I would like to return to a series that I started a while back called, “An Interview with Ponyboy.” For this post, we will be exploring the effects that a breach of trust can have on a youth, and what it may take to gain the trust back. I want to share some insight that I was given by the young men I had worked with, many of which had experienced lying, manipulation, and others failing to follow through with their promises. For those of us who might be seeking to repair trust which has been broken by ourselves or others, I hope this may be of help. For others, stay tuned, because we all let our children down from time to time. This post is going to help us get back on the horse when those times come. What I am sharing may not be relevant today, but it will be eventually.
The first lesson the boys taught me about this topic is that each person is affected differently by a breach of trust. What might be easy for you or I to shrug off may wreck someone else’s world. I remember many times when I would listen to the young men share of what was hurting them the most (keep in mind that these boys had been through a lot). Surprisingly, the guys would say things like, “when my mom said that she would come see me a few weekends ago and didn’t show up” or “when my grandparents didn’t send Christmas presents last year.” Of all the things that they could have said, these were the things that had stuck with them the most. There are many factors that come into play here, which I do not have the time or expertise to fully address. However, what I will say is that we must be willing to adjust our own perspective when it comes to the hurt that we have caused another. We must not assume that we fully comprehend the impact that our actions might have on our children. If it is a big deal to them, then it needs to be a big deal to us as well.
Another thing that I learned from the boys is that gaining back trust takes consistency over time. When we lose the trust of another, repairing the damage doesn’t come instantaneously. We have to show through our actions and our words that we are not likely to offend our child again in the same way. We do so by going back to the basics for when we make a mistake: 1) apologize, 2) compensate/correct the damage, 3) make changes to keep from making the mistake again. If we can show a pattern of following through with what we say and do, then the building blocks for healing will be available to our child. It may also be good to keep in mind that trust and forgiveness are not the same thing. In some circumstances, it may be easier for our child to forgive us than it will be for him/her to trust us. We have to be willing to accept this reality. When we cause a breach, we have a responsibility to go at the speed our child needs.
The third lesson the boys taught me was that it is not healthy to trust everyone. Some people abuse trust when given it. Our worldview becomes tainted when we put trust in a few undeserving individuals, and then generalize our beliefs based on the resulting negative experiences. As a father, we can equip our children for success by teaching them how to trust in a way that is safe. When I worked with the boys on building healthy trust, I would give them a brief illustration. I first handed them a paper heart. I then explained to them that giving our hearts fully to another would be foolish, because we don’t know how well they will take care of it. Instead, we would break off a tiny piece of the heart. In a real world sense, an example of a tiny piece could be: sharing an opinion or personal story that we would be comfortable giving a stranger. I told the boys that if a person took good care of the piece that was given, then we could give a slightly bigger piece the next time. If the person didn’t take care of the piece given, they would get another tiny piece. If the person continued to lack good judgement with the pieces given, they were eventually cut off. As you can see, trust given over time can be a healthy way of building trust.
Lastly, I learned that trust is a two-way street. When I was working at the residential center, it wasn’t too uncommon to hear the phrase, “Why should I trust you if you don’t even trust me?” It’s a fair question. Obviously, it is difficult to put trust in our children when they have proven over and over that they don’t deserve it. Still, can we really justify asking something of someone that we are not willing to offer them in return? That is why I suggest that we look for opportunities to give our children a chance to prove themselves. When an opportunity arises, we can ask ourselves, “if things go south, can I accept being let down.” If the answer is yes, then let’s take some risks. Hand them the keys to the car and send them to the store with a shopping list. Let them stay a few more hours with a solid group of friends. Ask him/her to plan the next vacation. We can narrow the gap between us and our child by building a bridge on our end. By doing so, we are modeling for our child what it looks like to give someone a chance. Some children will continue to make poor choices, even when given every chance in the world. When this happens, we can go back to setting necessary boundaries. Just remember that we also need to explain to our children why trust is not a viable option for the time being.
My hopes are that none of us would do anything to our children that would cause them to distrust us. But, we live in a world where mistakes happen. When we let our children down, we need to help guide them through the process of recovery. It will take time and energy from us and our children. We aren’t likely to see progress over night. When I was in college, I remember taking a course on working with inner city youth. One of the guest speakers shared that it takes approximately 3 years for a child to feel comfortable opening up to an adult. Through my work, I can say that this statistic has held true. If we have a healthy relationship with our child prior to a breach, it may take less time. But, this is a good rule of thumb for the amount of work that may be required of us before we really start seeing results. For those of us that are fighting to get back what was lost, whether by out own hand or another, know that it is worth the struggle. Don’t give up. Keep going at it with Rock Solid strength.