My nephew (12), niece (15), my parents, and I had planned to get together on a weekend so we could spend some time with each other while I was in town visiting my parents—remaining physically distant, of course. We decided this on the weekend prior, and made plans for it. The kids requested my mother to make food they wanted to have. My parents were looking to spending some quality time with them on the weekend. It gave them something to look forward to, particularly during this pandemic.
(Just for the record, my nephew and niece were the only ones that we allowed to visit our home.)
Despite all our planning, neither of the kids showed up that day, nor did they call. My niece texted me that morning to say she wasn’t going to make it because she was going to see a friend of hers she hadn’t seen in a few months, and to whom she’d promised to meet. We’ll come back to this later.
I didn’t hear from my nephew at all. It was only when I went to pick him up (as I had promised to do the week prior) that he told me he wasn’t going to spend time with us today because his parents had planned to spend some time outdoors. We’ll come back to this as well.
As luck would have it, his parents’ cousin and their family showed up at their doorstep without prior notice. The parents thus ditched their plan of heading out, feeling obligated to spend time with these relatives and wanting their kids to do the same with their respective cousins.
Needless to say, I was bummed to hear my nephew wasn’t going to be spending time with us that day—not because his parents had relatives show up unexpectedly, but because he didn’t feel like it. Of course, he justified himself saying he was going to play at home with his cousins who had just arrived. In other words, he felt totally okay breaking a promise he made with us in favor of spending time with someone else who showed up unannounced. My niece felt totally justified in keeping her promise with her friend while breaking the one she had already made with us.
What I found even more astonishing was that the kids’ parents were seemingly okay with them breaking their promises with us to spend time with people they had made no plans with.
Let’s not forget that, had their cousin and his family not shown up unexpectedly, my nephew’s parents weren’t even planning to be at home when I went to pick him up. So, it ceases to be justifiable that my nephew would have broken his promise, regardless of any houseguests coming over.
Now, it would have been okay for the kids to not show up, had they informed us of this a few days prior. My mother wouldn’t have prepared the meals they’d requested, and I wouldn’t have blocked out Sunday afternoon and evening for them in my calendar.
The thing is, not only did they not bother to cancel, they also stood us up. They took our time for granted, thinking their casual promise would go unaccounted. While my parents would ordinarily not take any issue with this, this time they did. Come to think of it, this isn’t the first time we’ve experienced this with these kids, but my parents never thought about it until now.
Unsurprisingly, this didn’t go well with me either. I don’t stand others up, and I won’t spend time with those who do. I don’t let others take my time for granted while I respect theirs. When I decide to spend time with someone—be it with a friend, a client, or kids—I am 100 percent with them, and I expect the same in return.
In this case, it wasn’t the time we lost that was concerning (because we ended up doing other things), but my parents and I were hurt from expecting the kids to show up when they didn’t. Needless to say, this was a major emotional withdrawal for both my parents and me. This is beside the point, but they prioritized their own relatives over us, whether they meant it that way or even realize it.
(Keep in mind, even though I call them nephew and niece, and my parents think of them as their grandchildren, they are not related to us by blood—but does it matter? They used to live next door to my parents’ home and became quite close over the years before they moved a few miles away.)
It’s worth noting that my nephew’s parents will value time when it comes to their kids’ private tutoring, keeping doctor’s appointments, and whatnot without fail—but when it comes to people in their life, they won’t think twice about respecting others’ time or keeping promises, nor do they expect others to do so.
Of course, if we keep making plans with their kids despite them breaking their promises, it’s not their fault, but our own. As Ben Franklin would say, whatever hurts, instructs.
There is nothing wrong with renegotiating our commitments when we know we aren’t going to honor them for whatever reason. However, it goes without saying that we need to notify others well in advance if we aren’t going to see them as promised.
All of this to say, it’s easy to be swayed by our feelings and not even think twice before breaking our promises with others. Sure, we may not feel like doing something we promised, but does that justify breaking our promise with them?
We are emotional, irrational creatures, and it’s easy for us to default to our feelings when it comes to doing things, but our feelings can lead us astray. When it comes to going to work, or going to school, we don’t say, “we don’t feel like it”. We simply do it without complaint. Similarly, we don’t tell our kids it’s okay to miss school, private tutoring, or extracurricular activies just because they don’t “feel” like it. Why? Because they paid for those things with hard-earned money.
And yet, we may not think twice about breaking promises we’ve made with others.
We are quite mindful of how we spend our money, but tragically not so mindful as to how we spend our time, which is infinitely more valuable (especially in this day and age, when we don’t know how much time we have left). It’s no surprise we don’t feel the same way about respecting others’ time.
Of course, it’s hard to value others’ time when we don’t value our own. It’s not entirely the childrens’ fault for not showing up. The kids learn from their parents by what they do, not what they say. We can’t say one thing to a child and do something else ourselves. It doesn’t work that way. You can’t expect your child to uphold values when you don’t have those values yourself. Remember, it’s called “parenting” for a reason; it has more to do with parents than with children. Sadly, the parents would be the last ones to realize this.
The worst part of the story above is, it wasn’t the cousin’s fault for showing up at their place unannounced, because they have simply learned what their parents have inadvertently taught them over the years: that it’s okay to show up whenever you want and we will spend time with you, even if we’re not necessarily thrilled about it. When we act out of alignment with ourselves, we feel this unresolved tension within us, which creates friction; this is what happens when we can’t (and don’t) say no to others. It’s our responsibility, not others’ fault.
While the nephew’s parents felt obligated and couldn’t say no to the cousin and their family, they felt completely okay for their kids to break their promises and plans with us. And as mentioned, the parents were planning on heading outdoors with the kids, had their relatives not shown up. The parents were, through their actions, inadvertently teaching their kids that not only is it okay to break a promise, it’s okay to stand others up without informing them.
Of course, when parents have little to no regard for their own time, the kids are going to take others’ time for granted, in the same way that those others take their own time for granted. Not unlike the parents, the kids will justify themselves in any which way possible to break their promises.
Here are some lessons we can draw from this example:
If we want our kids to change, we need to change first, because they learn from from what we do, not what we say. We can’t expect them to keep their promises when we don’t keep our own. The “do as I say, not as I do” thing doesn’t work with parenting.
We need to be mindful of our own time. Unless we do so, we aren’t going to respect others’ time. We need to learn to keep our promises. Unless the parents themselves learn to do this, the kids are not going to do so on their own. Moreover, this will decrease trust in their relationships.
Lastly, we can only change ourselves, not others. It’s easy to blame others for the situations in our own lives, but we need to evaluate our own actions and behaviors. We can’t change others, nor should we want to, but we can teach them (through our actions) how to be with us, so we don’t end up making their problems our own.
For instance, the kids’ parents could have set appropriate boundaries with their cousin and his family about what’s acceptable and what isn’t. Until they have this conversation, they will keep experiencing the same problem repeatedly while feeling frustrated about it.
We treat our time with disregard, but if we spent our time half as intentionally as we spend our money, the world would be a much different place.
Unless we are mindful of how we use our own time, it’s hard to value others’ time, let alone keep our promises with them. While we may not feel like doing the things we’ve promised, we need to honor our commitment or renegotiate well in advance. Nothing wrong with that.
The last thing you want to do is cancel on the day of, not show up, or stand others up. This is the kind of thing that decreases trust in our relationships, fast. Not only that, it teaches us to think twice before spending time with those who do this repeatedly.