Sometimes I feel like our family life is all about rules, regulations and negotiations about the fine details of what is and what is not permissible.
When Leila was only about 4 years old she was about to jump off the back of the sofa and I asked her not to. Her response, “What will the punishment be if I jump?” stumped me. I’ve seen all of my kids weigh up the pros and cons of taking a particular action, whilst contemplating the stated set of consequences.
Edward takes family rules to a whole new level and believe me he can really get stuck into the minutiae.
I often feel like I am a fairly rubbish lawyer desperately trying to patch up the seemingly never-ending set of loop holes in my own inept legal system.
Rules are easy to make but tougher to enforce. If you set too many rules you end up turning into a confusing mixture of judge, jury and defence.
Edward will notice what I say to his siblings and if I don’t enforce what I have said immediately he gets very irritated and annoyed with me.
“Seb, you need to stop watching TV in five minutes and do your homework” I say.
20 distracted minutes later and Seb might be quietly sneaking in a bit more TV than I was planning to allow him. It happens.
If Edward notices this type of ineptitude on my part I am in trouble. He gets exasperated by what he perceives as my poor parenting… “mum, you have let Seb watch TV for too long. Why didn’t you make him stop? You should have stopped him watching it when you said you would. You can’t set rules and not stick to them. How will Seb take you seriously if you don’t make him do what you tell him to?”
On lots of levels he is right.
But it can be wearing when he chastens me like this and it doesn’t exactly create family harmony when Edward polices us all. If Edward decides to take matters into his own hands I used to have to go for the “divide and conquer” approach – separating children into different rooms so that I could deal with the situation without them arguing loudly at each other, rendering me completely inaudible above their noise. Thankfully this level of physical and verbal arguing happens less often now which is a good job because they are bigger than me (with the exception of Seb) so I’m not sure I could divide and conquer any more.
When Edward was in primary school there was a phase where all the kids would play “coat train”; wearing their coats so that they just had the hoods on their heads allowing their coats to flow behind them like super hero capes, they formed a line, grabbed the person in fronts coat and then the “coat train” would pick up speed as they ran wildly through the playground. A few coats got torn. The game got banned. Some kids still played the game which made Edward livid. He wanted to join in but couldn’t because it was breaking a rule.
He told us about this at home. We said that if other children were still playing “coat train” it would be ok for him to join in as long as he was careful about not ripping anyones coat. We were very aware that he was socially isolated at school so the idea of him standing alone in the playground making a conscious choice not to join in with a game seemed ludicrous. Edward was having none of our nonsense though – the rule was “no playing coat train” and he was sticking to it. However because the rule wasn’t being enforced he became increasingly agitated and ended up telling on his class mates to his teacher in front of the whole class. So despite wanting to join in with his peers he managed to ostracize himself further. It was heart breaking.
As far as Edward is concerned Rules Rule! If one has been broken he is like a man on a mission to put things right.
Life though is not black and white; there’s a huge grey middle ground which seems to be getting bigger the older I get.
I’m finding that I’ve become a mum on a mission to help my son feel more at ease in the grey.