Featured, Parenting

A home with no rules (we have these six things instead)

26 October, 2017

Every so often I look about me and think does this happen in other homes?  Six year old Ramona will be dipping her scalp in some mud out the window and four year old Juno will be picking through the pantry popping special ingredients into the smoothie maker, or it’ll be past 10pm and we’ll all be in bed and Juno will be in the lounge painting a magnificent, meticulous rainbow on her teddy’s tummy.

And I’ll remind myself it’s not like there’s a rulebook, is there? HA. (Is there???)

But there is, some are written down and some are just contained within our minds – rules about propriety and appropriate bedtimes and when and where exactly the fun should be had.

And it’s strange because humans thrive without rules. The dignity of a rule-less environment helps us step our game up, allows our natural respect and watchfulness come to the fore.

There have been experiments in various settings around the world – the school playground that threw out the rules and saw a steep drop in bullying or the town that gave up road rulebook and saw the death toll drop to zero.

One of the reasons we have chosen a rule-free home is because we want our children to bring their hearts and minds to each situation, to discover a trust in themselves, rather than leaning on whatever random authority is looming over them that day. We want them to engage deeply with their environment, to connect authentically with the people around them and all of that is made trickier if they are required to live under a set of (often quite arbitrary) rules.

We also deeply believe that our role as parents isn’t to control our children, it is to create an environment where they can blossom into the people they are. Humans are at their very worst when we try and coerce, manipulate and control the actions of others. It shouldn’t be a part of parenting! A home without rules gives us room to flourish and to focus on the most important thing – our relationship with one another.

After posting this Youtube video yesterday about whether we were a”feral family” and then watching a few clips of the same named TV show in the UK I was lying in bed trying to have a full on analysis of our family life. Did we truly have no rules?  I scanned our day from waking to sleeping and concluded that yeah, indeed, we are a family with no rules.

But in my thinking it became apparent that there is not a gaping cavern where the rules should be. Instead there is a bunch of stuff that helps us all be our best selves.

Here’s what we have instead of rules. They can’t really be a pik n mix – they all relate to each other. You can’t have “honest conversation” without “connection” or “a healthy view about mistakes” without “good self-care”…
a home with no rules

1-  Connection. If I have *one* word that sums up my parenting it is connection. I feel it almost as a tangible thread between myself and my daughters and I can feel when it wears thin, I can sense when it is strong.  I take every opportunity I can to build this love-filled relationship with my daughters – including toilet time. I cannot imagine having no rules in a home where this connection is not there. I imagine all members to fizzing around, with no orientation or grounding, grazing each other’s elbows and knees. Our connectedness – our play and laughter and cuddles and random conversation- is the foundation for our whole family life.

2-A healthy view of mistakes. Rules, and the punitive measures taken when they are broken, are a stupid way to view mistakes. Jeez. Failing, and failing well, is an important part of being human! It makes me feel sick that there are kids growing up out there who are punished for failing – they will spend their whole life unable to take beautiful risks, in creative jail simply for being raised in a home that can’t handle mistakes. We aim to be chill when messes are made, stuff gets broken, people get hurt because we all make mistakes and we can ONLY learn from them when were are given the chance to, shame free.

3- Good self-care. You know when I find it hard to have a healthy view of mistakes? When I am strung out, tired, overtouched. Me-time is not selfish, it is the key to good parenting!  Audre Lorde says  “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare” and it’s true! We can’t raise authentic, empathetic humans if we aren’t kind to ourselves. This whole no-rules thing requires us to be our most patient and joyful selves.  Just yesterday I wrote about how self-care is the second step towards becoming a Parent Ally and here are 60 acts of self-care for busy parents. 

4- A family culture. I loved this article about the main thing that builds resilience in children. Apparently it is the presence of a family narrative, the children having a sense of the family history and values and it being a story that ebbs and flows in success and failure. We talk alot. We tell the stories of mine and Tim’s lives, the girls birth stories, stories about our grandparents. We have rituals – we have a pot of questions that we pull out and ask each other at dinner, we light candles and say things we are thankful for, we go on family walks each evening. All of this is opt-in, and sometimes the girls opt out – although for many of the things they came up with the idea so they are keen beans! All of this builds our family culture, a safe place, a unit of values that we are all co-creating.

