Family rules

Nov 17, 2008

Writing in the New Yorker, Joan Acocella reviews recent literature about ‘overparenting’ (The Child Trap, Nov. 17, 2008):

This used to be known as “spoiling.” Now it is called “overparenting”—or “helicopter parenting” or “hothouse parenting” or “death-grip parenting.” The term has changed because the pattern has changed. It still includes spoiling—no rules, many toys—but two other, complicating factors have been added. One is anxiety. Will the child be permanently affected by the fate of the hamster? Did he touch the corpse, and get a germ? The other new element—at odds, it seems, with such solicitude—is achievement pressure.

I’ve been noticing part of this — the way parents of young children ask the children what they want to do, where they want to go, what they want to eat. Overparenting seems actually to be an abdication of authority.

Granted, a few months ago Erin and I asked the girls what rules should go up on the wall of our dining area. The summer had left us all harried and on edge, and we decided we needed family rules to help us all settle into the routines of school and jobs. So now we have these:

  • Listen.
  • Wake up happy.
  • Only use kind words.
  • Set out clothes at night & get dressed without complaining.
  • Do not whine.
  • No fussing.
  • No yelling.
  • Make your bed.
  • Stay in your seat at the table.
  • Wait until the other person is done talking until you talk.
  • Use nice manners.
  • Sleep in your own bed.

Yesterday, my Duke Medicine colleagues gathered around our dining table — my team has accomplished so much with Inside Duke Medicine and Inside Online, and I invited them to share a Thanksgiving meal to celebrate their hard work.

The family rules were still on the wall, and I was proud to explain why we had the list, and delighted that Anna and Malia were calm and polite. Balanced parenting is what we strive for in this house.

Anton Zuiker

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