Enforcing House Rules

Monday, October 15, 2012

3 Tips for Maintaining Harmony in your Blended Family

Parents struggle to enforce house rules with their own children. Add stepchildren to the mix, and suddenly it feels as if you’re herding cats.

Stepchildren and biological children may try to play both households where they reside against the other. It’s similar to the theme of “But Johnny’s parents let him stay up until 3 in the morning playing Halo 3.”

Only in a blended family household, adults will hear, “But Mom lets me do that at her house” and “Dad never makes me do that.”

A child’s goal? To get their way or get out of doing something unpleasant such as cleaning, of course.

And the result for the adults?

Often, parents and stepparents will feel guilt and question themselves: Am I too harsh? Am I being too rigid?

Or, you may feel defensive about being painted in a negative light against the “other parent” and respond with anger with “My house, my rules!”

House rules are created for multiple reasons: for the good of all family members and residents visiting or living under your roof, for harmony, and for everyone to know what the adults’ expectations are for how they want their home to run.

What is done or not done at the child’s other home is similar to what’s done or not done at Little Johnny’s home: it has no bearing on how you elect to do things in your home.

So how do you enforce your house rules without feeling tyrannical, guilty, or otherwise just plain mean?

Here are 3 house-rule enforcement tips you can start using today:

1)    Clearly Communicate the Rules

One of the best ways to communicate house rules is to write them down and post them prominently, maybe on the door of the refrigerator. This way, no one in the household can take any one rule “personally;” they’re the same for everyone.

Often, kids may bristle at being called out for their behavior, such as watching too much TV. They can feel singled out and become defensive, and that’s when they look for a way to deflect what they’re taking as a personal criticism by saying, “But Dad always lets me…”

Clearly communicated rules that are posted gives everyone the option to follow the rules on their own, just like everyone else. If they disobey the rules, they have made a choice, and then your fallback can be, “The rules are clear and are the same for everyone.” While they may still find the rules unfair, mean, etc., they also will have to take responsibility for their choice.

2)    Call a Family Meeting to Explain the Reasoning Behind the Rules

Often, kids really don’t know why a rule is a rule in the first place. After all, what’s the harm in staying up until 3 a.m. playing Halo 3?

Because you have an adult’s perspective and life experience, you know that adequate sleep is needed, too much gaming isn’t healthy, etc. When posting your rules, you can go over each one and explain the reason this has become a rule. Kids are sharp and they catch on—especially when they have reasonable explanations to work with.

3)    Maintain Consistency in Rule Enforcement

When you establish a house rule, make sure it’s something that holds true for everyone. Or else, be clear for whom the rule does not apply and why.

For example, if you stay up until 3 a.m. playing Halo 3, don’t think one of the kids won’t bring it up as “But you get to do it!” So if this is a rule for the 16 and under crowd, state it clearly, and why it is just for them.

One caveat for having rules not applying to some household members: if your biological children are in the house along with your stepchildren, be careful not to have two sets of rules that are divided by parentage. Maybe at your ex’s home, your kids are allowed to do something. If that influences what you do, then it has to be either a rule for all or not a rule at all. Otherwise, it creates resentment and bad feelings which does not lend itself to a harmonious home.

Let us know…

How do you enforce house rules?

Do you struggle with enforcement? If so, how and why?

What is the most common complaint about house rules that you hear from your kids and stepkids?

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