at your child when they shared that something hurt them or bothered them? That is so easy to do. Their problems are so small. To us they seem insignificant and humorous. In the big scheme of things they may not matter that much. But they matter that much to them. If we belittle them by laughing at them when they open up to share their feelings, they learn not to trust us with their feelings.
Or what about this practical example. One of our children confides in us that she kind of likes a certain boy. Then every time we see that boy we needle the child. “Oh look, there’s so and so.” Or even worse, “Hey so and so, look who’s here.” What have we told our daughter? “I can’t be trusted with your feelings about boys. Don’t share anything with me, I’ll only hurt or embarrass you with it.”
When emotions come out, they can be…well…emotional. In our culture, truly expressing emotions is not the norm (which will lead us directly into the Don’t Talk rule that will come next week), therefore when they come out we might mock them.
“Big boys don’t cry.” “Quit being such a sensitive girl.” Or worse, we might even mock their crying and then laugh at them. With little children their attempts to express their anger can easily come off seeming a little silly. The last thing we want to do is make fun of their expressions of anger. To add insult to injury, how often do we store up the story of our child’s emotions to share with our spouses when they get home. We tell the story and share a good laugh at the child’s expense.
All our kids learn from this is we can’t be trusted with their feelings.
4. Betraying confidences
Sometimes we can feel our kids’ secrets are not nearly as important as ours. Who really cares if we tell our friends about our son’s girl troubles or about our daughter’s fears when she had her first menstrual cycle? It’s not like these are issues of national security. We know no one will look down on them. Those really aren’t big deals.
Once again, it is to our kids. We need to remember how we felt when we were kids. Sharing these kinds of secrets was big stuff. We were laying our heart on the line. We were making ourselves extremely vulnerable. I know that as we got older and started dealing with bigger things we came to believe those issues weren’t so big. But back then they were huge. Even though one day our kids will also come to realize those things were not that big, the feeling of betrayal will linger even when they can’t remember why. They’ll learn not to trust others.
5. Broken promises
How do we feel when someone tells us they will do something and then they don’t? For our kids it is ten times worse when their own parent makes a promise and then breaks it. Our children don’t have the mental capacity or experience to understand about our work and other responsibilities. They just know we promised and we didn’t follow through.
The first thing this means is we need to be careful what we promise and commit to. If we’re loose with making promises and commitments we can’t keep, our kids will lose trust. Keep in mind, you don’t have to say, “I promise” for a child to think we’ve promised. If we say we’re going to do something, we had better do it. Otherwise, our kids learn people can’t be trusted to do what they say.
Certainly, there are times when promises get broken and we couldn’t help it. In these cases, we must validate and affirm our child’s feelings of sadness, anger, betrayal. Don’t berate them for their feelings. Remember how you feel when someone brakes a promise to you. Then apologize and make an amends. Don’t offer excuses and justifications. Make amends and ask for forgiveness. But don’t let this become a habit. I believe our children are resilient. But I also believe they are smart. They can see when you just have a habit of lying but then trying to make nice to get out of it.
6. Overreaction to mistakes
I am certainly a believer in corporal punishment. I believe there is a time to use the rod of discipline. However, if we hold our kids to adult standards and then overreact with discipline because they acted like kids, they’ll learn to fear, not trust us. I believe our children have a sense of justice. They can learn early on that misbehavior warrants appropriate discipline. My wife and I have had great conversations with our kids in which we agreed together about disciplinary measures for certain issues of disobedience and rebellion.
Sadly, some of us don’t react with appropriate discipline. We overreact because we’re angry, inconvenienced, frustrated, embarrassed. In these cases, our children learn we can’t be trusted with their mistakes. If we yell, scream and belittle because our child accidentally spilled his milk, telling him accidents wouldn’t happen if he just paid more attention, we shouldn’t be surprised when our child doesn’t want to come talk to us when he’s older and has made some really big mistakes. How many prodigals don’t make the trip home because they learned early on they couldn’t trust their parents with their mistakes.
7. Don’t believe them
I know this is tough. Our kids don’t have a highly developed sense of morality. They haven’t figured out the morality of telling truth and lies. So sometimes they will lie out of self-preservation. They’re not actively choosing to be immoral, they’re just kids. That being the case, we sometimes run on the default belief that our kids aren’t telling the truth. Perhaps we are afraid that others will think we’re being soft with our kids.
I recall one time when an adult called to tell me about how my daughter was picking on her grandson. The truth of the matter was the boys had been picking on the girls first and the girls were just retaliating out of a sense of self-defense. What would have happened if I had ignored my daughter’s explanation and assumed she was lying? I would have taught her that I don’t trust her. I would haver taught her that I don’t trust people. If I don’t trust people, why should she?
8. Don’t trust them
Too many parents codependently follow their kids around checking up on them to make sure they did what they said, did it the right way, did it the parents’ way. They don’t trust their kids to do what’s right and it is betrayed in the way they deal with them. Every conversation is a cross-examination about whereabouts, who are you withs and what are you doings.
Look, I know it’s tough. We are concerned for our kids. However, what we need to work on is modeling right behavior, teaching right behavior, preparing them to face temptations and then trusting them to do the right thing. This is increasingly true the older our children get and should be a way of life for us once they are grown and out of our house.
Here’s the key, if we’ve let them learn it is okay to feel and then to trust, when they make mistakes, they’ll know. They’ll feel guilty and they’ll talk to us about it. Then we have opportunity to let them learn positively from their mistakes. Taking the other approach is a vicious cycle. When we show our children we don’t trust, they won’t trust us. They’ll do wrong things but be afraid to talk to us about it. Then they’ll just sit in their shame and guilt. Having no healthy release for these feelings, they’ll look to medicate them by pursuing those same mistakes that got them here in the first place. The less we trust them, the less they trust us, the more mistakes they make, the more they look rebellious, the less we trust them…
Yes, it is true. Sooner or later, when we teach our children to trust, they’ll get burned by someone. However, if we’ve lived in such a way that they can trust us, they’ll talk to us about it and we can help them through it in a healthy way.
If you really want to keep your kids away from addictions, let them feel and be trustable. As I said last week, there is no fool proof formula. However, when you follow this, you’ll give your kids a leg up against addiction. Additionally, you’ll give them a leg up for serenity and peace in their marriage, relationships and life.