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”…
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?