January 22, 2013 § 11 Comments


A couple of days after we slaughtered the pigs, we ushered a couple of lambs into the freezer. As usual, the boys were enthusiastic participants, keen to wield the blade, so to speak, and so once the second lamb was hanging from the gambrel Penny and I retreated to the house to warm our toes, leaving the fellas to finish separating skin from flesh. Again, I was nervous about it: What if they screwed up? What if one of them got cut? What if, what if, what if… 

The truth is, I sometimes struggle to trust my kids. Not “trust” as in “believe them,” but “trust” as in “believe in them.” It’s a crucial distinction, I think, the difference between simply believing they are honest, and believing they are capable. Of course, one does not preclude the other, and honesty is a revered quality around these parts. But capability is equally revered. Perhaps even more so, it is the act of becoming capable that we revere and our desire for them to have the sense that the process of becoming capable in any particular skill or pursuit is transferable to other skills and pursuits. Frankly, I don’t think this can happen if we don’t trust them. If we don’t just believe them, but believe in them.

I’m not sure our culture believes in its children as fully as it once did, and I think this is because we have created institutionalized arrangements that simply can’t afford the imprecision, uncertainty and occasional chaos that fully trusting children entails.  I think about the tremendous rise in diagnosis of “behavioral disorders” and the subsequent increase in prescriptions of psychotropic drugs among school-age children: A twenty-fold increase over the past three decades. In 2011 alone, a 19% rise in sales of Ritalin. Are there really that many more kids with these issues, or is it possible that the arrangements we have created have made it extremely difficult to accommodate those whose personalities do not conform? Furthermore, if you’re asking a child to take drugs to modify their behavior so that they might fit within the accepted boundaries set by an industrialized educational system, are you not essentially suggesting that you do not trust who they innately are? To be sure, there are cases that might warrant such intervention, but still: A 2000% increase in 30 years? A 19% increase in the sales of just one of these drugs in a single year? Clearly, there’s something else going on, here.

I might be wrong about this, but I am beginning to think that many aspects of contemporary American life are not compatible with trusting our children. On a purely pragmatic level, believing in children takes time, which so many of us feel unable to spare, pushed as we are by careers and our collective faith that “busyness” is the hallmark of a life well lived.  I know I could have skinned that lamb far faster than my boys, and there was a part of me that wanted to push them aside purely for that reason: It was a full day. There was much to do. And the biggest lie of all, I couldn’t spare the time. I think of a day a couple months back, when I was laying out the cedar poles that would form the uprights for the shelter we’re building over the sawmill. Rye wanted to help, and I had to stop myself from turning him away, because of course his “help” would slow down the process. And what if he measured to the wrong spot, or misidentified the numbers on the tape measure?

So trusting kids takes time, and it demands enormous patience, because of course the process of attaining capability does not begin with capability. Indeed, it begins most often with failure, or some version of it. Here too is another aspect of contemporary American culture that does not lend itself to trusting our kids, because of course we are socialized to not believe in failure. We are socialized to believe in American exceptionalism, in individualized achievement. In excellence.

To be honest, the boys did not achieve excellence with the lamb. “I think we sort of screwed it up,” Fin told me, when he ventured inside to retrieve Penny and me. And in a sense he was right, although the damage was primarily cosmetic. But in another sense, he was entirely wrong, because by taking on the job in the first place, the boys had done something even bigger than forcing me to believe in them: They’d believed in themselves.

§ 11 Responses to Trust

  • Treasa says:

    Hello from Oregon Ben! This was a great article. I think it captures what I have been trying to put my finger on, but could not quite articulate myself. I think it is a great catalyst for discussion!

  • Dave says:

    There is a lot to think about, as I am digesting your words. Right off the bat, I recognize that clearly we all lose something as a society by not trusting our kids. What sort of future would we face with a generation or two of adults who don’t have faith in their own abilities? And how do we as parents find a balance between making the time to teach our kids, and letting have at it on their own.

    Definitely thought provoking as I’ve deleted at least three follow-up sentences, so I’ll leave it that. Thanks again for sharing.

    • Ben Hewitt says:

      Hi Dave,

      Thanks for the note. I sometimes wonder if the real reason it’s hard to trust our kids is because we don’t trust ourselves. Hard to have confidence in others if you don’t have it in yourself.

      Be well, Ben

  • Jenn says:

    This. Spot on and very thought-provoking.

    “Helicopter” parents do nothing to convey to their children the concept of trust, so it is the same with those who rely on medication to help control their children in an all-too rigid society. I think many parents are so afraid of trusting in their children that they never give them the opportunity to show that they are deserving, and must have, our trust. It is sometimes hard, you don’t want to see your kid fail at anything, but failure is the only way they learn how not to fail again. My daughter fails because I trust that she will eventually figure it out (with a little help if she asks for it). It’s the only way she will grow up to be a trustworthy, capable, able, and successful adult.

  • sonrie says:

    I agree with this powerful post. I am a mental health art therapist, so I use art materials and the power of the creative process with clients to help them express in artwork what words cannot do. I often have to sit with my clients and teach them that just because I know the art technique or think that I have “figured out” what is going on with them, I cannot solve their problem or create the artwork for them. I am merely the assistant while they do the real work – whether drawing the picture, making the connection, or in your example, taking care of the lamb. Over time, my clients begin to understand and trust in me that I trust in them. This doesn’t happen overnight or in one session. Sometimes my adult clients learn this lesson years later than they might have as children.

  • Angela Kelly says:


    Thank you as always,

  • Ben Hewitt says:

    Thanks, all. Such nice comments despite my having mistakenly deleted the first paragraph (fixed now).

  • Cherish says:

    Really love this and all your posts but…..lambs? Really?

  • sidraisch says:

    You have made me more aware and thankful of the trust and belief I was given, and the trust and belief I have extended to my own son. He will be graduating college this spring and I trust and believe in him all the way. Can’t wait to see what happens next. And two more boys coming up.

  • Peter Burke says:

    This voices what Deb and I have been wondering for a while now. Just a note that we often give our kids plastic cups so they won’t break the glass ones; why not trust them with glass and let them break one now and then? But having raised three boys – I definitely absolutely am sure that the drugs are a result of ‘our’ boys not fitting into the wrong shoe size rather than our schools finding boots that fit them. I believe that Craftmanship should be a requirement right up there with Math, Science and English. I have been saying it for years that boys need to connect to ideas with their hands, and probably lots of girls as a matter of fact. I don’t care if it is sewing or sawing it should be an important part of education.
    I lived in Amish country in western PA and my neighbors 8 yr old was behind a team of horses in a corn field with a cultivator or tetting the hay, I am sure there was no issue of attention deficite because it required his attention to do the job.
    I hereby rename attention deficit disorder to ‘boring schools and lives disorder’ or better ‘nuthin worth payin attention to’ disorder. Oh, then it wouldn’t be a disorder and oh, and then we wouldn’t be able to sell the drugs.Hmmmmm.

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