By Indie Dad

I don’t like rules. I think they’re usually imposed by petty, small minded people, who like telling the rest of us what we should do. I’m with the Bob Dylan school of thought:

The only rule is that there are no rules…

So when I found myself in the position of bringing up two small boys on my own, things got pretty anarchic for a while. Meals consisted of whatever they wanted to eat, which was generally porridge for Alex and toast for Danny. The TV was constantly tuned to cartoon channels. Bedtime went on for ages and often involved watching Madness videos, Alex and Danny imitating the nutty boy dances and singing along with lyrics they weren’t yet old enough to understand. I remember ‘Night Boat to Cairo’ and ‘House of Fun’ as being particular favourites. We were living in the house of fun, or so I would tell myself, because I couldn’t think of any other way of covering up the great big gaping cracks in the walls which had been left by the departure of their mum.

The boys coped well, particularly in school, where they thrived on the structure imposed by the school day. This was particularly important to Alex, as a nine year-old with Asperger’s Syndrome, who liked having each part of the day clearly planned. In school they put a big planner up on the wall for him, with pictures illustrating what would be happening throughout the day. His mum and I were told that communicating with him would require ‘visual reinforcement’, and we were sent off to a class to learn Makaton sign language. I was terrible at this, literally all fingers and thumbs.

For seven year-old Danny the structure provided different benefits. Danny was an energetic extrovert, who didn’t stop bouncing from the moment he woke up to the moment he fell asleep. Sleep often came suddenly, usually when I’d given up all hope of it ever arriving. One minute he’d be dancing along to ‘Night Boat to Cairo’, the next minute he’d be fast asleep on the bed. Alex was isolated in school but Danny was super-sociable, with a large group of friends. The rules and structures of school gave him and his gang of mates something to push against, a way of testing boundaries. So school provided things we didn’t have at home – structure, boundaries and rules. And, I slowly came to realise, the boys wanted those things at home.

When they asked if we could have some rules, I suggested they come up with them for themselves. Part of me was still resistant to the idea, and I certainly didn’t want to transform into a Victorian father, laying down a set of edicts that I expected them to obey.

“Write down what you think the rules should be and then we’ll talk about them,” I said.

They went off to their bedroom with a pen and some paper. I expected them to return in a few minutes with a short list of rules, probably five or six points. Instead they disappeared for ages. When they finally came back downstairs it was with a long list of rules – 32 of them, to be precise.

Some of the rules were predictable, but many of them were funny, strange and surprising, throwing light on our new life as an all-male household. So keep an eye on this space, and over the next few weeks I will tell you more about our house rules.


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