Without trust, marriages and families become a source of disappointment and pain. Says the Irish proverb, “When mistrust comes in, love goes out.”
David Horsager is one of the world’s leading authorities on trust and author of “The Trust Edge.” In his book, Horsager writes, “If you want to build trust and earn the faith and respect of every person in your life, stick to this simple principle. Consistently do what you say you’ll do when you say you’ll do it!”
Doing what you say you will do is integrity. Trust in a marriage or between a parent and child relies on the integrity of each individual. But integrity is not something that comes naturally for most people. It needs to be learned and practiced.
Horsager’s Trust Edge Leadership Institute recently concluded a national study. The results are published in the institute’s 2017 Trust Outlook. Horsager and his research team focused on the impact of trust across a broad landscape, including business, politics, health care, and home. It’s not surprising they discovered trust begins at home. But their most fascinating finding here is that 49 percent of people say their mom taught them the most about trust. Only 27 percent said this about their dads.
While the finding that almost half of people learn about trust from their mothers is fascinating, it shouldn’t be surprising. In the majority of homes, mothers bear the most responsibility for raising children and for their character development. Moms must know something about integrity, too.
But dads shouldn’t count themselves as off the hook. While moms may teach about trust, what they tell their children about the integrity and trustworthiness of their fathers is one of the lessons.
For children to develop a healthy approach to trust, they first need to see integrity in their parents — preferably in their parents’ marriage — and most importantly in how their parents care for them. When healthy trust relationships can’t be found at home, children often develop destructive relationships outside the home and are more likely to be lured into drug use, abusive relationships, and crime. Many children carry those destructive relationship patterns into adulthood and suffer from more of the same.
Healthy trust doesn’t just magically appear. It must be cultivated and nourished by actions of integrity, like these:
1.) Do the right thing. Perhaps you’ve heard a parent say, “Do what I say, not what I do.” Maybe you’ve said it yourself. But a child’s behaviors are often based more on what they see their parents do than on what their parents say.
A person’s failure to do the right thing is often one of the first signs it’s going to be risky to trust him or her. Once children learn the difference between right and wrong, they want their parents to do what’s right. They want to trust their mom and dad. When they hear a parent lie, or see them cheat and steal, trust is replaced with mistrust.
To make sure children are seeing their parents do the right thing, couples need to practice doing the right thing in marriage. Even if their parents aren’t married, they can find ways to do the right thing. Tell each other the truth. Keep your promises to each other. Don’t keep dark or dirty little secrets from each other.
Tell the truth. Keep your promises to each other. Don’t keep dark or dirty little secrets from each other.
2.) Do what you say you’re going to do. Fewer things are more disappointing to a child than for a parent to fail to follow through on a commitment. Parents need to not make commitments they can’t keep, and need to keep the ones they make.
Sometimes things happen outside of a parent’s control, and a commitment must be broken. Parents need to make these incidents the rare exception rather than the rule.
Parents who frequently break commitments to their kids are often in need of help. Their unreliable behavior may be a sign that their life has become unmanageable due to addictive behavior, a chronic illness, or a dysfunctional relationship.
These parents need to get help for the sake of their children.
Helping kids learn healthy trust habits often begins by seeing their parents model integrity in their marriage. Seeing their parents follow through with their commitments to each other, especially through conflict or when times are tough, helps a child see the value of doing what you say you’re going to do. This is also accomplished by single parents who go to extreme measures to provide their children with a safe and stable home, to be present and listen when their kids need to talk.
3.) Be the same person all the time, no matter what happens. Children thrive when their parents are reliable. A parent who changes who they are based on circumstances fuels a child’s anxiety. These kinds of changes are most pronounced when a parent has an alcohol or drug abuse problem that affects their moods and behaviors. But it can also be evident when a parent’s emotions are unstable and behaviors are erratic.
To earn a child’s trust, a parent needs to have a stable sense of who they are. Married parents can facilitate this kind of stability by encouraging each to develop their strengths and by valuing each other’s unique contributions to the marriage and family. A single parent can strengthen their sense of who they are by surrounding themselves with people who bring out their best qualities and offer encouragement.
Jon Beaty, counselor and father of two, lives near Portland, Oregon. He’s the author of the book “If You’re Not Growing, You’re Dying: 7 Habits for Thriving in Your Faith, Relationships and Work.”