Every family that wants to have even a chance of running smoothly and of raising orderly and respectful children needs a set of family rules.
When we think about it, the "obedience" we all want to teach our children is not so much obedience to us, but obedience to laws.
With hindsight, we can see that our own first efforts to set up family laws were rather comical. As young parents with our three young children, we tried to create a list of family rules by nomination (I think, back then, we still thought a family was a democracy!). The kids chimed in with everything from "don't hit anyone" to "never plug in plugs — you could get shocked."
We dutifully listed every one on a big chart and we soon had 37 "family rules." No one really remembered them or paid much attention to them, and one day our 7-year-old complained, "Dad, even in the Bible there's only 10 rules!"
Over the years we figured it out. We needed a small number of very simple rules, each with a clear consequence for breaking it but with a provision for repentance by which apologetic children could avoid the consequence or penalty. It finally came down to five one-worders:
Peace: Or you sit on the "repenting bench" with the other "fighter" until you can say what you did wrong — "it takes two to tangle" — and give the other kid a hug and ask him to forgive you.
Respect: Or we'll start over until you get it right and give a respectful answer.
Order: Get your room straight or face the penalty that you can't go anywhere until you clean it up.
Asking: We want to always know where you are, so if you forget to ask, the next time you want to go somewhere the answer will be no (also applies to curfews).
Obedience: You can ask why and your parent will try to tell you, and possibly even reconsider, but only ask why once and then obey. Remember, someday you'll be the parent.
Looking back now, over 25 years of trying to establish and live these five family laws, we find that some of our most cherished memories are wrapped up in them (from heated curfew discussions to everyone pitching in to help a child get his room cleaned up so he could go out without breaking a law).
Family laws need regular discussion and recommitment. Setting them up in the first place needs to be a highly communicative process. Kids need to understand that the purposes of laws are safety and happiness and that they show an increase, not a decrease, of trust and of love.
Laws and rules — lovingly set, explained and implemented — provide children with security and with a clear manifestation of a parent's love and concern. (We actually like the term "laws" better than "rules." It sounds less dictatorial and arbitrary, and lends itself to good comparisons.)
Emphasize repeatedly that laws are about safety and happiness in living together. Compare your family laws to traffic laws, to civic laws, to the laws of our country. Tell your children that laws show our love and concern for one another and show our desire to have a good, orderly family in which the family members care for one another and respect each other.
New York Times No. 1 best-selling authors Richard and Linda Eyre are the parents of nine children and, by coincidence, the authors of nine internationally distributed parenting and life-balance books. They lecture throughout the world on family related topics. Their new book "5 Spiritual Solutions for Everyday Parenting Challenges" will be released this coming March. Visit the Eyres anytime at www.TheEyres.com or www.joyschools.com, and read their blog at www.deseretnews.com. The Eyres will also be talking about Family Laws this Wednesday on KSL's Studio 5.