Monday, 25 June 2012

Rules and regulations

I've been mulling a bit about this blog. It's easy to tell stories, to comment on what's in the press about parenting, and to come across - and I hope I don't - as someone who thinks they know it all. I don't. I know how it was for me when I was growing up - what I struggled with from my parents and what I can look back on with the clarity of hindsight and see as good commonsense. I know what I tried to do as a parent with my kids - and I know that some of it they see very differently to the way I see it. 

So, I  was thinking about the basics, the things that underpinned what I did, the way I did it, and why I did it - and I'll qualify that with the information that I also did it largely on my own as a sole parent. Even when partnered I was, largely, parenting solo - and that does make a difference. When you don't have someone backing you up, the terms of engagement have to be different - you can't play good cop/bad cop by yourself!! Seriously, a united front of two like-minded parents is something that kids might try to resist, but ultimately will respect pretty quickly - just as they will, equally quickly, play two parents off each other when they discern that said parents are not in agreement about something.
My basic parenting style was based on rules. The premise was pretty simple - there were a bunch of rules that I created that were intended to provide a clear structure of what people could and couldn't do, and what was expected of everyone in the household so that living together was manageable. Breaking the rules meant uncomfortable consequences - and the reality of that was, often the consequences were uncomfortable for everyone. They evolved over time as the boys got older and were more aware of the rights/responsibility equation, and they had to be something I could stand by without getting myself into hot water, because backing down wasn't an option.

The basics were - in no particular order, and I'm sure I'll forget some of them! It's been a while - and it's only now with a teen in the house again that I'm coming up hard against the results of a different style of parenting that I'm being made aware of them.
  1. It it isn't yours, don't touch it.
  2. If you use something, put it away again when you've finished.
  3. If you make a mess, clean it up.
  4. If you're going somewhere, leave a note so I know where you are when I get home to an empty house - this was pre mobile phones...
  5. Do not walk into a room talking - wait and see what's going on before you barge in with whatever it is you're wanting/needing.
  6. Don't yell from another room - if you want someone, go find them.
  7. Change out of school clothes straight away when you get home and put them in the wash.
  8. If you want some say in what's for dinner, be involved in making it. If you weren't and it just landed in front of you with no input on your part, the only thing you are allowed to say is, "thank you."
  9. Try everything on your plate - even if you think you don't like it. Your tastes change as you mature and you won't know if you don't try.
  10. Say hello when you walk through the door, and goodbye when you're leaving.
  11. Say please and thank you.
  12. When you're asked to do something, just do it - don't argue. 
  13. If you're angry about something, that's fine. If you want to talk about it then talk, if you don't that's also fine - but take it to your room and don't dump on people.
  14. Do not go into each other's bedrooms uninvited - people's space is to be respected.
  15. Do not interrupt people - wait for a pause and say, "excuse me." This includes interrupting people when they're on the phone.
  16. Don't just get up and leave the table when you're finished. Wait until everyone is finished their meal and then ask to be excused.
I'm sure there are more, but by now it should be pretty obvious what forms the basis of these rules.  They're all about courtesy, manners. It's something I see less and less. I do understand that styles of communication have changed, but I don't see why that should mean that basic good manners should go down the drain. 

My kids aren't perfect - let me be the first person to make that point. Neither am I. There were arguments about any and all of these rules at various times. However, one thing I can say about them - even when they're being distant young men, as is the current situation - is that I could, and did, take them anywhere and one consistent piece of feedback I got about them was how polite they were. They would sit at other people's tables and manfully wade through whole plates of food they didn't like without a murmur. I'd hear all about it later - at length - but they never embarrassed their hosts by complaining about the food. They would also thank said hosts for their meal. 

I could relate vast numbers of war stories about the breaking of these rules and subsequent consequences in all sorts of gory detail. But I'm not going to today. My point today is that a lot of parenting is about conditioning our kids - deliberately or unwittingly. They follow our lead. If we speak to them with courtesy, they will respond in kind. If we yell at them all they time, they will learn that that's normal and they will yell at us and everyone else all the time. If we let them interrupt us all the time, they will assume that's acceptable and they will interrupt anyone else they come into contact with. It's pretty straightforward cause and effect.

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