Tag Archives: honesty

“Ts” Of Single Fatherhood – Trust

I heard a story about a father and daughter visiting the Grand Canyon and walking along one of the trails. One narrow stretch of dirt pathway appeared quite treacherous and the father got a little scared. He asked his daughter to hold his hand for safety.

Photo Credit: Jim Boswell via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Jim Boswell via Compfight cc

The daughter replied, “No, you hold my hand.”

Puzzled, the father asked what the difference was.

The daughter replied, “If I hold your hand, I might let go if something goes wrong. If you hold my hand, I know you’ll never let go.”

First, let me apologize for using a sappy story. I will try not to do it again.

Second, let’s talk about trust in our relationship with our kids. When death, divorce or separation has brought them into a predominately single-parent world, trust can be tenuous. Can dad be trusted or is the world now an untrustworthy place? Will my questions be answered honestly or will dad lie to make everything seem better?

Your kids may be asking slightly different questions, but at the core, they want to know if they can trust your words, your presence, and your commitment.

The little girl in the story viewed handholding as a relational bond, not a physical one.

So, how do we foster a trusting environment with our kids? Think about these ideas:

I DO WHAT I SAY: My son (and I suspect your kids) holds my feet to the fire when it comes to consistency and follow through. Ever tell your kid if they do a chore you will take them to QuickTrip for a treat? Nano seconds after they complete the task, they are all over you about when you will take them. Am I right?

Ever threaten your kid with punishment for some minor infraction (mainly because you are frustrated and tired) and then not actually invoke the consequence? Your kid will remember your threats can be idle. Trust is diminished.

Be slow to speak and be thoughtful, because your words need to match your actions. Trust will increase when your words hold true. If, for some reason,, you cannot follow through, take the time to offer an explanation…and honest explanation…so trust will not erode.

I SAY WHAT I DO: Kids have amazing imaginations. So, if you allow them room to create their own narrative for words or facts you leave out of an explanation, they will come up with some amazing (and potentially harmful) stories. Kind of like a bad game of parenting Mad Libs, except not as funny and possibly harmful to your relationship.

My son pretty consistently asked me if I was dating anyone. In fact, we were driving back from visiting my parents one day, and he informed me I could get a girlfriend simply by providing some pertinent information to eHarmony.com. He was seven at the time and, frankly, my dating life was not any of his business. But, he cared enough to ask and deserved an appropriate answer. I gave him an honest answer he could understand at his age, and he was not forced to make up his own narrative about my dating life.

Uncertainly and mystery do not foster trust. Give age-appropriate or situation-appropriate explanations, but do not force your kids to create their own explanations when you could otherwise build trust.  So, like the girl in the sappy story suggested, lean in to your relationship and strengthen the bond with your kids.

Name a time you have threatened a punishment and not followed through. What were the consequences? Also, share a question your kids asked and you did not want to give an answer.

“Ts” Of Single Fatherhood – Truth

“Your son will never lie to you.  But do not believe a word he says.”

Let it sink in…

I had the same thoughts you have right now when my son’s therapist told me this.  But you need some context.  My son was seven at the time and what he told my therapist and me about some events did not seem believable.  Later, she reminded me he was sharing his perceptions of events, and even though his words gave rise to concern, I should take them with a grain of salt.

He told me the truth, but his truth and reality may not completely align.

He had no motivation to deceive me, but his ability to understand and interpret the actions and words of adults confused him and his reality may not precisely reflect what was said and done.

Enough psychobabble.  On to what you and I face every day.

Photo Credit: Lucky1988 via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Lucky1988 via Compfight cc

Kids take words quite literally.  It is all fun and games when we tell them the moon is made of cheese, but altogether different when the “parent” hat is on with serious matters to discuss.

I never want my son to question my intentions or actions.  I want clarity and want him to feel comfortable asking for clarification if he does not understand.

That only comes when your home has a culture of truth.  I am all for blaming the dog for a fart, but, again, on serious matters, our kids need us to be honest.

Some of the ways I foster a culture of honesty and truth are:

Saying “I don’t know” when I don’t know.  We do not have all the answers and our kids need to know it.  Whether we do not know the math equation to find the volume of a box or do not know why or how to explain the actions of our exes, we have the freedom to say “I don’t know.”  We cannot stop there.  We can empower our kids to explore and figure out math equations.  We can also give our kids some insight to being a normal person who may not understand the actions or words of another – to rest in the tension that we will not always be able to figure out why friends and family do things.  Why a best friend would say something hurtful.  Why a sibling would lash out and call them names.  We may not always know the answer, but we can control our response and reaction.

