Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Trust me.

There is a lot of mutual trust at the dog park. I trust the woman who gives George a treat from her pocket. I trust that George won't dig in the dirt and get muddy. I trust that the stranger sitting next to me on the park bench isn’t a weirdo. I have a tendency to give people the benefit of the doubt, and a general optimism about the world, which I learned from my mother.

Of course parents often know when their kids aren’t being truthful. It’s easy and understandable for parents to know the truth and demand it from their kids. But I feel that sometimes it’s also important for the kids to feel trusted. Completely. And I have a reason for this belief.

When I was a teenager, I wasn’t one who disobeyed the rules very often. Sure, I would stretch the rules and come home a little past my curfew, or I would talk on the phone too much or roll my eyes indignantly, but overall Mom and I trusted and respected each other.

One Saturday night when I was sixteen my friends Kat, Chad, and April (names not-so-cleverly changed to protect their identities) piled into my car for a weekend drive through town. After several loops around the town square, through the Pizza Hut parking lot, and up to our hilltop ski resort Paoli Peaks, Kat suggested we go to the Riverside Café, a tiny local bar where she knew she could pass for 21 and get us some alcohol.

Now, please know that this was not our normal weekend routine. We were nerdy theatre kids who usually spent the weekends at rehearsal or playing cards at our director’s house. But Kat was more worldly, more mature, and more daring. So we nervously sat outside, not thinking about the fact that we were in a small town where anyone could recognize my car and wonder why we were parked there. And what was I thinking? My Mom was a teacher – in the Bible Belt – where people who drank were marked as sinners. Mom used to buy her wine coolers in a town 30 miles away so people wouldn’t gossip, “I saw Mrs. Bradford buying alcohol at the liquor store today!” She had a reputation to uphold.

Anyway, that Saturday night wasn’t momentous. Kat bought a six-pack of wine coolers, we kept driving around town, and later I dropped everyone off at their prospective homes and went home. I never even had a drink. Like I said, we were nerdy.

The next Monday, Mom picked me up at the front of the high school at the end of the day, and I knew by her face that something was very wrong. Instantly my stomach turned to rock. “Look in the back seat,” she told me, her mouth in a hard, thin line. I turned to see the six-pack of wine coolers sitting defiantly on the seat. Kat and Chad had left them in the car! Quickly I searched for an excuse and put a confused look on my face. “Where did those come from?” Mom asked. “Um, I don’t know,” I said, stalling. I looked back again at the incriminating evidence and continued to look confused. Then I came up with a story. “We were up at the Peaks this weekend,” I began. “And I gave the car keys to Kat so she and Chad could hang out at the car while April and I were inside. Maybe it’s theirs?” Kat had a reputation for being a little wild, so I hoped my lie was convincing. Luckily, Mom accepted my story. After a few more questions we drove home, my stomach still in knots and her face still frozen in anger. We never talked about the incident again.

Looking back, Mom probably knew I was lying, but she gave me the benefit of the doubt. She trusted me, or at least gave that impression. And how completely different our relationship would have been without that trust. Deep down she knew I was a good girl, so instead of demanding the truth and instigating an argument, she accepted my story and left it alone. She gave me maturity and responsibility by accepting what I said. Instead of yelling, “I know you’re lying!” she questioned, listened, and then accepted it. After all, all the wine coolers were unopened, so how bad could we have been?

When I was tiny, I stole a pretty scarf from my Aunt Mary’s house and stuffed it in the pocket of my overalls. When asked about it later, I told Mom I had put it there “so I could play with it later.” Instead of forcing me to admit it was a lie, she made me go back to Aunt Mary’s, return the scarf, and tell her my excuse. I was nervous, but it taught me to fix my mistakes. And it taught me that Mom trusted me.

Some may read this and think Mom was too easy on me. Of course you can’t always accept the lies your kids tell. But sometimes, showing that you trust them is more important than demanding the truth. Mom and I had the greatest, deepest, closest relationship a mother and daughter can have. Don’t be afraid to trust your kids. Even if at times they don’t deserve it. Trust me.

No comments:

Post a Comment