Do I Need to Create a Whole Bunch of Rules for My Family?

Matt in Five Minute Fatherhood Facebook group, which is a great place to hang out by the way, we’d love for you guys to join us there. He just asked a great question, “What lessons do you guys wish you learned before you became a father?” And a buddy of mine named Pete jumped in there and simply wrote, “Don’t make rules unless you intend to enforce them.” And one of the things I think it’s important to realize you guys is that sometimes this is a tough area to get right. But I really like this basic guideline that you want to have just a few rules and you want to make sure you back them up all the way. And so that is something that really helps your kids really figure out, “Okay, this is an area where dad’s serious, he’s going to be a brick wall in this area. This is a part of the family culture that he is really adamant about defending.”

And so how do you decide what are those rules? And I would really think about the rules as being kind of the other side of the family culture that you really want to, you really want to encourage. One of the things that both Jeff, the Bethke’s, and our family, the Pryor’s, have really worked to hone is to define these pillars or these basic sort of descriptions of the kind of family we want. And so we want to make sure that our rules are basically the other side of our pillars. The pillars are the proactive things we want our family to be about. But the rules that we set need to be the things that we feel like really threaten those pillars, things that are going directly against those things.

And so rules are a tricky thing. Sometimes dads get a little bit crazy making lots of rules and then you have dads that are a little bit, you know, sort of on the like just be free and I don’t want to really define rules for my kids. And so Jeff, have you guys wrestled with this thing?

Yeah, there’s a couple of different things that I think are helpful. It’s a provocative title, but one book I really enjoyed was called, Never Say No, by Switchfoot’s parents. And that one obviously like, you know like, we say no, but obviously that once you get into the book you realize it was very much one of those of like hold the line strongly on the things that matter and be careful, or just give second thought, to what you’re saying no to really quickly all the time. And I thought that was a really provocative and helpful thing to think through of like, oh yeah, you say you no so many times because it’s like, oh that’s annoying or that’s bothering me, or it’s not because it’s helpful for the kid, you know? And then those ones kind of I think have to get checked.

I think those ones have to get checked of like, do I need to grow? Am I saying no because I don’t want to grow right now, because I don’t need to do something? So that’s one layer. And then obviously then what that does is it also does build up I think relational equity with your kids to your yes means a little bit more. I don’t think it’s always just a perfect spectrum there, but I do think there is a general rule there of if you’re not just saying no, no, no, no, no, 20 times a day, then when you do say no that they understand like that’s serious, right? So that’s I think important.

And like you said, yeah, values, pillars, culture, is like enormously important with no’s than yes’s in my opinion. Because you want to reinforce and actually discourage the cultures that you don’t want to create and do want to create in your home, so that’s really huge to us, and making sure that you’re kind of like creating and holding the line hardest on what you want your family to feel like, look like, and be like five years from now, 10 years from now. Because that essentially those micro decisions is what will get you there.

And so we’re really big on like that. We have like seven or eight things that they’re very important to us so we work harder on them than, like you just don’t have all the time in the day to just make your kids absolutely perfect robotic children. So it’s just like, hey, we’re going to zoom in on the ones that we actually are taking our, where the Lord’s taking our family on mission in a vision and there is a flex, of course, and there is grace and we do have tire days, et cetera.

Two questions I would ask, or one question I’d ask you, Jeremy, and then we can wrap up is, one, because I agree, like we actually very much believe that just don’t go crazy with rules, since we try to be very specific and kind of do them more sparingly. But one of the rules is like when mom and dad, when something comes out of our mouth, you listen and you obey. But that one’s a tough one because I’m like at some level that can be everything that comes out of your mouth, right? Like literally anything that comes out your mouth. So how do you walk that line of like, okay, now, you know what I mean? Like that one’s, and so we’ve tried to walk that with a little bit of like, “I know when I’m giving a command”, versus kind of just, “Hey, I said something or it’s a suggestion, but I still would like if they do it.” I don’t know. How do you guys wrestle with that kind of tension and then two, maybe end on the technology rules?

Yeah, so I think that this is very age dependent. When your kids are really young, they’re, like the Bible says, they’re very foolish. It doesn’t mean they’re not cute or valuable, but they don’t know life. And so they need to be directed all the time. And so the thing that they have to get really used to is respecting your voice. And I do think that’s an important rule. When we tell you to do something, you do it. As your child is getting older, you need to actually make a very strong distinction between things that you’re using your authority to tell them to do or command them to do and things that you’re basically saying that are fairly open to pushback conversation and things like that, and you really want to dial that up the older they get. So that they’re basically not in a scenario where they’re constantly responding to your authority.

That’s important when they’re really young and foolish, but as they get older you want to see how they’re going to react to certain things. You want to involve them in the decision making process and if that sort of command directive culture really continues on as your kids are getting, you know, 10, 11, 12, especially in the teenage years, that can really wear your kids out. Another thing-

So you’re saying when they’re really young, when they’re toddlers, you’re saying it pretty much is like everything that comes out of your mouth you obey, and then gradually you release that. You become less and less with that and more and more suggestion, for lack of a better term, and there’s probably a better word for that, but kind of like yeah, conversation and let them figure it out. Kind of let them lean into your suggestion and wisdom and all that.

And I would make a distinction between that and rules. Rules are really like guidelines for the house and there are things that no matter how old you are, we expect you to do these things, they’re enforced on everyone, I’m going to try to keep them as the father. So those are kind of house rules and that’s kind of what I’m describing here. It’s a distinction between that and sort of commands that you would give to your kids.

The last thing, though, I did want to say is man, if you’re not cutting off technology completely, like if you’ve got internet, you’ve got TVs, you’ve got things in your house where there’s a lot of portals coming in, then you need to have some very clear rules around technology. And so that’s one area where I would say you have to really invest a lot of time thinking through what the rules are, enforcing them, discussing them, refining them.

So some people basically cut this off by cutting the cord completely. But if you’re going to invite some of those things into the house, then you’re up for a lot of conversation. And which apps are we to going to allow, which technologies and devices are we going to allow. So that makes this a lot more complicated. But just the big picture, you guys, is if you’re going to put up rules and enforce them, it’s good to have a few house rules that fit your pillars, but don’t go overboard. But these can be done if they’re done really well and enforced well, I think they can be helpful for the family culture.

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