When my husband became a teacher, he hung a poster up in his classroom detailing “expectations” for his students. They were simple, handwritten sentences that he had me look at, because as a math teacher, spelling is not his forte. I remember being impressed by his reports that despite the fact that his students thought the rules were silly, they responded well to them.
Every time students walked into his classroom, they were reminded of the rules. And any time a classroom rule was violated, it was easy to point out how the action had gone against what they had collectively decided were appropriate. The method was straightforward and effective.
And it makes sense, right? If we set expectations for each other, we’re more likely to know what’s expected of us. So it was with a slight sense of shame that I realized I had gone almost 10 years as a parent without setting any sort of family rules or expectations for our family.
My decision to get motivated and establish family rules was spurred on by a visit I made to a therapist while feeling particularly lost in my parenting. She helped me see that my kids were feeling lost, too. Had we ever talked about expectations as a family? Did the kids know what the “rules” were? Was there a discussion together about what our family’s priorities were? Um, no. Whoops.
I had gone along assuming my children knew the unspoken rules of how I wanted my family unit to run. But let’s face it, they’re freaking kids who can’t read my mind. I was getting so upset when my children weren’t acting the way I thought they should, but without a clear set of expectations, maybe they were as lost as I was.
This weekend that all changed. Together with our four young kids, we sat down and laid some ground rules for family living.
1. Speak with respect.
This goes as much for me and my husband as it does for my children. How many times have I let my kids see me roll my eyes at my husband or mutter unkind words to him under my breath? Oops. Nothing hurts my heart more than hearing my own sarcastic voice come out of my sweet children’s mouths. It’s horrifying when you see how much of the way we speak as adults is mimicked by our children.
2. Pick up after yourself.
My oldest daughter excitedly suggested that we implement a rule that everyone “helps Mom clean up!”
To my husband’s credit, he looked instantly sheepish. As we are both full-time working parents who are working to raise great kids, he was quick to our daughter that it’s not my job to keep our house clean. So into the family rule book it went: we all pitch in to pick up the space we all live in.
(Also, this was not on the family rule list, but Mama bought herself a Roomba for her birthday and that helped this particular rule out a lot. Like, a lot-a lot. Leaving the floor a mess, going to bed, and waking up to a sparkling floor feels like I’m breaking all kinds of rules in the very best way.)
3. Make memories.
Obviously, family rules should be about more than just cleaning and guidelines. They’re also about how we want to live as a family. When my kids pointed out that some of the greatest work we do as a family is laughing and making memories, my mother’s heart swelled with pride. Making memories? Well, that’s the #1 rule of all!
4. Use manners.
If anyone out there could tell me that their children also eat like wild animals who have lived outside their whole lives having never laid eyes on a fork, knife, spoon, or napkin, that would be most reassuring.
Every single night of my life is spent reminding my children that:
- Chairs are for sitting in — not standing, rocking, or engaging in perilous one-legged balance competitions.
- We do not eat with our hands.
- We do not pile our food off our plates, onto the table, and then proceed to suck the food off said table like a pig at a trough.
- Is it not polite to stick the same finger that I know you just picked your nose with into the bowl of mashed potatoes.
- PLEASE, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD! JUST SIT DOWN.
5. Practice gratitude.
One of the biggest struggles my children have is playing the comparison game. I will not name names, but one child of mine in particular is obsessed with comparing what he/she has to the other children. How much cereal is poured. How many birthday gifts acquired. How many treats are eaten. How much TV time. And on and on (and on) until my husband and I want to gouge our eyeballs out.
“You are so busy thinking about what other people have, that you are missing out on what you have right in front of you!” I hear myself saying over and over. But when I really stop and think about what I am saying to my child, it’s pretty humbling to realize that my words are also very applicable to myself.
How many times have I compared myself to the mom who is more put together than me, the mom who has nicer nails, a bigger house, a more fit body, a better bank account, blah, blah, blah. There will always be more out there that I could get lost comparing myself to. To be reminded to stop and appreciate all that I have in front of me is one rule I need a lot more of in my life.