I finally got around to putting together our house rules so that I could print it up and display it in the house. Before – we had an idea of house rules but I’d been too lazy to actually put them together and hang them up for all to see.
I’ve never been one to do things the “normal” way.
I’m going to be completely honest here. I have always found a number of the expectations we have of children to be pretty gross. Xander being my first (and only child), I initially approached parenting by looking at the internet and asking it what I should do. I’d look at things like children’s routines and house rules, methods of discipline, etc for ideas – and often found myself as confused as ever. Everyone had a different way of parenting their child and very few of them fit with how I felt children really ought to be treated.
In the end I floundered around for a while until I finally found my footing – which I found largely in therapy.
As part of my therapy for PTSD, I underwent DBT (Dialectical Behavioural Therapy). In a (very small) nutshell, DBT retrains your responses to stressful situations to better help you cope with life in general.
My interest in DBT led to an interest in behaviour in general, which in turn led to a better understanding of children. I started to ask myself, “Why do we teach our children the way we do?”
There were certain things parents say, or attitudes they’d had which had always rubbed me the wrong way. Telling little boys to be men. Telling little boys not to act like girls. Gender pigeonholing our children. Not teaching our children what consent actually means. Not allowing our children any agency. The assumption that children have no rights to: privacy, independence, ownership, opinions. The idea that children must earn respect, but adults are entitled to it.
I couldn’t say what precisely led me to feel this way about parenting – except that it probably had something to do with my own upbringing. I had no rights. None. I not only didn’t have the right not to be beaten, I didn’t have the right to think.
I grew up in a “children should be seen and not heard – and most of the time I’ll fucking backhand you if you’re heard” home. I grew up in a house where asking for privacy of any kind (even to use the toilet or to dress in my own room) may well be met with violence – and it fucked me completely up.
My approach to parenting shifted as I came to terms with my own abusive upbringing. I started to ask myself, “What kind of parent do you want to be?” and began aggressively BEING that parent. I wanted to be: weird, spontaneous, whimsical, loving, sex-positive, progressive, nurturing, fierce, loud, creative, open-minded, and reasonable. I wanted to raise a kid who treated others with kindness – but a kid who was a badass bitch like his mom.
Mostly, I wanted to undo the damage that had been done to me – and prevent it being done to my own child.
Rule #1 was actually inspired by Wil Wheaton’s Wheaton’s Law – which states, quite simply, “Don’t be a dick”. Originally it was meant to be applied to multiplayer gaming – but like the rest of the world, I realized that it was just kind of an amazing rule for life.
So many of the rules I’d seen on parenting sites that people had set forth for their children all fell under that same category. “Don’t be a dick”. It’s the one my son cites most often, calling his dad on it when his dad is being a pedantic douche over something or calling me on it when I’m ruthlessly teasing him
Xander: “Where did you go?
Me: I’m back from the moon, I brought you a rock!
Xander: YOU’RE TEASING ME!
Me: No totes! See? Rock!
Xander: WHAT IS OUR NUMBER ONE HOUSE RULE!?
Whoops, time-out for mum.
I wanted to encourage my son to think, not simply accept. I wanted to be the mother who teaches her son from an early age what consent IS. We don’t just walk into our son’s room because “lol this is my house”. We knock and ask if we can come in. If he says no, WE DO NOT COME IN. Our children have a right to privacy – and in no way do I want my son to think that he is not allowed to say no to an adult who is invading his space. It is wrong in so many ways.
This is also the reason we encourage but don’t force sharing. Sharing is kind of a bizarre thing that we teach our kids. From infancy we tell them that they have to share everything that is theirs or they are awful and rude – but NONE of that applies once we grow up.
If an adult walked up to me and said, “Give me your phone, it’s my turn, you have to share.” I’d probably offer them a tutorial on how they might go about fucking themselves. I sure as shit would not be handing over my phone for fear of being rude – and yet we expect this behaviour of our kids.
We tell ourselves when we do it, that children are too young to understand complex ideas such as what is okay to share, and what you’re really allowed to just keep to yourself. The problem here is that children are nowhere near as stupid as we assume them to be. Kids are totally capable of getting complex ideas. It might take a few tries, sure – but they’ll get there, and making mistakes is part of learning. I’ve been using this method with my 5 year old from the start – and he’s never really had a hard time grasping the idea that sharing is a really nice thing to do, but that no one will blame you if there’s something that you want to be just yours.
If he has a kid over to play and that kid wants to borrow his Baby Spiderweb, for example – he’s under no obligation to share his spidery lovey. That’s totally reasonable. He knows that he has a guest over and it would be a real dick thing to do to not share anything. He knows that if there’s something he’d rather not be played with, he should put it away before they arrive. He knows that if someone plays with something he wants to keep to himself, he’s allowed to say, “Sorry but I’m not really comfortable with sharing that. Maybe we could play with this instead?”
When we treat our children as though they’re incapable of understanding a complicated idea – we’re doing them an injustice. They’re a lot smarter than we often give them credit for – and all we really need to do is be honest and patient with them.
My methods certainly aren’t going to work for all parents – and that’s okay. I just want to present the idea that there IS a different way of parenting – and that talking to your children but not talking DOWN to your children can have some huge benefits to their development.
I also want to share my House Rules with you – literally. I’ve included them in a zip file which has the PDF printable, a JPG of the rules, a PSD (Photoshop) version with layers that can be edited, and the font that I used (which I found free online).
House Rules (13MB .zip)
Stay awesome, be great at what you do, and be kind to each other. <3