I am JK. I have 5 children. I write parenting books and articles. And here’s my rule for parenting:
Have very, very few rules.
Don’t confuse children with a long list of do’s and don’t’s, to the extent that they dare not fart without your permission, get confused as to whether it is OK to eat ice cream at 6am or think they’re growing up in a correction unit for criminals.
Don’t nag children either about homework, dietary choices, bedtimes, etc, because they will develop selective hearing, i.e. they will perfect a mechanism for tuning you out very effectively.
Moreover, the longterm effect of nagging is it makes you sound and look like an old hag.
For my headstrong, impatient and extremely wilful youngest child, I only have three rules:
- Church every Sunday.
- Score goals on the football pitch.
- Learn Chemistry MY way.
This is the logic behind these three (only three) rules:
- Church because it is about being part of a community. My daughter is leads a privileged life, and she has to learn to be on equal terms with children whose parents do not own cars and who and to walk for miles to school. She needs to spend Sunday chilling out and “doing nothing tangibly useful”. This “going to church” rule is also about teaching her to believe in something beyond self, to wonder and to question, more so than indoctrinating her with specific religion.
- Scoring goals on the football pitch teaches her about commitment, hard work and dedication. And a certain amount of physical fearlessness (which translates into confidence). It is also about being outdoors, lots of exercise, learning how to get on with her peers and the thrill of winning.
- Many friends chide me for being a tiger mum when it comes to teaching my child chemistry. Oh dear friends, please understand that it is not about the marks (I know she will exceed her university requirements) but the process. One must learn how to obey before one can lead. Chemistry seems to push all her buttons….and mine, too, unfortunately. So we circle each other like a couple of warring hellcats, but we will get there in the end, battle-scarred and hopefully wiser as individuals and closer as mother-and-daughter: it has been said that the most challenging thing about parenting is being patient to a smaller version of impatient you. It is weird but in the last two years or so, we learn to find our way to each other’s hearts and about life though our shared, and sometimes contentious, journey in chemistry.
Note: hell breaks loose if any of these three (only three) rules are breached. But touch wood, I have a high level of compliance because my children know they have a good deal. Only three rules!
PS: I just removed the three previous rules: no bullying, no rudeness and healthy eating. She proficient in these three now. So yes, she started with six rules, down to three, and zero when she turns 18. That’s how it works in our family….easy, right?