By Indie Dad

The story so far:

After their mum moved out, my two sons, Alex and Danny, decided we needed some house rules. They were aged nine and seven at the time, and felt a powerful need to impose some order on the world. I had expected them to come up with five or six rules but they returned with a lengthy list, consisting of 32 rules…

Over the last few months I’ve written in quite a lot of detail about our house rules; the reasons behind them, and their impact on our lives. Here are a few I haven’t talked about yet:

Rule 2 – ‘We do not waste electricity’

When the boys wrote this it was probably motivated by a desire to stop me shouting at them to turn off the lights when they left a room empty, or to turn off the telly when no-one was watching it. It was closely aligned with Rule 22 – We don’t pause when we’re watching TV – which addressed their habit of leaving the TV on pause for hours while they went off to do something more interesting elsewhere. I like to think these two rules instilled a bit of early environmental awareness, and we did talk about why it was important to do these things. Alex is now at university and increasingly involved in environmental campaigns, so maybe the message went in.

Rule 21 – ‘We obey the grown ups’

For obvious reasons, this was my favourite and most-used rule. The words “Oi, rule 21!” became our equivalent of those well-worn parental phrases “Just do as you’re told” or “Because I say so”. I think they came to regret including it.

Rule 28 – ‘We forgive on fun day’

Neither the boys nor I are clear on the meaning of rule 28. I’m sure it made sense when they wrote it, but its meaning has been lost with the passing of the years. What was fun day? Surely every day was fun day in our house?

Although we can’t remember what fun day was, the idea of forgiveness was important. The boys would argue and fall out with each other, but they never held grudges and would soon be playing together again like nothing had happened. And on the days when I was grumpy, stressed and finding it hard to cope, I appreciated how forgiving they were of me.

And in the end…

Once the rules had been agreed and finalised Alex typed them up, in a fetching shade of orange WordArt. We then printed them out, laminated them, and stuck them up on the fridge. And there they remained, largely ignored but occasionally referred to, usually when someone (Danny or myself, never Alex) wanted to use them to score a point or win an argument.

So what was the point of our house rules, given that we rarely referred to them? For me, their importance was that they gave the boys a sense of control over a situation that felt like it could easily descend into chaos. Just writing the rules down was a way of imposing order on the disorder which had been inflicted on them by the adults in their lives. And that in itself is some achievement, especially when you’re only nine and seven years old and it feels like the world is falling apart around you.

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