When To Communicate Rather Than Promise

I find myself making promises sometimes that are really more for me. I don’t really like that anymore because I see something else now. For example, I’ll make a promise to my 4 year old that I’m going to do this or that with him because that will make him feel happy. Then I notice I’m making this promise to him in the midst of a crazy day or week and I have told him “sorry bud not right now” or “maybe later” about 10 times already. On the surface, that promise is innocent and buys me some time. It takes the pressure of me (so I thought) and allows my son to find something else to do until I can get done with what I’m doing. All set, right? Eh. Let’s talk some more.

So now that I’m off work my son knows that and he is simply ready for me to fulfill that promise. After all, he held up his end of the promise by accepting this offer and putting his vulnerability (his need for me) away temporarily based on my end of the promise. A promise is a two way deal and you are not the only one putting yourself on the line for it. So now it’s after work, I’ve come out of my home office to some housework and it’s also time to cook. Oh yeah and I’m tired and don’t want any more social interaction at the moment. Then what happens is I forcefully accept that I made a promise and go “spend time” with my son. You know, that time that no one wants because people want you to want them and not just do something from a legal mindset and it’s so easy to tell. Now he feels crushed and is done playing. A 4 year old, done playing. From here I feel regret and weak and shameful because I couldn’t put my feelings away long enough to meet his needs. I now feel inadequate and I’m touchy. My wife can tell so there are no opportunities for connection there either. “Why can’t I catch a break! I just want some time to recharge!” You start questioning if you are being selfish and here you are, down this road of garbage. I am the one that did this though.

See when I made that promise to Elijah it wasn’t just me putting my neck out there. He had a part as well that also put himself out there. This is how a promise creates risk for both the promiser and the promisee:


Since it is now clear that a promise is a two-part deal and we are pulling another person into this place of responsibility, we have to start being very careful with our promises. We should only make promises we plan on keeping come hell or high water. Proverbs 22:26-27 talks about accepting someone else’s debt (risk) but it gives us this principle that we should not offer something we are not good for:

“Don’t agree to guarantee another person’s debt or put up security for someone else. If you can’t pay it, even your bed will be snatched from under you.”

The benefit of keeping your word as a man will affirm yourself in a very deep way. This is all based on the scripture (Matthew 7:12, The Golden Rule) that we should treat others as we want to be treated-we treat other people with care and respect because that’s what we want. If you expect that treatment but do not provide it, you may have some difficult truths to accept about yourself in order to grow.

So what could I have done besides make the promise? I mean I was a bit backed in the corner, right? My son was upset and what I said made him feel better for a bit. I could have just talked to him. Communicate.

What would have happened had I removed that pressure from myself? Didn’t I know that by the end of my workday I wasn’t going to feel like being goofy and playing right away? I knew I would have to cook and eat and I knew I would need a few minutes to myself to “switch hats” from work to dad. I know that had I not had that pressure, all those feelings of inadequacy would have been eliminated. That would have allowed me an opportunity to connect with my wife, which I obviously needed. Then I could have connected with my son after getting fueled up a little myself. So what would that communication have looked like?

I think something like this: “Elijah, daddy is working today and I miss you so much! Today I’m doing this at work.. but I’ll be ready to play as soon as I can.” Maybe you could help me with dinner after work and then once our tummies are full we can see what we want to do?”

This is a perfect example of when just communicating is actually better than a promise. Sometimes it has been a crazy week and I need to make that promise that I will make happen if it’s the last thing I do. But here, it’s just a normal day. Here’s why this is more appropriate than a promise:

  • It takes the pressure off you. This removes that horrible feeling of letting someone down.
  • It protects the other person from disappointment, which in turns protects us from the pain we create for people.
  • It gives them an opportunity to show you some love. I believe people are generally good. So if they know you are having a tough day, I’m sure they go into help mode. That makes them feel good (and occupies their time), which makes you feel good and want to return it.

In this situation, no one hurts and we all move forward and connect when we can without forcing it. There will be times when things are just tough but even then, keep communicating. Don’t resort to a promise, ever, unless you are able to accept the risks of all the people involved and stay within your means.

Next time you are pulled in different directions by those people or things you love, weigh your priorities and go down the list. Then you can determine who is impacted. Your kids, your wife, your friends? Then decide if you should just communicate or if you should make that promise.

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