By: Gari Lister
Experts advise that kids with developmental trauma need calm, stability and predictable limits. And in fact I know my youngest does better when she knows her schedule, and exactly what is expected of her. The problem is that peace, stability and a well-ordered life are not always easy to come by in a household filled with a bunch of poorly behaved dogs and cats, not to mention the children or broken appliances. For that reason, I’m always a little defensive about our organizational dynamics.
So I was shocked in a recent family dispute, when a family member shouted at me, “well, I know, certainly you have rules! You have rules upon rules.” Well, mmmm. I never really thought I had rules, let alone too many rules. My house is almost always messy, the girls’ room is never as clean as I would like it and even my border collie scoffs at the “No dogs on the furniture” rule by standing on the kitchen table on a daily basis. So I always assumed that any rules I had were ignored by the many members of my crazy little family. After this argument, I asked my girls whether they thought I had too many rules. Their answer surprised me, and made me feel like maybe, just maybe, notwithstanding the daily craziness, I am doing things a little bit right.
The girls reported that I do indeed have rules (apparently unrelated to cleaning) and that the rules are annoying but make our house “not stressful.” As reported by a 9 year old and an 11 year old, my rules are: (1) no eating anywhere but the kitchen (I am scared of bugs); (2) butt on the chair, not in the air; (3) homework must be done downstairs; (4) you get what you get and don’t get upset; and (5) no making fun of “private” hard things in the family.
Other than the first, all of these rules reflect the parenting techniques we have developed to address our kids’ needs. We stay together whenever possible (“homework downstairs”). We all have “issues” (code word in our family for our little weaknesses, flaws and fears), and we work together to try to understand and heal them (“no making fun”). We believe in cleaning and removing clutter – but somebody falling apart or something in crisis takes priority. I try to prepare meals that the kids like – but we do not cater to individual idiosyncrasies (“you get what you get and don’t get upset”). And although we are sensitive to sensory needs, we try to make sure our kids run before meals, swim, jump and do whatever they need so that they can succeed at “butt in the chair” in restaurants and at meals.
So, yes, I guess I do have rules. They may not be the limits that the experts would prescribe, and they may not be the same ones that work for the family next door, but they work for us.