Of the things I have done right in my life I am most proud of the kids I am raising. That’s not meant to sound sappy or deluded or even arrogant. I honestly think my husband and I have done a good job. We are raising nice kids. They are imperfect kids, to be sure, but no more imperfect than anyone else walking this planet, including this writer. They are happy most of the time. They are respectful most of the time. They see the world as full of opportunity. They see themselves are part of something bigger than themselves.
What more could a parent want.
I’ve been asked once or twice (or more) how my kids got so nice. I always find the question strange. I wonder what kind of answer is expected. I’m tempted to say, “Well, we practice the dark art of parental intimidation,” or “One word: bribery.”
Why can’t they be nice just because they are?
If I can take any credit, and I’m not sure I can, my kids are nice because they have been given the room to make mistakes and experience natural consequences. They are trusted. They are respected.
And, more importantly, they have never been asked to behave. There is something about that word—BEHAVE–that conjures up images of following rules without questioning them. Gives me the chills. Nothing good can come from blind acceptance. I don’t think anyone should be asked to BEHAVE. People should BE KIND, BE RESPECTFUL, BE OPEN MINDED, BE PRESENT, BE COMPASSIONATE but never should they have to BEHAVE.
My kids are nice, because the alternative is unimaginable. My kids are nice because of me and in spite of me. My kids are nice because they are loved and respected and treated like living, breathing, fully evolved human beings. I can live with that. And so can they.
Once, when we felt we needed a reminder about what we valued in our home, we wrote down all the family “rules” and posted them on the refrigerator. We go back to read them every so often. They are simple, occasionally contradictory, incomplete, often forgotten in the chaos of life (Dinner as a family? Ha! Who has that kind of time these days?), and contain the phrase “you are expected to” more than I would have thought, but they are an honest reflection of our intentions as parents raising kids up to be kind and happy people. (The rules are good for adults, too. I especially need to work on #3 and #4.)
Why are my kids so nice? Maybe this is part of the reason:
21 Family Rules for a Happy Life
- Eat a good breakfast every morning!
- Complete your daily home responsibilities every morning. You’ll be glad you did when you get home at the end of the day. (<–this is a cleaning rule)
- You are expected to regulate your screen time and take breaks. It’s good for your brain, your eyes, your cat, and we miss you.
- No computer or gaming at least ten minutes before you need to leave the house or during family time. Your email will wait for you.
- Don’t forget to wear shoes. (<–seriously, we needed this in writing)
- Help when asked (and even when not asked), including doing those things you’d rather not do.
- Go outside! Try to get outside for a part of every day.
- You get hungry! Eat lunch! If you are grumpy because you haven’t eaten you will still need to be kind to everyone. Eat a banana.
- Respect others. Respect their time, things, words, personal space, and passions.
- When Mom is working in her office be respectful and only interrupt if you must. (<–for the work at home folks)
- Meals are a family affair. You are expected to help without being asked. When you are finished eating you are expected to help clean the kitchen.
- We don’t argue about money. If you ask for money we will always give you an honest answer. Arguing won’t change the answer or make more money. Maybe you should get a job.
- There is no such thing as boredom, only failure of imagination. Be creative and have fun!
- When we leave the house bring a bag with a water bottle, a snack, a book or other activity, and any items needed for the destination. We will not be stopping for bagels.
- Privilege always comes with responsibility. You maintain your freedoms and privileges when you treat the family with respect. If you lose a freedom or privilege it is because you showed yourself not ready to handle the responsibility. It is not a punishment but a protection.
- Different people have different privileges and different responsibilities. “Fair” and “equal” are not the same thing. Accept that we always consider what is best for you and that privileges and responsibilities evolve over time to reflect what you can handle. You may appeal any rulings but be prepared to defend and promote yourself with facts.
- We will always assume you are telling us the truth. We know that sometimes you may be afraid to tell us the truth out of fear that we will be angry or disappointed. Trust us! The consequence for a lie is far greater than the consequence for confessing an offense. People make mistakes. Wise people admit their mistakes and learn from them.
- We know friends confide in each other. You may keep your friends’ secrets except when their health and well-being is in danger, and especially if your own health and well-being is in danger. We will help you be a good friend without betraying their confidence.
- Check the calendar every night and plan accordingly. Is there anything you can prep/pack tonight?
- Laugh. As much and as often as possible. Laugh at yourself, too. And laugh at the cat. He likes it.
- Remember you are loved. It is unconditional. Start and end each day knowing you have people in your life who care about you. Let others know you care about them so they can start and end their day feeling good, too.