In building healthy relationships it is important that our words and our actions match positively.
Where we can get into trouble is making promises.
Once we make a promise, we have put our integrity on the line. Circumstances may change that make our commitment untenable, but to our children a bond of trust has been broken. Our children don’t understand that the trip to the fair is cancelled because of flooding. They only see that you broke a promise. Due to circumstances beyond your control you go from being the fairy godmother or godfather to the big bad ogre.
Who said life was fair?
One thing you can control is this: Don’t make promises unless you are 100% sure you can follow through. In our culture it is easy to use the word promise and then push that promise aside when the circumstances change. In the case of committing to go to the fair, perhaps we don’t mention going to the fair until the day of the fair, when we know that there are no obstacles to our success.
Another situation. Perhaps we tell our children we’ll “think about” getting a horse, then forget to bring up the subject again. What a breeding ground for discouragement in our children. Having weekly family meetings allows us as parents to ask the children to put the item on the agenda. This helps make our children more responsible and also gives us time to think, without having to make, that’s right, a promise.
Another downside of making promises is that we can get sucked into the “but Mommy/Daddy said” game. We make a promise to our children without checking it out with our partner and the children will try to divide and conquer, putting both parents (grandparents, aunts and uncles can also be hapless victims of this game) at odds with each other.
When we make few if any promises, while we manage to keep our words and actions in positive congruence, we model personal integrity to our children.
This places us in a favorable position when we are faced with our children making promises to us and not keeping them. “I don’t make or take promises,” we can tell our children when they promise that they’ll do their homework after their favorite show, or they’ll do extra chores to pay back a loan for something above and beyond. The list can get long quickly. We can simply tell them that when they have finished their homework or done the extra chores, whatever the case may be, then we’ll know that they are ready for the next step.
Helping our children learn to walk their talk and to positively match their words and actions, can be done when we are careful about promises, promises, promises.