The Rule of the House

There is a story that circles around our family lore, going something like this. One of my cousins was in school, and the teacher was talking about rules. She explained the rules of the classroom, and then asked if any of the children had rules at home. What were they? There were the usual responses regarding bedtime, hitting, etc. My cousin thought long and hard. Finally she came up with, "No dancing naked on the piano." This would just be one example of a rule that no mother ever thought she'd have to enforce. You dream of teaching them right from wrong, and you know you will have to warn them away from dryers, outlets, stoves, drugs, immodesty, swearing, violence, gambling, piercings, tattoos, bad influences, germs, alcohol, and a whole host of other things. Then you become a mother and you find yourself enforcing rules like "No snails in the house" and you wonder how you will ever get to it all. Here's the secret: You Won't. The truth is, we cannot teach them everything. It is simply beyond the realm of possibility. But, yet, as mothers, we try. I remember being in tears because my oldest child could not swim by the age of four. I have a thing with swimming - I'm scared of it. I had this really super irrational fear of my children drowning, and even though logically I knew that the best way to prevent them from drowning was to teach them to swim, I also knew that if they weren't in the water, they wouldn't drown that day. I have had to work through it, and the two oldest are currently in swim lessons twice a week, and doing well. They're not completely "there" yet, but I am hoping that by the end of the summer, they will be. But I could not teach them to swim. Now, I know how to swim. I've been swimming since I was two. But I could not throw my child in the water and yell "kick, kick, kick!" I could just hold on to them, and pray the whole time we were in the pool that nobody would drown. (Did I mention this was a seriously irrational fear?) So I had to turn them over to somebody else. I had to let someone else teach them that particular lesson, and it has been very difficult for me to do it. But swimming is a fundamental skill. They will need that as they grow up. Basic. I was in tears because I couldn't give them that, and I couldn't give them that because of my fear, not theirs. They wanted to swim. They still want to swim. So now they swim, and all I can do it watch, and smile every time they hit a new milestone. And be grateful that this fear, at least, isn't winning anymore. We need to stop thinking we can teach them everything, or that we can prepare for every scenario. There are other capable people on this planet. They may not know your children as well as you do, or love them as much. But then again, they might. And they can contribute. In the meantime, I'll keep some flexibility in my rule-making abilities. After all, in a few years, "Snaily" (actual name of the poor homeless snail on our porch) won't need my help anymore, but my children still will.


Blogger annegb said...

:) Right now the rule of my house is that my daughter is not to touch any of my stuff or enter my office. I hate to come into my office and find potato chips all over the floor, or go get my makeup or hot curlers and they are scattered all over her room.

My husband wants to get all complicated with her rules, but mine is "don't touch my stuff" and try to endure till she moves out again.

5/15/2005 05:40:00 PM  
Anonymous Susan M said...

I've always tried to have as few rules as possible, even when my kids were toddlers. I've never liked the negativity in a big list of Don'ts. I just try to have our home be an environment where there won't have to be a lot of Don'ts.

What's wrong with snails in the house? Put them in a jar.

I'm really paranoid about swimming, too. It takes me awhile to warm up to being around water. And I wanted my kids to be good swimmers but they all inherited my lack of water skills (my husband's a surfer!). We have a pool at our apt complex now and they've all become much better swimmers because of it. But I still get tense everytime they jump in.

5/15/2005 06:37:00 PM  
Anonymous marta said...

I love "no dancing naked on the piano"! Of course, my kids are so literal they would have taken it as blanket permission to dance on the piano when clothed, and to dance naked anywhere else.

We had to have a discussion about "Don't paint the kitchen walls with peanut butter" the second time he did it, because we had been too busy laughing and taking pictures when he did it the day before to even think of telling him that it was not OK.

Yes, we had to strip the wall paper.

5/16/2005 12:30:00 AM  
Blogger fMhLisa said...

I have the irrational drowning fear too. It's nice to know I'm not alone.

5/16/2005 12:53:00 AM  
Blogger Amy Lynn said...

I had a 5 minute phone conversation with a friend the other day that kept getting interrupted with comments I was yelling at my children. Things like "Don't feed the baby jello", "Stop smothering your brother", "Get the couch pillow off your head...it's NOT a turban" etc. My friend finally asked what on earth was happening at my house and I actually responded with "What do you mean? Just the usual!"

5/16/2005 01:08:00 AM  
Blogger Heather O. said...

Great stories, ladies. Love 'em!

BTW, Wiz, it sounds like "snaily" isn't homeless at all. He's got a home--your porch! :)

I like the idea of not having a million rules that you can't enforce and that will make you lose all credibility with your kids even if you tried. I say pick your battles and your rules carefully, and only fight for the ones worth fighting for. I might have even let dancing on the piano naked slide. At least they weren't scratching it up with shoes, right?

5/16/2005 03:53:00 PM  
Blogger Ana said...

The rule I never thought I'd have, that I now have:

You must wear at least underwear to the dinner table.

My kids are almost 4 and almost 6 and I'm still waiting for that natural modesty that supposedly started after the Fall to kick in. Right now it's, "See, we are naked, we must run out into the front yard ..."

5/16/2005 06:20:00 PM  
Blogger The Wiz said...

Great rule, Ana! Love it! Natural modestly did kick in for my kids, fortunately, although the youngest (almost 2) has just discovered the joy of nudity. He too, likes to combine it with his love of the great outdoor.

5/16/2005 06:53:00 PM  
Blogger Heather O. said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

5/16/2005 07:59:00 PM  
Blogger Heather O. said...

I had to make up a couple of new rules only a hour ago:

The street is not for peeing.

The front porch is not for peeing.

The creek behind our house is not for peeing.

The tree in front of our house is not for peeing.

And no, I was not giving these rules to my dog.

5/16/2005 08:02:00 PM  
Anonymous Susan M said...

Maybe it's just semantics, but I'd flip that around to be "the toilet is for peeing." Again, I'm anti-negativity. :)

5/16/2005 08:09:00 PM  
Blogger Heather O. said...


Sadly, we DO have such a potty rule, as you suggest. Today, I re-interated the rule "We only pee in the potty" every time I had to make a new rule about where we DON'T pee. I'm totally with you on the whole anti-negativety thing. This time, however, the rules just had to be stated a little firmer!

5/16/2005 10:17:00 PM  

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