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How to restore trust in the Parent-Child relationship

It is no secret that trust is important in any relationship. In fact, all relationships require some trust in order to be functional. For instance, in a coaching relationship, I have to trust my clients to be honest about their progress and challenges. I trust that they are giving me honest and complete information. They also have to trust that I will provide appropriate guidance. This relationship breaks down if trust on either side becomes diminished. Pretty logical, right? But how do we cultivate trust in a personal relationship? I have learned that the answer to this is less logical.

Some of us may think of trust as something that has to be earned in a relationship. Perhaps that a partner has to prove themselves trustworthy. This is based on the belief that trust is a reward for good behavior, rather than statusquo in a relationship. The problem is that trust is not sustained this way. In fact, this expectation only keeps trust in scarcity. Trust is only established in a relationship when one or both parties introduces trust. The expectation that a person has to become trustworthy in order to be trusted, creates a deficit that cannot stay balanced for long.

The reasons many of us find it difficult to trust are as unique as each individual story. The kind of vulnerability that trust requires can be scary if you have past experiences of violated trust. The human instinct is to shore up defenses against this kind of emotional pain by withholding trust in future relationships. This may even be an effective defense for a while, especially if you remain in that distrustful relationship. This is further exacerbated if that relationship is with your child, perhaps a teen or young adult with a history of poor behavior. It turns out that being miserly with trust is not the solution. In fact, it quickly becomes unhelpful in such a parent-child relationship. How, then, does such a parent build a trusting relationship with their child?

The first step is to begin working through your own issues surrounding trust. It is impossible to change anything until it is faced. My advice is to seek therapeutic support as you examine the experiences that now make trust difficult. As you do this, you may notice your own patterns of behavior that presently fuel distrust. The kind of introspection that therapy encourages, is often a helpful means for noticing the personal choices that need to change in your life. The more honestly you do this, the easier it becomes to make better choices. This part is important, because it prepares you for what is required as you attempt to cultivate trust in your parent-child relationship.

The only way to really build trust is to simply give it freely. You make trust available to the people in your life, and they will rely on it when they need to. The task is to keep that trust available, even when they violate it. Violations of trust are an important learning opportunity. Contrary to what your brain is prone to do, this is not a reason to withhold trust from your child. Instead, take the opportunity to teach them how to do better next time and then give them more trust to do it with. You can see how this is a big ask for someone with "trust issues" who now believes that trust must be earned. Hence my advice that you begin with doing the work for yourself.

There are new rules to this parenting job. The universe is calling us to do better. I have hope that if we can find the trust that we are capable of as parents, first in ourselves and then in our children, then maybe we can finally trust life and so will they.

Sometimes people ask, "why do I need to do all this work, just for parenting my children? My parents never did any of this". To these people, my response is always the same: Some day, your child will need you to step up and be better than your parents were. They may need you to show love, or be a good listener, to be there for them, or to simply trust them. That cannot be the day you start to learn how. You did not choose to become a parent, just to repeat the mistakes of your parents.

In summary, the solution to building trust is simple. All that is required is that you allow trust to exist in your relationship with your child, and that said trust remains unconditional. Your task is to renew trust in the face of disappointment, and recognize the learning opportunities for an even more trusting relationship. Chances are, your children are not the reason you distrust them. That reason was planted before they came along. If you do the work to break through your own emotional shackles, it will quickly become clear how you can trust again.

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