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Trust is so big that I think it is bigger, grander, harder
and more important than love.
Love happens. And
then, later, maybe you have to work on it (or you don’t). But trust? Trust is work ... deep, deep work from
the get-go. Trust is not a magical, maternal, hormonal, pheromonal cloud that suddenly,
gloriously envelopes you. It is a
rational act. One earns trust. And it’s hard,
You know the cliché that you have to love yourself before
you can truly love someone else? That
may well be true. But I fervently
believe it is doubly, triply true that you have to trust yourself before you can trust someone else. Like, for example, your teenager.
Trust, I think, is a ladder with many rungs. On the first rung are the explicit,
straightforward ways we must learn to trust our kids if we want them to grow
into responsible and independent adults.
I trust you will do
what you say you will do.
I trust you will not
do anything harmful to yourself or others.
These are the big (but very basic) ideas. The specifics might be: I trust you’ll do your homework or I trust you’re not bullying anyone or I trust you won’t lie to me about where you were last night or I trust you’ll come home by curfew or I trust you won’t drink and drive.
That first rung of the ladder is the hardest for us to allow
our teens to climb. It’s their first
unaided step. For them to take it, we
have to let go. We have to trust both them
and ourselves. We have to trust that
we’ve prepared them for this. We have to
trust our instincts and our parenting skills, trust that we’ve made
expectations clear, that we’ve set the bar realistically high, that we’ve
modeled what we expect. Our kids are only as trustworthy as we give
them the tools to be. We have to trust in
our own abilities.
And that’s hard. It
means trusting parental influence when we know we don’t run the show and
haven’t for years and years. It means
trusting our influence when we know that our kids spend more time away from us
than with us; more time at school, with friends, enmeshed in social media,
picking up powerful messages from music and movies and video games. We can’t be blind to this. That would be delusional. But neither can we let it scare us to the
point of not trusting—of not allowing a step up to that first rung.
And we can’t be all-or-nothing about this first rung
business, either. Remember when you were
trusted to take that first step? Did you
step with confidence and grace? With alacrity? Were you self-assured? I thought not. Me neither. I stumbled. I fell. I paid the consequences. I got another chance.
How do you get to a place where you trust your teen and he or she trusts you?
And so I was able to move up the ladder of trust. I was able to show—in time—that I could make good decisions (most of the time), that I could be counted on, that I was honest (most of the time). I earned that trust. I’m working hard to give my children a chance to do the same.
And now, a word from the teenage daughter:
I don’t trust many people. First of all, they have to be able to really listen to you—and in high
school that doesn’t happen too often. I
mean, conversations happen, and information is exchanged, but people aren’t
listening. I think being a good listener
is very hard. I think most adults don’t
know how to listen, either.
Let’s say you find someone who does listen. Great. So you trust them with a piece of information, a story, a fear or
some little part of you. My experience
in high school is that this is not a good idea. Too often I’ve seen that people use that information to get attention
for themselves or to create drama and excitement in a moment of boredom. I know
this sounds harsh. And I know that some
kids find true blue friends they can trust with anything. (Or think they do...) But most of us don’t.
I do trust my family. They listen, and you can count on them to care. They give feedback and are supportive. And you pretty much know that they’re not
going to blab about you to everyone. Also, part of trust, I think, is being able to count on someone, knowing
they have your back. You know that, whatever you told them, they’d still be
there for you. That’s family.
So, how do you make that happen in your family? How do you get to a place where you trust
your teen and he or she trusts you? Well, you don’t know if you can trust them if you don’t give them a
chance. Of course you talk to them and
you lay down rules and expectations, but at some point it’s a leap of
faith. Like the very first party I went
to where I drove myself. My parents
trusted me not to drink, and they trusted me to come back by curfew. When I
did, that laid the foundation for more trust.
I think the best way to have your teen trust you is to show
how trustworthy you actually are. When
you show yourself to be supportive and nonjudgmental that really helps. “Being there” for your teen—a big part of
trust—doesn’t always mean actually physically being there. Lots of moms work. My mom works. It means being available when they need you. For my mom and me, it’s all about
texting. Also, here’s a hint: When a
parents share a very personal part of themselves—maybe not a deep dark secret
or something too weird for a teen to handle, maybe just something really
embarrassing that happened to you when you were a teen—that can increase the
If you don’t have this kind of relationship with your teen
now, it’s not too late to start. Trust
is the basis for a healthy mother-daughter relationship.