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How Having House Rules or Core Values Help Families

These "House Rules" Have Helped My Family Cope With Being Together 24/7

A photo of smiling family relaxing on sofa. Happy parents are embracing sons. They are wearing casuals at home.

When we first began our state-mandated isolation more than a month ago, I approached the prospect of homeschooling my two kids while simultaneously working a full-time job from home with rose-colored glasses. Following orders from Pinterest and Instagram, I set up a color-coded schedule on our pantry door. I created a Google Doc with a list of all the cool projects we could do during our kiddo's two-hour block of "learning time." I even set an early alarm so that I'd always wake up before my kids to work out and have some "me time" before the busy day began.

Fast forward to today, and those rose-colored glasses are about as fogged up as when I breathe too hard with my face mask on.

None of our best-laid plans at the start of our time at home have stuck, except for one.
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Our hour-by-hour schedule has become more of a sweet sentiment that no one takes too seriously, akin to someone saying, "Aw, bless your heart." I just pulled up that Google Doc, and it hasn't been viewed since March 21. As for that early alarm? I hit snooze so many days and weeks in a row that I think it finally took the hint and deleted itself from my phone.

None of our best-laid plans at the start of our time at home have stuck, except for one.

At the advisement of two separate friends, I set up a short list of "house rules" that my husband and I announced on the first day of homeschool, and we couldn't have guessed that on day 40-something, they're still working for us.

When my friends first suggested I make up some rules for this time, I wasn't quite sure what good they'd do, particularly when I discovered these "rules" were less about the practical chores — my kids have a separate responsibility chart to track whether they make their bed, set the table, and feed the dog, for instance — and more about the general outlook we want everyone to share as a family.

I was encouraged to think about the major pain points, or triggers, that I predicted would come from all of this sequestered time. What would irritate me day in and day out? What would I constantly need to remind my kids or my husband (or myself, even) to do? What would get old really fast? And what positive behaviors would I rather see in their place?

Here's what I came up with:

  • We are kind.
  • We don't complain.
  • We listen the first time.
  • We take breaks.
  • We don't refuse cuddles.
  • We do things ourselves when we can.
  • We speak up if we're sick.
  • We are a team.

My kids are young — 5 and 3 — and even after writing them down on a big piece of poster board that we hung on the wall, I wasn't convinced grand, universal concepts — like "We are a team" — would land. It felt like an effort in futility, particularly when I was still piecing together my far-more-important, ill-fated color-coded schedule.

But, on day one, my husband and I read each one aloud and described what it meant for us as a family. We explained how some, like "We don't complain" and "We listen the first time" are important for the kids when we are having busy days — that whining about an activity isn't allowed and if we ask them to do something, we don't necessarily have time or energy to keep repeating ourselves. The same goes for "we do things ourselves" — my oldest daughter has a habit of asking for help putting on pants or drawing a tree, both things she is fully capable of doing on her own. Now more than ever, she needs to display self-sufficiency when she can.

We by no means follow these rules with 100-percent satisfaction. It's safe to say we have a pretty low success rate in having a day without complaints.

We also mentioned how these rules go for everyone, not just the kids. The "We don't refuse cuddles" rule means that if anyone truly needs some love and attention, they can ask for a snuggle and are guaranteed to get one. It's a good reminder for us as parents to set aside our laptops if our kid is feeling neglected. Our "We take breaks" rule is another good reminder that if anyone, young or old, needs to have some alone time, that's OK! They can go and take it. And if someone isn't feeling well, they need to remember the rule to "Speak up if we're sick." That one is certainly with the coronavirus in mind, but also just a good lesson to drill into kids who aren't as aware of their bodies.

We call them house rules, but some might refer to them as "core family values" or affirmations. However they're labeled, we then made a point, every morning, to say them out loud. It only took a week before our kids had them memorized and would race to say them all before the other.

Of course, we by no means follow these rules with 100-percent satisfaction. It's safe to say we have a pretty low success rate in having a day without complaints, never mind a day where we are all fully on the same team and being kind without fail.

But that's not the point.

I discovered that the whole reason for the house rules is to help us recalibrate when we do muck things up. It's easier to temper a bad habit with "Sweetie, remember that we listen the first time," rather than with a "How many times do I have to tell you to put your dirty clothes in the hamper?!" And, after a few weeks of gentle (and, let's be honest, sometimes not-so-gentle) reminders of our rules, we could simply say, "Hey, now, what's the rule?" And my preschooler would sigh and respond, "We do things ourselves."

They'd even remind us when we were breaking the rules. "Mom, take a break!" my little one would say if I was arguing with my husband in her earshot. After a few too many times saying, "Give me one more second," they'll say, "But we don't refuse cuddles!"

So, even when I'm waking up later than I'd like and our homeschool schedules are forever out of whack, we at least have a simple-yet-solid foundation to help set the tone for our family's day.

If you don't have house rules yet, it's not even remotely too late to try them out. They can be something like "We stay safe," "We embrace change," "We celebrate," "We do more with less," or "We are never bored." These were all great ideas that didn't make the cut for us, but might be better suited for another family's needs. Whatever the rules, they may end up serving us all long after we return to our normal lives. I intend to keep a list of house rules posted on our wall for good. We are a team, after all.

Image Source: Getty / Portra
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