Can your children count on you? Can your kids count on what you say today meaning the same thing tomorrow?
When nine-year-old Chelsey was in the fifth grade, Mr. Ramirez wanted her to work harder and perhaps bring her Bs and Cs up to As so he made her a deal, he would give her $10 for every A she brought home the next marking period. Always a studious child, she was filled with renewed energy and spent more time on homework and studying for tests. When it was time for the science project, she went to the library, chose an experiment and turned it in on time. All the while she thought not only about her dad’s offer, but how proud he would be to see straight As!
Finally, the day had come that report cards would go home. Chelsey was excited and couldn’t wait till she got home. She counted the As… there were four, that would be $40! All afternoon she waited for her dad to get home and see her report card.
Hearing the car pull into the driveway, Chelsey opened the door with card in hand. Mr. Ramirez put his brief case away, changed his clothes and went to the kitchen where Chelsey waited. I was on the deck working and strained to listen, almost as excited as she.
Sitting at the table she handed him her report card and waited as he looked over each subject.
Social Studies C
Physical Ed A
He laid the report card down and asked Chelsey what she was waiting for. She said she got four As and that he had promised $10 for every A. There was a mumbled discussion that I did not hear clearly but she looked very upset.
“What’s the matter, Chelsey?” I asked through the window.
“I got gypped!” she cried.
This did not sound right so I went inside for an explanation. She rested her chin in her hands and looked angry. Mr. Ramirez explained that he does not pay for anything but academic courses: Math, Science and Social Studies – that’s it. He does not believe Health, Music, Art, Reading and such to be worthy of $10.
Chelsey was near tears and I was livid.
Not only did he not stick to his promise, he changed the terms of the deal. What is worse is that he damaged Chelsey’s faith in him. By not holding up to the original agreement, Mr. Ramirez placed a perpetual question in Chelsey’s mind: Does he intend to follow through this time or will he back out again?
That broken promise cost Mr. Ramirez much more than $40; it damaged his daughter’s view of him. All young children have the perception that parents are god-like super heroes that can make miracles happen. Chelsey was yanked into a cruel adult world at the speed of light the day Mr. Ramirez broke his promise to her.
As you all know, there is no way to make another person behave as they should. My heart broke for my daughter so I did the only thing within my power that I could do, I grabbed the credit card and took her shopping to her favorite place— Michaels Craft Store! No, it wasn’t the best option, but it was the only way I could try to make it up to her. Even as I watched her go on a mini-spending spree, I knew that no amount of money could undo the experience of getting cheated by her own father.
Chelsey and I have talked about the broken promise many times and each time she speaks about never being able to fully trust her father again. That incident created an insecurity that could not be satisfied. If she could not count on him for something as small as promised money for grades, then how could she count on him for anything else?
Personally, I never made absolute promises and the few I have made, you can bet I followed through on. My statements were ‘I will try’ rather than ‘I promise.’ Saying ‘I will try’ is much easier to carry out and does not have the baggage of a promise. Even when I said ‘I will try,’ you know I did my best to fulfill.
To a child, ‘I promise’ or even ‘I will try’ is a future dream. No parent, grandparent or anyone else should use either without serious consideration and the possibility of not carrying out the act and what that means to a child.
Have you ever given a promise that you were unable to keep? Has your child ever goaded you into a promise? I am interested in how other parents handle these situations.