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How Does Trust Influence the Family Dynamic?

Modern Parent

Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

Foundational to any relationship is trust. Sounds simple enough, right? How do you establish and retain trust within your family unit? — within the parent-child relationship, the spousal relationship and the sibling relationship?

There are a lot of relationships within a small family: mom-dad; mom-child 1; dad-child 1; mom-child 2; dad-child 2; child 1-child 2…add in the extended family, you get the picture. How can every effort be made to ensure trust exists in each of these relationships?

While you consider this, know there is a scientific formula for how trust is built; it has been tested repeatedly with consistent results. Trust results from credibility + reliability + intimacy in relation to self-orientation (Peters, R. et al., 1997). Before examining how this applies to parenting and the familial relationship, I would like to recognize


Mari shared some poignant comments in response to 5 of the Best Parenting Decisions Our Family Ever Made. She posed:

“If your kids are still young, enjoy this time with them. They aren’t embarrassed by you, listen to you and are willing to spend time with you. Soon this will change. Be willing to second-guess yourself with the home schooling. One or more of your kids might benefit from being in school. What happens if one of your kids doesn’t want to go along with the family program?”

Mari’s comments gave me pause. I acknowledge that parenting is about being flexible and being prepared to pivot. If this last year with a global pandemic has taught us anything, it has taught us about needing to be flexible.

I think it’s important to engage children in decisions that significantly impact them. For us, that was transitioning from a “traditional public school” to a home school program. Our program has a dual-stream option for grades 9–12 where students continue with core subjects at home and can return to the “traditional school” for electives if they wish. Having this option supported our decision. We have let our children know that when they are in grade 9, the decision to continue as they are or participate in the dual-stream is theirs.

When it comes to involving children in decisions, this may be informing them: the choice respectfully rests with the parents, and while the children may not be happy, they have been informed that x, y, z will occur. In others, the decision might be theirs — and the parents must respect the decision their children make. Ultimately, not all decisions are ours as parents, and the same can be said for children; not all decisions are theirs. Allowing the opportunity for both to “hold power” creates a safe space and builds a safe and trusting relationship.


TRUST = credibility + reliability + intimacy in relation to self-orientation

Trust is the “assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something” (merriam-webster.com).

Credibility = words

By definition: “the quality or power of inspiring belief” (merriam-webster.com). In other words, does someone have the knowledge and experience to back up what they say? Can they support their words with additional context — back up what is said with evidence?

How often is what you say to your child “lip service”? How real are the words you share with your child? How authentic are your words?

Reliability = actions

Reliability is tied to actions and whether someone does what they said they would do. Do they follow through on what is said? Or, are they “all talk, no action”? How reliable are you in the eyes of your child? How do you show up? — fully present or on your device? I am certainly guilty of the latter — and writing this is a reminder to myself to step up, step in and be present.

Do you deliver on your promises? Or, are they false promises — or false threats? If the latter, you may be undermining your own credibility with your child and, in-turn, damaging trust in your relationship: there is a fracture in the equation.

Intimacy = emotional safety

Intimacy provides emotional safety and a safe space for emotions to enter. How is information shared and received between all of the familial relationships? Is there support? Can information be shared and kept within the confines of a particular relationship? Or, is what is said automatically “everyone’s business”?

This can be tough as parents where, in households with two parental figures, there may be a desire to share with each other what a child has disclosed to one parent. Do you recognize the different relationships that exist? Or, by prioritizing one, have you (potentially) inadvertently damaged the trust with another? If sharing between parents, how is the information shared? Are you conscious of “the how” to not damage the trust between the parent-child relationships?

For us, we let the child know they must communicate the information shared with the other parent. We bring the three of us together, allowing the child to speak directly: no paraphrasing, simply authentic — providing the time and space for the child to share appropriately.

Phew. A is lot going on with parenting and all of these relationships. A lot to think about: and — more to act on.

What resonates for you when you consider the trust quotient in your familial relationships? What situations come to mind that allows you to reflect on how your word and actions have enhanced trust with a familial relationship? By contrast, upon reflection, is there a situation that comes to mind that you would approach differently in the future?

I invite you to continue to the conversation in the comments.

From one parent navigating parenting in the 21st century during a pandemic to another, I wish you well.

“Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships.”
Stephen R. Covey

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