Photo by Barnaby Wasson
When Naomi was about 3 or so, we started developing a set of family rules. These are rules that all of us in the family try to follow as best we can. We started with the first three, and then slowly, as situations arose, we added more. These rules have grown with us and have seriously helped our family come to a situation in which she trusts us, we are better able to trust her, and we have all come to a kind of common ground, one in which we are able to discuss openly when one of us has a problem and we are able to come to a positive outcome.
Michael and I believe in positive, gentle parenting. We don’t spank our daughter, and try to use natural consequences as often as possible, though we do believe in punishments when the need arises. However, we do often believe in second chances and if Naomi asks for one, we usually give it to her. We discuss with her, quite regularly, that her actions are her own choosing and she has a choice as to whether she wants to follow through with the family rules, or whether she wants to break the rules and get punished. Punishment in our home usually means the removal of some privilege, such as a treat, or some television that evening, or a toy for the night. We always explain why the punishment is enacted, give her options as to what punishments she can choose from (lose TV for the night, or put away a toy for the night, etc) and let her choose the one that she prefers.
This method has worked out quite well for us. For the most part, she is very well behaved and kindhearted. Though I will never claim that this method has solved all of our parenting dilemmas (frankly, I think we just lucked out and were blessed with a very caring, kindhearted and wonderful little girl), I do believe it has greatly helped us in coming to a common ground.
The other good thing about having a set of family rules, is that Naomi not only is aware of the rule, but when she makes a mistake or does something wrong, she understands what it is that she did wrong and isn’t confused. It’s a form of consistency for her, and she understands that what she did broke said rule. Usually we have a brief conversation, and it’s over. If the rules are broken again, we have a further conversation, and maybe a brief punishment, or we change plans for that day. We are also aware and look to the situation at hand — did she not sleep enough? Is she off her regular routine? Did she consume more sugar than usual? Punishment is doled out when it’s obvious that she needs something removed from her environment in order to regain normalcy.
The first three rules we came up are as such:
Photo by Classic Film1. We are a family first.
This means that the actions we take in our family are for the greater good of the family, rather than just one individual person. For example, we all understand that Daddy needs to get lots of sleep — he is our breadwinner and his health is extremely important. So when Daddy goes to bed, that means that we are all to be quiet and let him sleep. He needs to sleep so he can go to work to provide for the family. Likewise, if we are particularly short of money one week, we don’t make our usual weekly trip to the library, because that requires gas, and we don’t always have the money.
This rule was enacted to help Naomi understand why she couldn’t go out to a restaurant every time we went out. We had gotten into the habit, while I was pregnant, to go out to eat quite regularly so we didn’t have to cook at home. This of course is not feasible when you aren’t making a lot of money. So we had to explain to Naomi why we couldn’t afford to go out to eat all the time — because we simply can’t afford to go out to eat a lot and still be able to afford food and gas at the end of the week.
Albeit, it is a large amount to expect a child to understand. But once you sit down and explain to her why this is the way it is, and help her to see and understand it, it truly sinks in. She now understands why she needs to eat healthy foods (so we don’t get sick), why she needs to get lots of sleep, why we need to be quiet while Jude is napping, etc.
Photo by Evelyn Saenz2. We don’t say “no” — we say “compromise” or “cooperate”.
This rule came into effect when Naomi learned that she could say “No” to us, and mean it. It wasn’t easy for any of us — it was hard to expect her to accept us saying “No” to her requests for play, and then turn around and not accept her saying “No” to our requests to help pick up her toys or eat her meals. So we came up with this alternative — we no longer say “No” when a request comes in. If something comes up that one of us says no to, such as me asking her to pick up her toys, instead of demanding, we say something like, “How about we compromise
and we pick up everything but your dolls?” Or when she asks us to play with her and we don’t feel like it, we say, “How about we compromise
and I play with you for 15 minutes, before I finish the dishes?”
