We tell our kids a lot of things.
We tell them that we love them. That we’ll support them no matter what. That they can come to us with anything.
We also tell them little things: We tell them we’ll be home by six. We tell them that if they clean up their toys they can have a treat. We tell them that sure, next time we’re here, we can do what they want. We tell them when they’re older, they can do this or that.
It’s not that we don’t mean those little promises; it’s just that because they’re small, we forget. Or we were really only saying them to distract them, or to change the subject. Because we were assuming they would forget, too.
We have to remember that sweet scene in The Road. The boy catches his father giving him the last of the hot chocolate, even though they had agreed to split everything evenly. This is a big deal to the boy. “If you break little promises, you’ll break big ones. That’s what you said,” he chides his father.
And it’s true. The little promises matter because they build trust. Because they show that your word is important to you. The father who says he’ll be home for dinner, but isn’t—what kid is going to trust that he will be there when the kid really needs him? The father who says he’s going to quit smoking and doesn’t—how can a kid believe them when they say that family means more to them than anything? How can the dad who lies to get out of spending $2 at the grocery store be counted on when it really counts?
They can’t. If you break the little promises, you’ll break the big ones.