The Rule Book


Rule: noun: from Middle English rule, from Old French riule, from Vulgar Latin regula (“straight stick, bar, ruler, pattern”), from regere (“to keep straight, direct, govern, rule”); see regent.verb: from Middle English rulen, from Old French riuler, from Latin regulare (“to regulate, rule”), from regula (“a rule”); see regular.

Rules, we all have them and mostly we all try and live by them. I am an absolute stickler for them. I cannot, try as I might break them and am filled with a sense of dread if I even attempt to. If a sign says ‘No Entry’ then there is nothing, not even a massive box of calorie free chocolate on the other side, that will make me enter! (although I would think about it)

Parenting for me has it’s own set of rules (instinctive ones of course!!) but also some black and white ones that my family and I all abide by. ‘Treat others how you would like to be treated yourself.’ is one. ‘Work hard, play hard.’ another. More ideals and life philosophies than rules I guess.

And there is no place where rules are more enforced than ever, than in a school. A few months ago I went to a parents evening at my daughter’s school, and on chatting to her form tutor for a mere 15 minutes it was clear that my 11 year daughter was breaking quite a few of their rules. She was being rude to others, not handing in her homework and had got a couple of detentions in a couple of weeks. I was mortified. There has always been two sides to my daughter, she’s a Gemini and we’ve often said she has a good side, and a not so good side, and clearly the latter was rearing it’s ugly head more than the norm (if there is one!) for a pre-teen. Interestingly the form tutor’s advice was for me to be stricter with her. It was a moment when I had to do a bit of self reflection. My fiery red-headed daughter had always pushed boundaries with her fantastically outgoing and vivacious personality, and she’d always needed clear boundaries setting. However in the last year, with the birth of my third child and PND I had to admit that these boundaries had lapsed somewhat. It was easier for me to pick up rubbish she left in the lounge than have to have yet another argument about her doing it herself. It was easy for me to say yes to her having the laptop in her room at bedtime than have a battle to get her to go to bed. I’m not proud of my lack of ‘structured’ parenting, but I will admit to it and be honest about it. I had taken the easy route. I felt awful that she’d seen me so ill, felt terrible that she was old enough to know what was going on and that she’d had to comfort me on many an occasion. So, if I could keep her happy in other ways I guess I had felt I was making up for some of that. But now, the lack of boundaries was coming back to bite us both on the ass.

We came home, both of us very upset. There had been so many arguments and battles between us over the last few months, but for once after what the tutor had said, we were both speechless. I felt I had completely let her down and mother’s guilt kicked in with full force. She went to bed and I tortured myself with guilt and fears of being a terrible mother. My daughter and I had done a ‘love bombing’ day a few weeks previous to this which, although wonderful, hadn’t fully solved the issues and as soon as we returned home from our day out, try as we might not to let it happen, the arguments, resentment and frustrations returned. So we needed something new. I thought about what the form tutor had said and wondered how my daughter felt about it. We sat down and discussed what we were going to do, as our situation was affecting so many people. My daughter said she wanted rules. She said she wanted to know exactly where she stood and what she was and wasn’t allowed to do. I asked her how she would like this to be done and she decided on a rule book. We went to Paperchase and bought a massive coloured notebook, and some stickers. (and I may or may not have also purchased several smaller notebooks for me, but we won’t focus on that) We came home and together thought of what we both expected of each other. Each page was written with a rule, and a consequence if that rule was broken. Things like ‘all electronic equipment switched off by 8.30pm,’ ‘make your bed every morning,’ and ‘tidy up after yourself,’ were recorded and agreed. She wanted to sign every page to show she was committed to it. And I had rules too!

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It’s strange, but after the book had been written and the rules were in place she changed. She looked happier, lighter. Without being asked she started following them, and was actually found singing as she tidied up! Upon asking her where this lovely good mood had come from she simply said that she felt a weight had been lifted from her shoulders and that she felt so much happier knowing exactly where she stood. She said writing that book had been a relief, and she was so happy we were working as a team to improve our relationship and her attitude. Over the next few weeks we looked at the book every evening and either stuck in a sticker (again her idea!) if she had stuck to it, or put a warning cross if something hadn’t gone quite right. Soon, as the weeks went by we needed to look at the book less and less and now, it’s hardly referred to at all.

The real test (and subsequent #magicmoment!) came last Thursday. It was her end of Year 7 parents evening. A two hour extravaganza where I would meet every single one of her teachers. I was nervous, she was nervous. The proof, as they say, was going to be in the parent-teacher conference pudding. And it was the sweetest, most delicious pudding I had ever eaten. Phrases like, ‘wonderfully polite, ‘ ‘an absolute pleasure to teach,’ ”a fantastic team player,’ and ‘such an amazing attitude to school and learning,’ were said…about my daughter! She was praised for her perseverance, for her thoughtfulness, her kindness and determination. Together we discovered how truly amazing she is, and I have never been so proud to be her mother. She swelled with pride with every conversation and at the end of the two hours we were laughing and smiling and high-fiving (not cool for a grown woman I know!) all over the place. She was so proud of herself and everything she had achieved. And I had learnt to listen to her needs more, she needed rules and boundaries not my misplaced attempts at making her feel loved to try and ease my PND guilt.

Now, I’m not naive enough to think that my daughter will forever be this polite, hard working and well behaved, she is about to become a teenager in the not so distant future after all, but I do hope that this wonderful phase continues and that it installs in her an innate sense of motivation and desire to work hard and succeed. She set her own rules and stuck to them. She excelled herself and turned it around. That parents evening was a truly wonderful #magicmoment. We celebrated in style with a lovely mother/daughter dinner, something we have vowed to do at least once a week, just the two of us. She’s an amazing child, and I think she is finally beginning to realise that herself!

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