Tom remembers that day long ago when the family went to a park. He climbed aboard a swing, put his older daughter, then about 4 or 5 years old, on his lap, and soon they were soaring through the air. Suddenly, the chain broke on the swing. Tom clutched his little girl as they collided with the ground, with dad serving as shock absorber. He remembers clearly his daughter, more scared than hurt, looking into his face with tears streaming down her face and screaming, “Daddy, how could you do that!” An accident, yes. Still, Tom had betrayed her trust.
That same daughter was petrified of jumping into the swimming pool. Teaching her how to swim tested the patience and nerves of both mom and dad. Tom stood in the shallow end of the pool, arms outstretched, beckoning his little girl to jump. Instead, she stood on the side of the pool frozen in fear, convinced that if she jumped in, dad would drown her. It took weeks of coaxing to build that trust. (Interestingly enough, that same daughter took SCUBA lessons years later and became certified.)
We Are the Trustees
Our children have very little choice but to trust us. They invest their total feeling of security in us. There is no one else in the world to whom they turn for complete safety and assurance than to mom and dad. That’s why it’s so devastating when the swing breaks. In spite of the fact that dad held her tightly and all was right with the world, she crashed to the ground. And she let dad know that he let her down—and not so gently.
Our teenagers trust us, too. Yes indeed, they grow too big for their britches (Tom’s teacher once said that about him. What the heck does that mean?) They get mouthier, don’t listen, know absolutely everything, and they want to be left alone. Yet, despite the fact that most teenagers don’t trust many grown-ups, their trust in Mom and Dad remains as strong as it is silent. Grownups must back up that trust by being there for their youngsters—holding on tight, standing up, running interference, protecting—and they must do all of those things while letting go. Hold tight and let go. Some assignment, eh?
Broken Trust Breaks Everything
Today’s news is a sad commentary on trust. Without going into specific examples or speculating on the guilt or innocence of anyone, it’s accurate to say that grown-ups don’t always come through for kids. We let them down. We turn a blind eye to them when we should be standing up, running interference, protecting. The tragedy in these incidents is that a deep trust in someone who represented unquestionable safety and security may have been shattered. No one knows if that kind of unwavering trust—trust in anyone—can ever be fully repaired and restored.
Kids of all ages need grown-ups they can trust completely and unconditionally.