There are rules for everything – everything – everything! I can’t abide so many rules for so many things. I want to break some rules – I want to break out of the rules – I want to be free!
I can’t remember how many times I heard this (or similar) from my foster kids as they came to know my house and its rules. It didn’t take long, really, for them to learn that all those rules they railed against were a form of protection – but flexible, and useful, and enlightening.
The first thing they learn is the three unbreakable rules (I’m not going to say what they were because they belonged to us; needless to say, these three rules were inflexible), and that every rule on the list below those three could be manipulated – if the argument for doing so was good enough. And by argument, I don’t mean loud voices (the first loud voice argument is lost immediately – and that’s also something learned very quickly), I mean putting forward your reasoning, getting backup from other ‘powerful’ friends (the other kids), and putting up a balancing proposal.
What is this?
This little process is something I learned from my first foster teenager. He got so annoyed by my reference to all the unwritten rules I kept mentioning – after the fact – that he wrote up a list and hung it on the wall – and added to it each time one of the unwritten rules was spit out.
It was a long list, hung from the ceiling to the floor! We went through it and through it and through it and found the three rules I could not be flexible with – and created a new list. The new list had those three at the top, in red, thick and bold and clear. They were then sewn into a piece of upholstery material (a long piece) and that was tacked up on the wall (we moved a lot, had to be able to take it with us). Then the other rules went on.
These were written on paper and pinned to the ‘scroll’ of the main list in a place appropriate to the reasoning for its existence. Right down the bottom, about rule no. 311, was the one about always taking the shoes off at the door. I mean, who really cares that much about whether the kids take the shoes off before they come inside? But I did appreciate it, and the kid on the roster for cleaning the floors appreciated it, too.
And that’s how it worked.
If the rule had an impact on, or made their life easier, they found a way to live with it. If it needed to be put aside for a moment (a very good reason, that is) they brought it to the table (yes, the dinner table, post eating) to make their argument.
“I’d like to go to ‘this place’ but it’s a school night, so I propose to ‘do this in exchange’ and ask for a vote of support.”
If they got enough support (creates skills in negotiation, socialisation, politics, etc.), it passed, regardless of what I felt (I could always make a plea, couldn’t I?).
So you see, that’s how it works!
Of course, there’s a lot more to it than that, but the basic principles! And it only ever took one example in front of a newcomer for them to learn how to bend the rules! Oh, how I love to bend the rules!