If you’re unsure of whether you have too many parenting rules, this post will help you nail it down.
The other night my son bounced a ball so high it hit the ceiling fan.
Nothing broke or shattered… but that familiar feeling rose up inside me that said I needed to state the rule and enforce it.
“No throwing inside the house,” I said.
My 4-year-old looked at me and then made a Light Bulb face.
“How bout I just roll it? That way nothing will break!”
I had an internal debate.
Technically it feels like I should say no throwing/rolling/or ball playing of any kind. That seems like the “right” type of rule. But honestly, I don’t actually care if they roll balls all over the house as long as nothing is going airborne or breaking a TV.
The dilemma was this… should I enforce a rule that seems right even though I don’t actually care? In the end, I decided I got 5 kids aged 6 and under and I’m far to try and enforce rules I don’t actually care about.
So I told him, “Hmm, looks like you’re being really careful. Rolling the ball is fine by me.”
The fact is… having too many rules that you don’t actually care about just means you don’t enforce them. And honestly…
All the rules weren’t making the kids act better, they were just making me strung out.
You Don’t Need Lots of Parenting Rules, You Just Need The Right Ones
So my husband and I have been on a quest lately to cut out the rules we don’t care about. To stop pretending we’re going to enforce rules we’re never actually going to enforce because we don’t care, and to focus on the things we do care about.
Rules Are Boundaries and Boundaries Are Walls
My parenting coach gave an interesting illustration in her book that helped me understand this principle about boundaries (what we call rules). A boundary is like a wall.
You don’t try to walk through it because you can’t.
Instead, you go through a door. You can have boundaries you really care about (no biting) and the kids know there’s no wiggle room. They don’t try to cut a hole in the wall to get through. They know you won’t allow it and, if they do it, you’ll have to take action somehow.
However, some boundaries we tell children are actually like doors. Allowing children to get their own snack, for example. Maybe you genuinely don’t care, but you think you should. So you tell them not to, but you don’t enforce it or do anything about it, so they just walk through that boundary when they please.
Because it wasn’t really a wall for you. It was a door.
The key is to stop pretending doors are walls. Have firm boundaries that really matter to you and drop the rest. The more rules you have the more time you spend enforcing them because – as Large Family Logistics says – “what you expect you must inspect.” Ultimately, you do not want to waste your time trying to half-enforce rules you don’t care about.
Click here to get the Walls vs. Doors Printable Brainstorm sheets!
Rules Don’t Work As Moral Teachers
Many of us have strong faith and values. Because of this we hope and pray our children will adopt our values and live them out when they’re gone from our home. We know that parents who practice what they preach and walk the talk have a much higher chance of raising kids who carry on the family faith and values.
But one area we often get wrong is this… we think having a rule around the moral behavior (i.e. lying) is enough to teach our children our values. The truth is… children are much more likely to carry on our values if they feel loved, accepted, and connected with us. Simply by being part of our family they will understand our values. Articulating them to kids simply reinforces what they already know.
Feelings of closeness and high levels of time spent together are three times as likely to produce similar values and political views in offspring as are a parental emphasis on those views. – Buysse 2000 (source)
So believe this and take yourself off the hook as the rule master. If there are firm boundaries you have around certain things (lying, stealing, destruction of property, etc.) then make those walls. As for the other minor stuff that is more annoying than anything else, let it go.
Give Permission To Gain More Power
A feeling of powerlessness causes a ton of negative behaviors. Children who feel they never get their way, don’t have a voice, and aren’t understood will become defiant, angry, obstinate, and eventually even resigned to being a cog in the family machine. Sounds dramatic?
But it’s also true.
Of course you don’t give your children inappropriate decision making power or freedom they aren’t ready for, but at every age there are freedoms you can allow that will give your child a sense of control over their own life. People (children and adults alike) will do nearly anything they can to prove to themselves they have a sense of power over themselves.
If you’ve previously had a “rule” that your kids try to get around (like my son saying he’d roll the ball, not throw it) and you don’t actually care… have a phrase handy to give them power while maintaining your authority. Let me give you an example.
“Mom, can I have a snack?”
“No, baby, it’s only 30 minutes until dinnertime, I don’t want you to ruin your appetite.”
“What if I just eat carrots?”
(who can say no to this?)
“You know what, I’m okay with that.”
It’s that simple.
You’ve considered your child’s point of view and think Why Not, so you give them permission. This helps them feel a sense of control and you maintain your position as the Boundary Keeper.
Ask Yourself This Question…
Here’s a good question to ask yourself when you’re wondering whether to really establish a rule or not.
Do I actually care about this or do I think I should care about this?
You may be highly sensitive to noise so making a “inside voice” rule matters to you. It’s a wall. Other mothers may not care about noise at all, for them it’s not in the rule book. You choose what really matters to you (not what you think should matter) and make those walls. You’ll find yourself with far less policing duties throughout the day.
Kids need boundaries for safety and harmony.
Moms need boundaries for sanity and order.
Neither kids nor moms need rules just for the sake of it.
Rules Are Part of Family Culture
Your family culture is the traditions, habits, practices, and values your family has. It’s who you are as a family. It is what makes you different than all the other families in the world. It’s your family identity.
Some of you might be thinking… “I don’t think we have a family culture.”
You’re wrong. You do. Every family does.
- Are you readers?
- Do you like sports?
- Do you watch a lot of movies with the kids?
- Morning or bedtime devotions a normal part of your day?
- Do you like to eat well?
- What do you do on the weekends?
- Where are some regular places you go?
- How do you treat one another?
- Do you have any family sayings or mottos?
Use this Family Culture printable pack to begin thinking about what makes your family unique. It isn’t the social media worthy stuff, it’s the normal every day moments.
Is faith a large part of your family culture? Does your family love to watch and play sports? Are you a brainy family who loves games and challenges? Do you play lots of board games? Do you have Taco Tuesdays or Cinnamon Roll Saturdays or Roast Sundays?
Your family culture – when purposefully and continually nurtured – becomes the protective fence around your family where everyone feels safety and belonging.
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