“Never break promises you make to your kids” is parenting advice I’ve heard since before I knew how children were made. Some people take it a step further and say, “Never make promises unless you’re absolutely sure you can follow through on them.” It makes perfect sense, of course. If I lie to my kids, they won’t trust me. And if my kids don’t trust me, they’ll think it’s a good idea to get teen-pregnant while snorting every drug ever off of rolled-up porn magazines.
“If you eat all your tomatoes, you can have some strawberries for dessert.” That was the deal yesterday at lunch. It’s a mealtime paradigm that my two-year-old is very familiar with (not to mention a golden win-win for a health-conscious dad). Imagine my horror, then, when I went to the fridge to fetch the promised reward and found…
…no strawberries. No strawberries? Panic! What to do!? You know, besides envision a future therapy session in which she identifies this moment as the reason she was never able to trust men.
I was halfway through dialing up my wife at work when a thought struck me. Perhaps there was still a way to resolve this without permanently destroying my daughter’s future. If she’s able to comprehend “do X and you’ll get Y,” perhaps she could also understand, “Daddy’s a moron and forgot to make sure we still have Y. Would you like Z instead?”
And so, with a deep breath of contrition, I sat down in front of her high chair and said the most humbling words I’ve ever spoken to my daughter: “Sweetheart, Daddy made a mistake. I thought there were some strawberries but they’re actually all gone. I’m very sorry. Would you like something else instead?”
While I was speaking, her gigantic blue eyes stared quietly at me, absorbing each word in turn. When I was done, she glanced away to process what I had said, then replied, “Have some oranges?”
Whew. Disaster averted. I gave her some orange slices and a couple of other things she asked for (because she’s growing, y’know, not because I was feeling guilty). Our future relationship was saved, and all because I listened to another great piece of parenting advice: “Always be willing to apologize to your kids when you make a mistake.”