Are rules needed in families?
What is the aim of having rules, standards and boundaries in the first place? Is it to make things better at home? To have a harmonious family life? To create an environment where we can respect each other?
There are times when rules are appropriate, they represent what is acceptable and unacceptable in the home. To have integrity, be believable and therefore, do-able for a child or adolescent, rules should be the same for everyone and they should be very clear. Examples of rules might be:
You help around the house
No shoes in the house
No devices in bedrooms
We clear up after ourselves
There are only two ways a rule can go, shoes are either on, or off and devices are either in or out. It is worth noting that one of the traits of ‘teenagedom’ is that they start to see where there is one rule for parents and adults, and another for children, they see through our ‘double standards’ and this can then very quickly start to be a point of contention in the home. If we look at it from that perspective, it is easier to see how the rebellion of a rule might have some validity…
Single or double standards?
Having an understanding of what is decent and respectful is a really good way to understand exactly ’what’ a standard is. When you set a standard, you say what is decent and respectful behaviour for all equally, and what is not. Standards can honour each person in the home when there is consideration given to how behaviour affects or impacts everyone. It also exposes the way we can have double standards. Then life becomes more of ‘do as I say,’ instead of the ease and simplicity of setting the model for how we all live in the home together and that model says - the lowest level of behaviour we should ever have in our home is ‘decency’.
What does this look like? Perhaps it’s decent to flush the toilet after we have used it. This respects everyone, it says, you deserve to have a clean toilet bowl as much as everyone else does.
When we are clear about what is decent, what is respectful becomes simpler because everyone knows what the standards in the home are. Everyone deserves to be spoken to and treated with the same level of decency. That is a standard that can be set and lived by all, no matter what their age or position in the hierarchy of the home, from the cradle to the grave. This may require a degree of setting boundaries as we learn together, but the fact that we are all learning alongside each other is a great standard to have in every family.
We may have to acknowledge that if this is not how the family has lived, then a conversation about what decency and respect are and the standards you want to set in your home – is a must.
What do boundaries say in the home?
Boundaries give permission for children to move freely in the home. That may sound contradictory, but it is saying “within this space you can move freely, making your own decisions and experiment with the outcomes of those decisions”. That is very freeing, the pressure to get things right is removed. However, the proviso with freedom is very important and one that everyone needs to have explained clearly. As a part of their freedom:
They make a decision, then we get to make a decision based on their decision.
Boundaries operate with consequences - always.
That means we need to be in tune with how everyone in the home is moving with the boundaries we put in place. Our job, as parents, is to stay awake to the flow of behaviour in the home so we can make sure the boundaries expand with the deepening responsibility otherwise, boundaries can present as prison walls that are there for the sake of it.
Through rules, standards and boundaries we have an opportunity to make the family home into a space where true care and consideration for another is our ‘normal’. That is the magic of living rules, standards and boundaries in our lives first before we expect or demand that others live them.