One of the best pieces of advice I got as a new parent was: “children and pets both require sturdy fences.” Meaning, in order for them to understand their limitations, you must establish clear and consistent rules (or “fences”) for them to thrive within.
A few years later, I attended a parenting lecture on discipline, hosted by a local mother’s group, where I heard this mantra repeated. The speaker was Lynne Griffin, author of a popular parenting book, Negotiation Generation, and a firm believer in the power of “fences” for children. The wisdom Lynne espoused in her lecture inspired me enough to purchase her book and interested my husband enough to read it when I was done.
At the time, we were living in a well-heeled Boston suburb, where we regularly encountered children with sprawling kingdoms but few fences defining their boundaries. In quite a few cases we observed late-in-life parents, who doted on their children so excessively, who met their every wish so frequently, that the children were completely out of control. According to Griffin, enforcing just a few, consistent rules and erecting some fences could put these kids back in place. The book and Griffin’s message spoke to us.
Even though our daughter, was only two at the time, already we could see how she viewed the world: if you left the yarn dangling, she’d unravel the sweater.
Over the past six years, we’ve learned a lot from our daughter about the value of clearly defined boundaries, rules and expectations. To this day, she functions best when she knows what those parameters are. She’s a rule follower to the extreme and a rule enforcer to the max. It’s in her DNA.
My father wasn’t exactly strict but he had served in the military, where he acquired a high-demand for respect and certain rules were non-negotiable. My husband’s family is Chinese. His parents were strict and they still hold high expectations of how their adult-children should behave. Between my husband and me, we hold our children to fairly high standards too.
Aside from demanding general good manners—chew with your mouth closed, no elbows on the table, don’t talk while you’re chewing—we also have rules specific to our house: remove your shoes upon entry; potty-talk only in the bathroom; no using the words “hate,” “stupid” or other derogatory language; no TV on school days. We’re by no means extreme—certainly nothing compared to Amy Chua, author of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother—but our rules work for us.
When our children know what the rules are, when they have an idea of what our expectations will be, they function better. And, according to Lynne Griffin, it’s not just our children but all children.
I think for this reason, I have experienced very few major temper tantrums and little questioning of our authority (though we have yet to live trough the teen years). I’d like to think it’s because we have been so unfaltering in our rules. But it’s possible temperament also plays a role in these things.
In addition, we also require our children to take responsibility for themselves, to contribute to the household by doing small tasks like making their own beds, helping to set and clear the table, cleaning up after themselves, and folding simple laundry items. We require this now because, though they are only 3 and 6, these are habits we hope will stick for life.
When I went away to school—both as a young teenager and again as a college student—I was surprised by some students’ inability to manage themselves. Some couldn’t boil an egg, others had never done their own laundry and a few had never been expected to pick up after themselves.
My goal as a parent is to turn my children out into the world as capable, responsible and law-abiding citizens. The foundation for these characteristics is primarily our home but secondarily our community.
From the start of humanity, child-rearing has always been the responsibility of an entire clan, a whole village, a community. I firmly believe that trusted adults (neighbors, teachers, civic leaders) should be able to help mold and guide our children in a supplemental way.
After all, none of us, as parents, have received any formal training beyond being kids ourselves once; and lets face it, who was paying attention back then?
I am thankful I have established sturdy fences that my kids can rely on. That, at least in this stage of their lives, they know not to push too hard on those fences because they’re not yet ready for the world that lies beyond. But one day soon, when they are ready to test their boundaries and venture past our gate, I hope they’ll find themselves in a community that still cares enough to help guide them and that they’ll continue to respect the many other fences they encounter along the way.
Where do you stand on rule enforcement in your house? Do you think kids these days have too much authority and not enough clear boundaries? Do you believe that trusted adults should be able to guide your children on their paths?
This is an original post to World Moms Blog from our Senior Editor, Kyla P’an. Kyla occasionally can be found musing on her own blog, Growing Muses but more frequently, can be found herding her two kids behind their sturdy and reliable white, picket fence in hardy New England.
The photograph used in this post is credited to Oakley Originals. It carries Flickr Creative Commons attribution license.