Is it possible to live in a large family without having rules?
It surely is, though there’s really no point to it because the chaos it brings does more damage than a couple of unruly ground rules.
A few months ago I was surprised to hear one of my acquaintances remark on how amused he/she was by the degree of order we had in our life. I secretly looked around, trying to make sure that he/she was talking to me because frankly, I see a lot of things in our life, but order is not one of them.
Then, after she enquired about how an average day in our life looks like, I realised that I’m in fact governing our family’s life according to some well-defined rules and however old-fashioned my standpoint may seem, it’s quite possible that without these I would not be able to perform all the duties that go with the rank of captain of the family. Our life – complicated and sometimes inextricable as it is – would become even more tangled. For a fleeting moment I imagined a situation where all members of the family would do whatever and whenever they wanted to… never have I shood a notion away so quickly.
Nowadays everything revolves around one’s children and their needs. There’s so many diffent ways to bring up children that we can barely count them. The online world is flooded with – often completely contradictory – pieces of advice and everyone is busy trying to comply with some of them, for fear they do something wrong that damages both their children and them. I tend to think that the real problem occurs if we switch the roles and give up rules because we are afraid to confront our children and to tell them that we are the grownups and the quality of their adult lives greatly depends on us, even if our stricktness now strikes them as unfair.
It is mostly BigBoy and BigGirl who are at the recieving end of these rules. They are the ones who are showing example (both good and bad) to MiddleOne and Fourth, and LittleOne is… well, the Dictator. Right now it is his/her biorhythm that shapes the rules of our daily lives. This is what make these rules unruly: though their core content rarely varies, they are constantly adjusted according to the current central figure.
I’m not driven by narrow-mindedness or the need to exercise my authority when I’m making up these rules, instead I’m trying to provide a liveable environment for my children and ourselves while making the boundaries as wide as possible.
How does it work in practice? There’s no democracy when it comes to choosing food. I’m not cooking different meals for all five, they could always find something about it that they don’t like. Food is there for us to eat it. There are seven days in a week, each day I would make something especially for one of them and the rest of them will eat it or stay hungry.
Common activities are c-o-m-m-o-n, even if one of them finds them boring. So could we, but we can’t always make all of them equally happy, considering we are a large family. Naturally, it isn’t always the smallest we are aiming to please, but they are the bottleneck. Going to a museum might be interesting for the eldest ones, but it’s less engaging for the three smaller ones and it’s usually the path of least resistance I am taking. One could of course complain about this, but there wouldn’t be much a point.
It is quite difficult to convince LittleOne not to take paintings off the walls at exhibitions, so when the smaller ones are playing in a playground, BigBoy and BigGirl would read a book (or look visibly bored, or maybe give in and join the game on the level of their younger siblings) while waiting for them to finish, which is – quite frankly – a lot safer than stealing pictures.
Someone with a single child can allow themselves the luxury of letting their child leave his toys lying around at the end of the day, given that he’ll probably use the same ones the day after and they probably don’t take up much space either. The same thing would simply be impossible with five children without finding ourselves standing ankle-deep in LEGO and the likes. I’m really ruthless about this: any toy that doesn’t find its way back where it belongs gets taken away for a while because a bad example sticks, more so than a good one (who gets this?). Putting their toys away after they’re done using them is the children’s task, and I only care about the results, not about who took them out and failed to put them back.
Silence is a precious asset in our family, therefore there’s silence during nap time in the afternoon. Those who can’t be silent must sleep and those who can don’t have to. Lo and behold, it works and they can keep themselves occupied in silence, all they need is sufficient motivation.
To tell the truth, I don’t really care about the preachings in parenting books about rules becoming obsolete, only if their author has at least four children or is willing to spend a day with me in the firing line and admits that the advice given in these books becomes less and less useable with the number of children increasing. All the idealistic recommendations are worth just as much as they are applicable to a family with five kids. And with all due respect, there’s very little literature with useable information out there, while the rules I enforce in our family keep it going without causing anyone any psychological damage, and without these I would’ve long given up.