Monday, June 04, 2007

My Roof, My Rules

One of the things I know about parenting is that how you word things makes a big difference in the results you get. To say, "No, I won't let you do that" implies that I might let you do it under different circumstances, and so can invite most children to argue that these, indeed, are different circumstances. To say "The rule is no movies on school nights" suggests that I can't and most children will not argue about exceptions. Particularly if you hold with "a rule for one is a rule for all" and follow-up on "the rule is if you want to talk to someone, go where they are instead of expecting them to come to you" by going to the child when you want him, or "the rule is no hitting" by not hitting them, kids are accepting of rules and life can be much smoother.

It was also a good way to explain why, in our house, if they wanted a snack they weren't to bother me about it but just go fix themselves something, for heaven's sake, but at their grandfather's house, they had to ask and wait for someone to get it for them. (Mama used to say that Daddy wouldn't let her go in the frig if he could avoid it.) In that case, I would remind them, "Grandpa's roof, Grandpa's rules." And when they, very raresly since it never got any other answer, would tell me that "Mary's mom lets her," my answer would be, "My roof. My rules." Now, that's perfectly clear. At least, I thought it was clear.

Until a 15 year-old Richard came home from a friend's house and announced, in a voice of startled discovery, "You make up the rules!" I admitted I did. That, indeed, that's what "My roof, my rules" meant. Well, he was outraged! Here he had been going to David's house for years and thinking that David's father broke the rules when he sat in his recliner and called David to come to him. Somehow, that day Richard had realized that the rules in David's house were different and David's father wasn't blithely breaking them for the hell of it. (He did still prefer it the way we did it.)

It was about at that time that he came home all indignant and announced, in that same voice of startled discovery, that cars would too start without seat belts fastened! He was taking driver's ed and that day had done his first practice driving. He had been in the back seat, getting ready to fasten his seat belt, and the student behind the wheel had turned the key and the car had started. How, I ask you, was I to know that when I told a four year old "I can't start the car until the seat belts are all buckled" he would think it meant the car wouldn't start that way? And that he would maintain that impression for over ten years?


Anonymous said...

I love this story. You made your point-- and then some. Thanks for the smile.

Kay Dennison said...

lol Sounds like my house! I said the same to the dynamic duo.

Chancy said...

Good story and good memories.


joared said...

I like this story. Kids do have a way of interpreting what we say on a pretty literal concrete level at times. What's interesting, as you point out so well, is how many years they can cling to that initial perception.