5- Honest conversation in an environment of trust and respect. Oh, how we talk! We talk and talk! Ohhh, boy, we talk. And this, perhaps more than anything, takes the place of rules.

ME “Oh hey, girls, I see there’s a sign about no throwing balls on this lawn. Hmmm.”
RAMONA “what, why, why is that there?”
ME “Maybe they are worried about windows?”
RAMONA “Or maybe they don’t like balls?
JUNO “Or kids?”
ME “They might have a bunch of reasons its a good idea to put a sign up saying “NO BALLS. What should we do.”
JUNO “Play over there?”
RAMONA “I wanna play here.”
ME “Hmm, you really wanna play here.”
RAMONA “Yeah. How about we play until we get told off?”
ME “That could work. Or we could play that ball game where we sit on the ground and roll it?”
(and on for another ten minutes…)

Whenever there are rules, I raise them and we talk about them. We have agreed strategies when there are rule-based places we go to regularly. They are engaged in this idea that we have a very rule-based society and it’s pretty awesome to see them developing their own wisdom and consciousness about it all.

Here in New Zealand we try and observe Māori protocol, a common one of which is not to sit on tables that serve food. We could make it “a rule” or we could just remind them every time, and have a big conversation about it, and usually it goes down okay because the conversation is taking place in an environment of trust and respect. I trust that their hearts and intentions are good. I respect them as people. I respect their choices. And (not all of the time, but most!) it’s mutual.

6- A guiding principle. We’ve no rules but we have a guiding principle and that is “We don’t hurt each other or things around us” and it’s a principle we have come to together, through discussion. It’s something we all raise with each other when needed and it can be helpful for the sibling relationship and when friends come over to play, it also relates to how we all try and be in the world more generally – kind to our community and the earth around us.  I’ve been enjoying Gretchen Rubin’s podcast lately and she’s been speaking about the 4 different temperaments and there are a whole load of people out there who seem to enjoy having some stiffer parameters for life.  Perhaps you are one of them, or your children are – this still doesn’t mean you get to impose rules on your family. It means you are invited to cocreate a healthy framework, some bottomlines or guiding principles.

So there we go. No rules… but our kids don’t fling all the libraries books off the shelves or strip naked and paint themselves blue at the museum kid’s area (only in the comfort of their own home!)

I’d love to hear from you.

Do you have things instead of rules? Have you discovered a co-creation of guiding principles?

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  • Stephanie 26 October, 2017 at 8:35 pm

    I love and so admire your approach. I think many of the struggles my family goes through is due to my floating from one parenting style to another; from my parenting aspirations (which are in line with your ethos) and my personal upbringing which I find very difficult to escape from sometime (coercion, rules and all of that oppressive shizzle). I suspect the latter creeps in due to self-care and that is something that’s hard for me to balance right now, my family dynamic doesn’t make it easy… not that I should let that stop me, but it often does.

    Anyhow, my point here (any my unnecessary pre-ramble) was to ask you what your reactions look like when your children step away from your guiding principles. So if the children hit each other or use unkind words to each other or the adults (does this even happen?), then what do you do?

    I’d love to see more examples of how your parenting plays out so I can see if your approach might work better for us than the drifting we seem to be enduring.

    • Lucy 29 October, 2017 at 10:17 am

      Hey Stephanie. I totally hear you.
      It happens often, I understand that the brain and body can get flooded with things like cortisol and children (and adults) can act out in a big rage. I try and look at what needs they might be expresin,g either short term or long term ones, try and validate and hold space for them. Later, up to a few hours later, when every one is calm and connected again we’ll have a conversation about what happend, if they want to re-connect some how, why it’s important to let our anger out in ways that don’t harm people. x x

    • Abs 11 November, 2017 at 4:01 am

      Stephanie – I really hear you. I struggle too but this blog inspires me to try even harder and do better. I think to begin I will have to take my kids out of school and reassess how we are spending our days. We need TIME to connect with our kids and stop expecting them to be a certain way when we ship them off to be under the influence of others all day. I wonder if there is a support group for parents making the transition? If anyone hears / knows of one (especially one that gives specific techniques or a day-by-day transition plan) I’d LOVE to hear about it. Thank you!

