by Tara Eisenhard~ Divorce changes everything. For a child, parents alter their roles and sometimes their personalities. One home becomes two, and the parental expectations might change from house to house.
Divorced parents often stress about maintaining consistency of behavioral standards throughout the two households, but the truth is that children are used to following different sets of rules for different places. Personal conduct at the community swimming pool is different than school, home, church and even Grandma’s house. If Mom and Dad prefer to set varying boundaries, their children will likely adapt in a positive manner.
The key to making this new adjustment a favorable experience is to include all household members in the process. This gives everyone an opportunity to listen and be heard. Collaborating in such a manner also affords each individual a sense of empowerment and ownership in the process.
Following are three steps to help determine your unique set of rules.
Brainstorm. This is the easy part, and it’s engaging for everyone. Start a list on paper, or a large whiteboard if you have one, and allow all participants to shout out ideas while one person records each suggestion. If more structure is needed, you can go around in a circle and give everyone a turn to talk. In this stage of the process, there are no wrong answers and no debate is allowed. Write down everything that’s said and encourage the kids for their participation. Don’t stop until the crowd loses enthusiasm.
Discuss, Negotiate and Narrow the list. As you review and talk through each item, you’ll find some similarities, as well as suggestions that won’t apply within the natural scope of family activity. For some topics, additional discussion and negotiation will be necessary. When you’re cutting and combining items from the list, try to leave at least one suggestion from each family member. As rules are added to the final list, be sure to congratulate the family member who originally proposed the idea. Depending on the discipline structure in your family, you might want to assign a rating system and/or a corresponding punishment for violation of each rule.
Compose a Contract. When everyone has agreed on a final list of rules, type it up to make it official. A few graphics can also add a nice touch. Include a signature section to the bottom so each person has a chance to sign, agreeing that following the rules will contribute to a happy and healthy home. Frame the document and display it in a common area of the house where all can see it.
One note about the headline of your final contract: be sure to pick a title that resonates with everyone in the home. The phrase “Family Rules” is warm and inclusive, so long as you aren’t working in a newly blended family where step-relatives are still unsure of each other. The generic standard “House Rules” could be more appropriate in certain circumstances, or you might want to incorporate words like “tribe” or “team.”
The document should be reviewed as a group and updated as needed whenever you move or if new people enter or leave the household. If no major changes take place, it’s still a good idea to revisit the contract on an annual basis to be sure all the items are still relevant.
If approached with compassion and consideration, the process of determining rules for your home can enhance children’s sense of value and control during an uncertain time. And by making the activity an enjoyable and engaging experience for everyone involved, it’s possible the kids will even be more likely to follow the guidelines you set.