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Don’t Make Promises for Your Ex to Keep

2 min read

Last week I made a big mistake. I made my daughter a promise on behalf of my ex. Oops. That’s a big no-no.

As it turns out, my ex wasn’t able to keep that promise. In fact, she specifically didn’t promise my daughter because she knew she wouldn’t be able to. I effectively threw her under the bus. I created an obligation for my ex and gave her the burden of fulfilling on it. Then, I made her the bad guy after she couldn’t. Like I said, I messed up.

I got an earful, and rightfully so. But more importantly, I learned a valuable lesson: Don’t make promises for your ex to keep.

While I was getting a talking-to by my ex, she said something that put things in perspective for me. “You made our daughter resent me.” That’s a powerful statement. And she’s completely right. My daughter isn’t old enough to realize I put my foot in my mouth by making a bad promise—all she knows is that mom denied her what I told her she could have. I got her hopes up; mom crushed them.

My ex also said something else that struck me. “You do this all the time.” I started thinking about that, and I realized how easy it is to make promises that someone else has to fulfill—even in passing. Even something as simple as “sure, you can have ice cream after dinner” creates an obligation when dropping her off at mom’s for the night. We say things like this to pacify our kids in the moment, but what we’re really doing is setting up someone else to be the bad guy.

This whole situation was a rude awakening for me.

I started thinking about ways to change my behavior. How do I avoid making promises someone else has to keep? I came up with two ideas:

  • If it’s something I don’t have any control over, the answer is “we’ll see what mom says.” Admittedly this is kicking the can down the road, but it stops me from saying something stupid!
  • Say no. Saying no isn’t a good default, but it’s safe when I don’t know the answer. If the answer really is no, it’s already been spoken. If the answer is yes, mom gets to be the hero, instead of the villain.

The big takeaway for me is being more cognizant of what I’m telling my daughter. I’m not going to make promises I can’t fulfill directly, to keep my daughter from resenting my ex.

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