Why I have never broken a promise to my daughter

Nov 20, 2015 at 6:00 p.m. ET
Image: JGI/Tom Grill/Getty

I was born into a dysfunctional family. I am not throwing shade or talking badly about my family. I am simply speaking the truth. Of course, I didn’t always know my family was dysfunctional. I thought every family was like mine and we were normal. I thought that way until I realized all parents did not fuss and fight, until I realized some people actually put their children first and that some parents actually kept their promises.

Growing up in a space where promises were nothing special was difficult for me. I inherently felt it important to keep my word, but I didn’t understand that it was a part of my DNA until I was much older.

When you grow up in a family where promises are not honored, you learn not to expect much. That way when promises are not kept or someone’s word is broken, you aren’t disappointed. You learn to simply go with the flow — no matter which way it’s flowing. You learn not to believe or believe in the people you should count on most. You learn your role models may say this today but do that tomorrow. You actually learn to depend on yourself. Because in a world of broken promises self is really all you have.

When you grow up in a silo for much of your life, you make plans for the perfect life to come. You plan to be the perfect employee, the perfect wife, the perfect mother, the perfect friend. And then you realize, with time, that there is no such thing as a perfect person. But, what you can do is be better. What you can do is step up and be better to yourself than others were to you.

With that, I set out to be a loyal friend and that has worked out fine. I set out to be a dedicated employee, which has been a positive life experience as well. I set out to be a Psalms-31 wife — ha ha, if you ask my ex, I am certain you will get an earful of how I totally missed the mark on that one.

Most importantly, I set out to be an engaged and “present” mama. I think I succeeded. I was only blessed with one daughter, and the mother-daughter dynamic can be a challenge at times, but I promised myself, and even my God, that I would always keep my promises to her. At least that I could do.

From the time she was old enough to understand the concept of a promise, I began teaching her that if Mommy says, “I promise,” you can count it done. However, if Mommy says "maybe" or "we’ll see," well you had better check back with me later. She learned well, and she has always held me to it. I still hear her little voice saying to me, “But, Mommy, you promised.” Those words would always get me into gear. No matter what else happened, I vowed never to break a promise to my daughter. I didn’t when she was a child and I still do not to this day when she is an adult with children of her own.

Why was that so important to me? I’ll tell you why: because I remember how dejected I felt every time a promise made to me was broken. I can sometimes still feel that childhood fear of having no one to truly count on. I remember the loneliness of knowing that my whole world could change and be shattered tomorrow on someone else’s whim because word was not bond in my world. One of the phrases I hate the most is, "Something came up." A lot of things came up during my childhood.

Children have so much to worry about and contend with without worrying if their parent(s) or other adult role models are honorable, so I forged a bond with my child by letting her know that my word to her is my bond. She mattered. She was important enough in my life for me to honor my word to her and to be reliable. I never wanted her to feel less than or unimportant to her mother. I wanted to be reliable in her eyes. I wanted her to take it for granted that if Mama said, "I promise," the case was closed and it was a done deal.

Now I have two grandchildren — and the “word is bond” sentiment has carried over. I have never been prouder than I was the first time I heard my daughter say in conversation with someone else, “If I promise my children something, I have to do it.” I could have melted right then and there. She got it. She remembered it, and she thought enough of my effort to emulate it.

My daughter is a schoolteacher and she carries this mantra into her classroom as well. She is a woman of her word to her students and they appreciate her for that. I’ve done something right. My grandchildren will plead with me to say, “I promise,” if they want something because they know if MiMi says I promise, they can count on it. I love that. I take pride in the fact that even they see me as a reliable person and role model in their lives. They have faith in my word and I am honorable in their eyes.

I am not a perfect parent and I have made many mistakes, but I have broken a cycle. Perhaps a small one to some, but one that truly mattered to me. And now it matters to my child and my grandchildren, and my daughter is teaching it to her students. I have learned that one good deed can be far reaching. I have also learned that having “things” did not matter as much to my daughter as the fact that she could count on her mama's promises.

If that is my legacy, I am a happy woman. If once I’ve moved on from labor to reward someone can say that I was honorable and my word was bond, then I feel I have lived up to my dreams of becoming a good mama, a good MiMi and a good person.

I have never broken a promise to my child or grandchildren — and I never will.