It’s become quite a wonderful resource. I no longer seethe with anger every time I am dealt with a defiant and angry “No!” shouted back at me, and she no longer huffs off with a pout and a sad look in her eyes. She herself often comes to me and says, “Mama, how about we cooperate” and then gives me the alternative she comes up with, often a very good idea!
Of course, Mommy and Daddy do have the power to say no and have that be the final answer. There are times when we just can’t stop at the library for an hour, or when we just can’t watch more of her favorite show. And when we do that, we explain to her, “This is a time when we cannot come to a compromise. You have to accept our answer of ‘No’ this time” and leave it at that. After that, we pull out the old “asked and answered” method, which usually puts it into place. However, Michael and I try to keep this to a minimum and only use it in times when it is necessary, such as when we are busy cooking dinner, or when we don’t have the funds to fulfill her request.
Photo by Olga Caprotti3. Not helping is not an option.
This one as well was a tougher one for myself and Michael to follow than it was for Naomi. However, at 3 we felt it was a reasonable age for her to be able to do some of her own chores and to help out around the house with simple things like picking up toys and clothes, emptying the dishwasher, setting the table, etc. And so we started asking for help. And when we were told no, this rule came about.
We explained to her that our home wasn’t Mommy’s home, or Daddy’s home, but it was our home and that we all had to take part in keeping it clean. It gave her a sense of ownership and she felt she had more say in the way things were run.
Like I said, though, these rules are for the whole family. And when we are asked to help, we have to help her. So if I ask her to clean up her toys (a chore she is perfectly capable of doing on her own) and she asks me for help, I do indeed have to go help her. I cannot expect her to drop everything and help me if I don’t show her the same courtesy. Sometimes this isn’t possible, if I’m already up to my elbows in tomato sauce making, or on the phone. But if it is at all possible, I go help her. This was a bigger struggle for me than I expected. The thing is, often times when she asks for help, it’s for stuff she’s perfectly capable of doing herself, and it’s sooooooo tempting to say, “No, you can do that yourself — I have other things to do!” but I do my best to stop myself, recognize that often the help I ask of her are things I am perfectly capable of doing myself, and help her out.
Those three rules were the basis of our family rules. Over time, the following rules have been added:
Photo by Joy Jordan4. Gentle kindness only.
This one came up especially for Michael. Naomi’s major love language
is touch — she wants to cuddle, to wrestle, to snuggle, to sit with you, to be under a blanket, to sit in your lap, and basically be in physical contact with you in some way. It’s how she connects, it’s how she is grounded. And as much as he would love to have her jump on him when he comes home from work, Michael’s fibromyalgia and chronic pain prohibits it. Even gentle touch can be painful for him. And with Jude getting to be of age to crawl and scramble around, we had to introduce the idea of being gentle and kind to her.
So we started this rule, to help her understand that it wasn’t an appropriate way to be around others. Showing gentle kindness (holding hands, gentle hugs that don’t put your whole body weight on the other person, sitting beside someone instead of on them, etc.) were much better ways of showing affection and love, especially for Daddy and Jude.
Michael has also learned to give Naomi some of that more intense affection first thing when he gets home — usually when he gets home, he sits on the couch with her and Jude and they have a big snuggle and cuddle before he heads upstairs to change out of his work clothes and into some comfy lounging clothes. This usually gives her the recharge she needs and helps her to feel connected to him.
Photo by Rjabinnik and Rounien5. Clean and safe.
This one became a necessity. Little girls have lots of little things that they like to play with — little hair clips, little rings and trinkets, little puzzle pieces, etc. And little baby brothers love to put little bits in their mouths. So this rule became a safety issue for us. I showed Naomi how easy it was for Jude to put things in his mouth and swallow them, and told her she needed to stop having those little things out. We put toys with tiny pieces in her room, where she was allowed to play with them as much as she liked. I also showed her that anything smaller than Jude’s own fist was too small for him to play with. Of this, she became extremely cautious and diligent. Quite frequently she brings me things that he has and says, “Look Mama! This was smaller than Jude’s fist!”