Invite clarification.  Ask your kids to repeat to you what they think you said – especially when discussing difficult issues.  Get yourself and teach them to seek clarity so communication becomes clear and confusion disappears.  This discipline can help everyone at home, school, work, and life.

Affirm the value of their words.  My son comes up with some pretty fantastical stuff.  He saw a rattlesnake while hiking.  He saw a Great White shark when kayaking in San Diego Bay.  Someone stepped on his face with their cleat during flag football.  Instead of deflating their stories we should engage, seek clarification, and help them navigate the awesome world of childhood imagination and play.  We can gently push them toward truth and remind them of the story of the boy who cried wolf.  But we can also let them be kids and remember their perceptions of reality may differ from ours depending on their age and development.

Be honest.  This should go without saying.  You and I have already discovered how closely our kids listen and how much they remember.  If we deceive our kids, they will learn from us and do the same.  I remember when my son just turned nine and he asked me about Santa like he had done in years past.  But this time was different.  His demeanor, his tone, and his eyes told me it was time to let him know the truth.  He also asked me about his mom and my divorce.  To this day, I tell him the truth – all he needs to know is that his mom and I love him and the divorce was not his fault.  It does not answer the question he wants answered, but it is honest.

What is the most awesome/funny make believe story your kids have told?

“Ts” Of Single Fatherhood – Talk

“Hi, son!  How was your day?”


“What happened at school?”


“Anything happen you would like to talk about?”


Sound like a familiar conversation when you pick your kid up?

For our purposes, we will acknowledge conversation between father and child benefits both the father and child.  We will acknowledge the importance of verbal communication for the development of our kids from a social and emotional standpoint.

Photo Credit: Alkavare via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Alkavare via Compfight cc

If you have had experiences like the one I shared above, we need to move beyond the “why” and get to the “how”.

OBSERVE:  When do you like to talk to others and when do you like to be left alone?  Do you want peace and quiet before breakfast?  Until you get to work?  Do you need some time to decompress after a long day and collect your thoughts without engaging in conversation?  Well, our kids have similar preferences.  Learn yours and learn theirs.  Use that information to determine the best time to engage in meaningful conversation.  Many kids do not want to talk about their day at school immediately after leaving, and instead would like to listen to music or shoot some hoops – not a good time to actively engage.  Instead, figure out when they are most open.  For many, it is at bedtime (see my post about bedtime rituals for some thoughts on this).

ASK QUESTIONS:  Would you rather get a lecture or engage in a dialogue?  Often, we equate talking to our kids with telling our kids what we think.  Instead, observe which questions pique their interest and elicit a response more than a simple “yes” or “no”.  Sometime our kids need to hear from us in the lecture format, but talking to them involves a two-way dialogue.  Properly worded questions can sometimes teach more than any droning lecture because they encourage our kids to think about choices and the reasons behind them.

INVITE QUESTIONS:  We used to have a time before bed where I told my son he could ask me any question he wanted with the promise I would give an honest answer.  When he would ask about the divorce, I honestly told him it was not appropriate for me to discuss and went right into my “broken record” explanation.  When he would ask a question about an aspect of science I did not know, I told him I would do some research and get back to him. Sometimes he had no questions and sometimes I knew the answer.  Encouraging our kids to ask questions seems to make them more comfortable with talking – at least it did with my son.

LISTEN:  In those moments you want to really talk to your kids and connect, give them your attention when they talk.  Let the phone keep ringing.  Do not check your text messages like Pavlov’s dog when the alert sounds.  Turn off the television.  Engage in eye contact and repeat what they said to you so they know you listened and understood.  If our kids sense we do not pay attention to them, why would they talk?

DO SOMETHING ACTIVE WHILE YOU TALK:  Throwing a football, going for a walk, or swinging at the park can be great ways (especially with boys) to connect and converse.  They still have your attention, but there is just something about walking and talking….

Because we regularly play the role of dad and mom, we need to redouble our efforts to connect with our kids in conversation.  They need to express feelings and ask questions, but they may not if the foundations of regular communication do not exist.

My son has recently shared some concerns with me on his own, with no prompting and seemingly out of the blue.  I have told him how appreciative I am he asked me and thanked him for trusting me with something bugging him.  I do not believe he would have asked had we not developed our communication skills.

Having said that, I still get “fine” and “no” when I pick him up from school.  And then he turns on the radio.

When do you find your kids most willing to have a good conversation?