Life by the Rules

Like your average ever-maturing human, I usually have to try something my own way before following the tried and true “recipe” that countless others have laid out online free for the taking. My stubbornness, surprise surprise, leads to a lot of wasted time and spent energy. Still, the older I get, the less I like “rules”. Accepting the rule of authority and the advice of so-called experts can feel staid and confining.

But after yet another night of dropping into bed mentally exhausted and on the verge of tears for AGAIN feeling like a failure as a parent, I decided it was time for hard-and-fast Family Rules that would be written down for all to see (and refer back to as needed, i.e., countless times on that very first day and beyond.)

After a poor night’s sleep, I called a family meeting first thing the next morning. I had already showed Tony the quick rules I’d brainstormed, and I was hoping he’d actively participate in our discussion. He did not. Even asking him leading questions in hopes that he’d pipe up was ineffective. He prefers to leave the talking to me, and sometimes that’s the worst thing in the world. He also insists everything will be OK, while I insist something’s got to change, so I research and brainstorm and pray and have anxiety and he sleeps peacefully.

I led the family meeting solo and explained the new Family Rules to a 5-year old who was more concerned about getting to help write on the big, enticing piece of cardboard. I felt demoralized and very much alone; nevertheless, I persevered.

Until later that day, when I cracked.

He was gone helping his dad, and Iris, who pushes me about a million times more than she pushes her dad, was in her second hour of nonstop crying, whining and fit-throwing. She had been quite sunshiny during our meeting about the new rules, writing out her own numbers with circles and insisting on helping me with at least one of my numbers.

But now, a few hours later, reality had set in.

Iris does NOT like the new rules. This picture, with her down-turned head and clenched fists, was taken after a particularly loud, whiny and tearful discussion – if you can call it that –  about Rule #4. “Mama’s and Papa’s answers are FINAL. Whining, crying or asking multiple times will result in loss of screen time.”

We had to include this rule because the begging and pleading when she doesn’t get what she wants about every big and tiny little issue has gotten completely out of hand. I am not wishy washy and rarely give-in, yet, she perseveres. (Where does she get it?)

I had already broken Rule # 1 (No Yelling) three times and I felt about ready to throw her out in the snow. Somehow, miracle of miracles, I managed to refrain.

Her chores for that day were to clean-up her room and she refused because “cleaning is boring” and because she didn’t like the new rules. I offered to help. After about 10 minutes, I was alone in her room doing the work while she played at something else in the other room. My frustration rose. It had already been at ugly-voice-tone and I was not keeping my cool.

A short time later, she walked in with a glass of ice-water which she set down and then spilled immediately while dancing and playing around.

That was the moment I cracked.

I know I shouldn’t have, but my patience was just GONE.

I screamed at her to run for a towel, and then …

I called her a name.

I called her a name that I would never let her say.

I said … god, this sucks to admit … I called her stupid girl.

There was obviously so much more to the whole day, the whole scene, the levels of frustration on both our parts. It was awful. We both burst into tears. I frantically apologized. I told her I didn’t mean it and that she was NOT stupid; she was wonderful and beautiful and smart. I told her I was the stupid one for saying something so awful to someone I love.

In the end we hugged long and tight, both still crying. And then somehow we were laughing and cleaning up spilled water and ice cubes together. She assured me that I wasn’t stupid and that I had only lost my “temperature.”

I hate that I lose it in front of her. I hate that sometimes she holds it all together and I don’t. I hate that I don’t follow the rules of mature, adult behavior and that she suffers as a result.

But, I love that we learn and grow as mother and daughter every day. I love that she sees my fallibilities and loves me no matter what. And I sorta love that the Family Rules will be just as much of a challenge for me as they will for her. Sorta.

I also LOVE that she doesn’t follow the rules of mature, adult behavior either.  Mostly, I love that she forgives my lost “temperature” faster than she spilled the water in the first place.

Yes, Iris wrote the number 5.



Author: Angle Full of Grace

A writer, woods-wanderer, and internal peace seeker who raises two free-range children in the wilderness, I escaped the wasteland of corporate America a few years back never to return. I write about love, family, mental health, addiction, parenthood and personal growth all through lens of place and connection to the land. Most entries are my weekly column for our local small-town newspaper, and there's an occasional feature story thrown in the mix as well.

One thought on “Life by the Rules”

  1. Parenting is without a doubt the hardest job in the world! Been there and worn the t-shirt with two boys and it’s tough. I used to think that I knew better than my own mother and her ways of doing things, turns out she was right all along … frustrating but true! Katie

    Liked by 1 person

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