For our part, Michael and I installed baby proof locks in the bathroom and kitchen cabinets and baby gates on the stairs. The baby locks were more to prevent mess than anything — we clean solely with baking soda, vinegar and salt — but it was just as important to prevent Jude from paying with nail clippers and garbage bags as it was to keep him out of the cupboards themselves. Naomi is now quite proud of her ability to keep a room clean, and has remarked more than once, “It’s so nice to have the house all clean!” (Now if she’d just keep that mindset in her teenage years…)
Photo by woodleywonderworks6. We don’t waste food.
This one has only come recently. We have always had a pretty tight budget, but lately it’s become even smaller, and we have to make every morsel that comes into our mouths count. And so, we had to explain to Naomi that right now, everything we give her, she has to eat, because we simply cannot afford for our food to go to waste.
Food has always been one area of our parenting we have been less than gentle with. We have never made Naomi eat food that she truly does not like to eat, like bananas (both she and Jude don’t like to eat bananas — I think they are the only kids in the world who don’t!), but frankly, if it is a food I know that she does like and just decides on that particular day that she doesn’t like, I don’t allow her to say, “I don’t like that” and not eat it.
When Michael was younger, he didn’t eat vegetables, and it was a struggle his whole life to eat them. When Naomi was born, he realized that he couldn’t say to her, “Eat your vegetables” while he himself wouldn’t eat them. So he not only learned to eat and enjoy most vegetables, but he even went so far as to teach himself how to cook. This was a huge feat for him. In less than 2 years, he went from being a guy who called me at work to ask how to boil potatoes, to being a guy who made homemade croissants, mastered the art of homemade pasta, and learned to make his own lemonade and root beer. And, he learned how to make brussel sprouts, tomato sauce, vegetable soup, eggplant, kale chips, leek soup, etc.
And when she would refuse to eat the foods he had worked so hard to learn to eat, for her, that it felt disrespectful to me for her to object. So we put this rule into place. She knows very well that she is expected to eat what we serve her, but she is allowed to alter things if necessary (ketchup, cheese, whatever it takes to get it down!). I serve her half portions of what I think she will eat, and she is free to have snacks in between meals if she has eaten the food we gave her. However, snacks are limited to fruits and vegetables only.
Photo by Russ Robinson7. Obey Mommy and Daddy first.
Most times, we get obedience from her. The problem comes delayed obedience, or dawdling. This occurs usually when we interrupt her play, or make a request that goes against what she desires to do. And we can understand that — no one likes to be dragged away from a task they are enjoying. But sometimes we need her right now!
and she needs to follow through with our request. If I’m in the middle of a diaper change and need her help getting a clean diaper, she needs to come help me right now!
and not when she’s done playing or when her favorite show is over. So we started enforcing this rule for all situations — obey us first, and then we can go back to the situation beforehand.
For our part, we try to give her plenty of warning beforehand. “Naomi, when this episode of your show is over, it’s time to set the table”, or “I’m going to get the laundry. When I come up, it will be time to fold the clothes,” or “I need you to get ready for our trip into town. Would you like to play for 5 more minutes?” Usually, if we give her some forewarning of what is coming, she is much more able to get out of the situation she is in and move on to the next task we are asking for her help with. And when we do this, she is much more obedient. When we just demand it without forewarning, it’s more of a struggle. But by encouraging it every time, when these right now! moments arise, she knows what to expect and we know how to deal with it better.
As things arise, we will likely adapt and rearrange the rules, adding and subtracting them as needed. It’s an ever-growing evolution, like our beloved family dynamics. We try to be gentle, understanding and cooperative, but we also set high expectations of our children, and are doing our best to raise competent and productive members of society. She understands that the only people she is expected to obey are Mommy, Daddy and God. But within that group are the three persons she can always trust and rely on to not only have her best interests at heart, but to be fair and trustworthy, no matter what the situation may be.
Do you have any family rules? Share them with us in the comments below!
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