  • Sandy 27 October, 2017 at 9:41 pm

    We have a list of rules that we came up with together. Things like ‘clear the table when you have finished eating’ and ‘bring down your dirty laundry’. My kids are a lot older, though.
    The eldest child has autism and thrives on routine. He’s 17 now. He has found his sisters’ live-in-the-moment (which I have allowed and encouraged) approach very difficult, which is why we sat down and drew up a list of rules. Also because I have health issues and I was getting very fed up with spending my limited energy dealing with the consequences of the girls’ laissez-faire attitude!
    If I could go back, would I be more like you in my parenting? I suspect this is partly why I am drawn to your blog and vlog. I have done my best as a mum and we have been through a lot of horrible stuff (first husband was coercive, controlling, violent and eventually a convicted paedophile) and come out the other side! I believe in the power of love to hold a family together and to give it impetus.

    Your girls are *wonderful*. Keep up the good work. Love your vlog and blog!

    • Lucy 29 October, 2017 at 10:15 am

      So great to hear from you Sandy, your comment made me smile! I also am a BIG beleive in the power of love. HELL YEAH!

  • Liz C 28 October, 2017 at 8:10 am

    I think our youngest struggles the most with our family culture’s guiding principles… simply because she’s sometimes not thinking about future cause-effect, or is getting creative with trying to avoid something. Last night, she had a third message conversation with a friend of her older sister’s, without disclosing it was her (allowing friend to think it was her sister)… and that pretty thoroughly contravene’s our family’s accepted practice of honesty. So we had a conversation. Between me, herself and her sister, we decided that she likely needs to take a step back from technology for awhile, and we all need to find ways to support her wanting to have her own separate friendships with her sister’s friends, but in honest and transparent modes. She’s not happy about taking a break from the tech that allowed her choice to be dishonest flourish, but she’s also out raking leaves with her sister, both in Very Good Friends mode again. And it’ll be her choice to tell me when she feels she can handle being honest during digital conversations again, to get her tech back. That may be this afternoon, or it may be two weeks. She’s nine. It’s important she have her own process to determine her personal boundaries and comfort levels.

    It would be hard to start this if they’d been living under punitive conditions… but growing up with a wide range of choices, and mostly-compassionate accountability, etc, it’s just a continual process.

    Rules can’t ever encompass every conceivable variation in life; trying to do that makes for waaaaaay too many “rules” that are ever-more encroaching. It doesn’t work! A few over-arching family culture principles is far more flexible, encompasses training children (and adults) to really think about unique situation, our own needs, and the needs of others, and just works better 99% of the time.

  • paul 12 November, 2017 at 3:29 am

    What a load of hippy nonsence.

  • Sarah Stockley 18 November, 2017 at 12:20 am

    I absolutely love your family lifestyle and think we could all take a leaf out of this book. There are far too many rules in the world. Keep living the way you are. Sarah x

  • Tori 27 November, 2017 at 2:14 am

    Hi Lucy! I love your parenting ethos and as others have said – I try to follow a similar ethos. Both my husband and I seem to regularly fall into the ‘what must other people think?’ trap especially when our kids are ‘being naughty’. When we do fall into that trap, and try to parent how we think everyone else is…. our whole family suffers. It’s not authentic and it confuses our kids. Our children are always the loudest wherever we go, they say whatever think and get into everything. But, I truly believe we are helping them to grow up into secure, curious, and resilient adults.
    Keep writing…. you’re fab!

  • 15 Habits of Respectful Parents | Happiness is here 25 March, 2018 at 8:44 pm

    […] afraid of being in trouble for doing the wrong thing. So, there are no rules, only principles. This is a great post about what that looks […]

  • Nadine 29 April, 2018 at 1:10 am

    How cool is the NYTimes article about telling your kids their history,makes a lot of sense