House rules are there for a reason and there are predictable patterns that develop when you don’t hold them right. Let’s get into it!
I was cooking dinner for everyone…
I’m stirring a few pots, trying to wash up as I go, and attempting to not over-butter the veggies (is that even possible?), and here come the Woodpeckers.
(I affectionately call the kids woodpeckers when they try to Peck Me To Death with incessant requests)
“Can I have a snack?”
“Can I have some apple juice?”
“Can I have a piece of cheese?”
Inside, I know what my boundary is, what the rule is. It is this: no eating in the hour or so before dinner.
And yet… I am getting woodpecked. Tiny holes are appearing all over my body where these kids Need Snacks and I am so close to losing the will to live so I relent. I say …
“FINE, GET A SNACK AND GET OUT OF THE KITCHEN so I can finish cooking dinner!” (dinner that now, due to this snack, they will not eat)
What just happened here?
A boundary stretch.
Or, put another way, not enforcing the family rules.
The Truth Is This…
Rule making and following is not a one and done.
You don’t just tell your kids, “Hey, look, we don’t hit each other, okay?” and then never have hitting in your house ever again.
The truth is that rules were made to be enforced. The very fact that you need to make a rule shows that – without it – something would (or would not) be happening that you are not okay with.
- Nations create laws for the safety of their citizens and to help a country run smoothly. States don’t just post a set of laws on their website then phone it in. No, they have police officers and lawyers and entire judicial and penal systems designed to enforce these laws.
- Wal-Mart does not just put price tags on their products then ask you to leave exact change in a jar on the way out. Oh no! They also have aisles that you cannot pass without entry, they have alarms on the doors, and employees monitoring all the shoppers.
The reason we make rules is because we need to control certain behaviors in our homes for the safety and sanity of everyone involved.
But that’s not the tricky part… the tricky part is this… keeping the house rules.
We know what can happen to children who never learn to follow the rules, but do you know what happens to moms whose rules aren’t followed?
They Feel Bitter, Resentful, And Betrayed By Their Family
This is a great quote my friend Marnie posted on Instagram the other day…
When we’re not in the habit of enforcing our house rules we begin to feel walked on and bitter. We see ourselves as victims to our children. Then, when our children do something we don’t like…
We attack their character instead of addressing isolated behaviors or events.
Instead of addressing these things as events, we turn it on them as a person. We don’t mean to, of course, but it naturally happens.
Because we feel out of control.
When our rules and boundaries aren’t being followed we start feeling all kinds of crazy. And, when we feel this way, it’s human nature to blame whatever we feel is making us crazy.
- Our child takes another child’s toy… they are disrespectful and uncaring. Probably gonna end up in jail for theft. (This is called catastrophizing… ask me why I actually know the name for it)
- One kid hits another… he’s violent and lacks impulse control. Probably gonna end up in a gang. (This is fear escalation… see, I have all kinds of names)
- One kid whines about doing chores… he’s not a normal child, oh no, he’s a lazy good for nothing. Probably gonna end up in my basement on welfare. (This is called dramatization… pray for my husband)
This is a typical pattern….
We don’t enforce the rules ➡️ behavior gets out of control
Behavior feels out of control ➡️ we feel powerless
We feel powerless ➡️ we attack (whether in word or thought) those who seem to be “holding the cards”
This is actually a discouraging spot to be in because, basically, it means we’re waiting on everyone else to Just Act Right.
It’s Our Job To Keep The Rules, Not The Kids’ Job To Be Perfect
Kids want to do what they want to do.
Truer words, never
Sometimes what they want to do will align with what you want to do (i.e. eating dinner). Other times, it will not. Sometimes you can ask your kids to do something, and they’ll happily do it. Other times, they will not.
This is not because they are naughty, horrible, and overall disobedient. It is because they are human.
So if you are thinking…
*obedience = 100% of the time my kids do what I want…*
You are going to be one disappointed, bitter, and angry mother. Instead, think of rules as something outside yourself and your family. They are not YOU and they are not YOUR KIDS.
They are a set of instructions to live by. No one will be able to comply all the time, but he goal is ever increasing cooperation with the family rules.
What Bending The Rules Does
Here are 4 of the biggest things that go down when we don’t enforce our rules and/or our boundaries.
- We send mixed signals | When we say one thing and do another the kids aren’t sure what is what. So what will they do? What they want!
- We get angry | If we have rules based on our own boundaries and preferences (the things that keep us emotionally sane) and these rules aren’t being followed, we become angry. Anger is a very good red flag.
- Kids lose respect for us | I hate to even type this because it feels so insulting, but I have been here myself so there we have it. When we go through periods (or entire seasons) where we fail to hold our rules and boundaries, the kids stop taking us at our word.
- Kids miss out on the opportunity to adjust | It is a true life skill to be able to adjust your own behavior to meet an authority’s rules. (i.e. You have a deadline, will you work in advance or pull an all nighter? You need to drive to the store, will you go 35 on Road A or 55 on Road B to get there quicker?)
Don’t get me wrong, this can be draining and so hard. But I’ll offer you a word of encouragement… once you start regularly enforcing your rules a new strength will rise up in you.
It is not nearly as hard to keep a home in order as it is to put it in order.
FYI – The Kids Will Know Your “Weak Spots”
Word to the wise… kids know your weak spots even if you don’t. What do I mean by that?
Kids know what will cause you to bend the rules.
One of my (many) weak spots used to be the fear that my kids feel unloved.
Before I realized this, that weak spot got poked regularly.
My child would do something outright against the rules (i.e. color on the walls) and I would initially respond according to our rules and their consequences.
Then, my child might start crying and say something like, “Mommy, you’re so mad at me! You don’t love me!” and – before I even knew what was happening – I’d be holding that child in my lap rocking them telling them how happy I was the day they were born.
FOR PETE’S SAKE.
The only lesson anyone learned on these occasions was this: “if mommy thinks I feel unloved she’ll forget about what just happened and tell me my birth story.”
Weak spots may include some of the things below:
- Woodpecking | You might give in after repeated requests because you’re losing your mind (look away, look away, look away, look away)
- Fear | If your child appears fearful – or you’re worried they’ll get scared – then you’ll bend any rule to help make them feel safe.
- FOMO | If you suffer from The Fear Of Missing Out yourself, you may struggle to hold any rule or boundary that causes you to feel like your kids will miss out.
- Crying | Some people are so triggered by their children’s tears they’ll give the child whatever they appear to want.
There are gobs more.
Point is, every mother has these weak spots. And while your child is not a master manipulator (don’t send me hate mail because you misread) they will naturally discover your weak spots and use them, even subconsciously.
So let’s wrap this up…
I am already at 1500 words and did not even get to how we’re supposed to keep our boundaries… so I’ll save that for next time.
Please stand by. (or scroll down)
Other posts in this series…
- Why It’s Hard To Enforce The Rules… Even Though You Want To
- 5 Calm Responses For When Your Child Digs Their Heels In