What Are Your Rules?

In her memoir, Composed, Rosanne Cash talks about how she wished she was as a parent of small children and how different that was from the reality. She recalls that her biggest rule ended up being no juice after 5pm. Why? Something about sugar before bed. In any case, although she knows she did the best she could, Rosanne looks back and wishes she had imposed more structure, more rules on her young children.

That’s something we have to think about as dads. Part of the job of a parent is to come up with the rules of the house and to enforce them (and for them to make sense too!). Winging it might seem better, except that means you’re judging every situation anew—deciding in the moment what to allow and what not to. Letting things slide might seem easier, but the chaos that flows from it is much more difficult.

So what are the rules of your house? What’s expected of your kids—in terms of chores, behaviors, and habits? What’s forbidden? What don’t we do in this house? Are you firm about the rules? Do you make sure everyone follows them, including yourself? And then, crucially, what is the logic behind these rules and can you explain them in a way that gets real buy in and understanding? A father is not a tyrant…but a person who makes arbitrary rules without explaining them is.

Create some rules. Stick to them. Be fair about them. Your kids might not love them now, but when they look back on their childhood, they will at least be grateful for the structure and the clarity they provided.

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