What are the rules, anyway?

Wednesday , June 18, 2014 - 12:00 AM

Utah Families

Do you know the rules of your household? Sounds like a silly question, but it is not meant to be.

We are continuously working through our family relationships based on rules. Some of these rules are spoken and some are not. Some of them are well understood but some are not.

As a pre-adolescent, I remember playing at a neighbor girl’s home. She was a few years older than I with a warm and welcoming personality. Together we made ourselves something to eat and in the process spilled food in the refrigerator. I recall being absolutely jolted when my friend got a dishcloth and asked me to hold the refrigerator door open while she cleaned up the spill. I just watched while she took care of the mess. I was speechless. Kids don’t clean the fridge. Or, at least that is what I thought the rule was.

It might be an enlightening exercise to sit down with your family, spend a little time, and talk about the family rules together. One of my favorite authors, Virginia Satir, suggested that this be done when everyone has an hour or two and can agree to talk about the rules — not whether they are good or right, or whether they are being followed or not, but what they are. She suggests appointing a scribe to write down the responses and then ask, “What are our current rules?” This meeting is held in the spirit of discovery and everyone’s input is welcome.

After the list is made ask each family member how they understand each rule and make comparisons. Sometimes everyone knows the rule, but they understand it differently. This little meeting then becomes an opportunity to communicate, clarify, and unify.

If the family can maintain the spirit of discovery it will be time consider another of your rules: The rule that identifies who makes the rules and who can change them. There is a lot of wisdom in Satir’s statement, “Rules are a very real part of the family’s structure and functioning. If the rules can be changed, family interaction can be changed.” I am not suggesting that existing family rules be tossed to the wind, but I am suggesting they be evaluated and discussed, and that family input be carefully considered. I am also suggesting that in nurturing families everyone’s viewpoint is valuable and rules with buy-in are functional.

What are the rules, anyway? I

think they are our version of the way to facilitate growth and safety and health and happiness.

In our families it might be a good idea to periodically ask questions like, “How do we feel about our rules? What are our rules accomplishing for us? Do the current rules fit? Are they up-to-date and do they facilitate rather than limit? Which rules could be discarded? What new rules do we want?”

These questions could be the subject of a number of follow-up family meetings. Satir asserts that in families where rules are overt, human, and up-to-date folks will most likely be having a ball; and, I would like to add that the kids will be cleaning up their own spills.

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