Rules and regulations are important. A child needs to learn what behaviors are and aren’t acceptable. They need structure and guidance. They need to learn about responsibility and accountability, and about how actions have consequences, and about respecting authority. Sensible, hardset rules can help with a lot of those things. They’re important. But arbitrary rules made up simply for our own convenience should be something we step back and think about. You know the kind. The ones, often made up on the spot, where our kids ask the one word question that has a special way of driving us nuts: Why? Because I said so! Because I don’t want to do that.
For a long time, one of the arbitrary rules in Jeannie Gaffigan’s house had to do with slime. Maybe your kids are too old to care about slime, but you can get the parent’s dilemma. Sure, the kids are having fun, but it’s a pain in the ass to clean up. But Jeannie Gaffigan recently had a change of heart about her rules—particularly after a battle with a benign but very life threatening brain tumor. She recently talked about it and her brush with death on Marc Maron’s podcast:
“My nine year old just turned 10. She is into making slime. You know, this is a big thing, right? It’s this whole little science thing. So my daughter is really into this slime thing and I had a list of rules and regulations for slime in the house and how to deal with it because I was finding it in places that are like—AH! But after the surgery, I realized that I never asked, ‘can you teach me how to make the slime?’ I never engaged with the slime. I engaged with the control of the slime.”
We don’t want to deal with the mess. So we come up with a rule. We’re too tired when we get home from work. Rule. We just got that carpet and it was expensive. Rule. We’re adults, this is silly. Rule. Our kids could be making better use of their time. Rule. We just don’t have the patience right now. Rule.
What we seem to have less rules about are with ourselves. Why not a rule about being interested? Why not a rule about playing and having fun together? Why not a rule about encouraging their fascinations rather than curtailing them? Those are the important rules because they will bring you and your kids closer together. They will help you relax. And, of course, as Jeannie explained, you can still limit where the slime is used in your house—”There’s still rules. There’s still rules,” she said—there has to be.
But make the shared experience, make the fun together, come first.