What are the rules that guide your life?
Today, “don’t hit your sister” and “don’t sass” were featured in my household. Ah, parenthood.
I’m not one for issuing a lot of don’ts. In fact, if you know me at all, you’ll agree I’m not a rules-follower. I never follow a recipe to the letter (not even my own). Policies make my eyes glaze over. So you can imagine I wanted to take a bit more creative approach to rules for my family.
To guide our kids into becoming the adolescents and (gulp) grown-ups my husband and I intend, I felt like the rules needed to be relevant to all of us—kids and grown-ups alike. Here’s what we started with:
How we treat others: Share. Encourage. Be truthful. Be gentle. Keep your promises. Forgive. Love each other.
How we behave: Whatever you are, be a good one. Enjoy moments. Look. Listen. Create. Start. Keep going! Finish. Make the most of it. Be safe, but have an adventure.
How we treat our home: Ask first. Clean it up. Put it back. Care.
(By the way, if you are as awesome as my friend Katherine, you should definitely include one of her family’s rules on your list: #10. Rock and Roll!)
Inspired by the beautiful typography on Pinterest, I came up with this little graphic for our home. It’s still a work in progress. Design majors, don’t laugh. But it makes sense of all of the little lessons I’m trying to teach my little people, every day.
My son Drew has constant questions about why we do things, and I realized that being matter-of-fact was startlingly effective. It’s more subtle than “because I’m Mommy, and I said so.”
Instead, I say, “because we’re a ____ family.”
It started with the phrase “We’re a sharing family.” My CEO’s wife wrote an anecdote for a special book I assembled for his tenth anniversary with my company that struck a chord: She described how he has always been passionate about sharing and giving. From a very early age, their children were taught that they were part of a sharing family, and that they would share their means and their time with people less fortunate.
The story totally resonated with me. I decided immediately that we, the Tretheways, are a sharing family. I tell this to Drew over and over. It’s starting to stick.
Last March, on his third birthday, we weren’t allowed to bring homemade cupcakes to share with the class (and I won’t be caught dead buying cupcakes stuffed with unpronounceable, non-food ingredients from the supermarket). So, instead, we brought the one food item Drew loves more than anything: fruit leather.
Seriously. They’re my kid’s candy bars.
We brought them to school, and I told Drew he could start passing them out to his friends. He hesitated. (I mean, come on—we’re talking about a just-turned three-year-old giving away his favorite thing.) Then he went over to each of the dozen kids in his class and handed them a piece of fruit leather. “We’re a sharing family, so you can have one,” he said, seriously.
I was bowled over. It was working! Drew has even convinced me to share stuff I did not intend to share with him (um, no thank you for backwash in my root beer) because he’d remind me that we were a sharing family. And so, I shared.
I soon realized I could leverage for a few more salient points. And so, we are also a clean family. We take baths. We brush our teeth. We clean up our toys. We don’t waste.
We're a sharing family. Here, Drew shares his find: a tiny crab.
This summer, when we were at the county fair, Drew spilled some caramel corn on the floor and then picked up and ate the fallen pieces faster than I could intervene. “Drew, if you spill again, would you please just throw the popcorn away?” I asked him.
“Because we’re a clean family?” he asked. I was going to say because the floor probably had all kinds of germs growing in that accumulated funk, but I stopped myself. “Yes, because we’re a clean family, and we make sure not to leave our messes behind.”
“Here, Mommy,” he said, and offered me the bag of caramel corn. “And we’re a sharing family, too, right?”
Once I’d scooped my jaw off the floor, I literally stopped us among a stream of fair-goers, got on my knee and hugged that platinum-blond boy as hard as I could. “Yes.”
Uh-oh … I’ve gotten carried away telling the story and went longer than fifteen minutes. Sorry. It’ll happen again, I’m sure (I’m not a rules-follower). In the meantime, why not take fifteen minutes to consider what your rules for living are. And if I were to describe you and your family by one word, what would it be?
“We’re a ____ family,” you would say.
And I’d say, “Nice to meet you. We’re the Tretheways. We’re a sharing family.”
P.S. I’ll leave you with this little quote: “What I love most about my home is who I share it with.”