All kids, whether they know it or not, need boundaries. Just as society needs rules and laws, you need to know what’s appropriate behavior and what’s not. Boundaries give us a sense of order that allow us the security to know where we stand. It’s also helpful to know what the consequences will be if we step out of line. Though you’ll discover these boundaries by osmosis living with us, I wanted you to know upfront what’s not ok and what it is you’ll get in s*&# for. I have yet to decide on the consequences. I have no real point of reference, as I didn’t really need them growing up. I was, as my friend Jeanette once told Granny and Granddad, “A parent’s wet dream”. That’s not to say I was a church mouse. I had a great time, but I was always honest about what I was doing and who I was doing it with. I followed the rules, did well in school, and didn’t do anything to disrespect the faith or trust my parents had in me. Your father on the other hand was a delinquent-in-training until high school, so, you could go either way. Though we both agree that taking after me in this department is better for everybody…
From where I stand now, these are your perimeters. You will get in trouble for the following:
Mouthing off and generally being a brat. I expect you to be respectful and polite. You will speak to your father and me with courtesy no matter how much we’re bugging you. I’m not saying you can’t lash out, or ever say things you don’t mean. That’s bound to happen. I’m just saying, that kind of behavior is not acceptable and when, and if, it happens, I want you to know it’s not ok, and you will be expected to apologize. This rule applies to any authority figure (though I would advise you to avoid mouthing off to your peers too). I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the world opens for people with manners. Have them, use them, and you’ll not only be liked and respected, you won’t have to hear me lecturing to you on your behavior. You and I have an ongoing conversation right now that goes something like this:
Me: What kind of boy do you want to be?
You: A nice boy.
Me: Not a…
You: Whiney boy.
Me: Or a…
You: Bratty boy.
Bratty is not ok. Bratty, expectant behavior is unacceptable. We, your family, plan to sacrifice a lot to give you all the opportunities we can. Acting like a spoiled, sullen, overindulged child will not be tolerated. Neither will being disrespectful of people or things.
Never destroy anything purposely or for kicks. People work hard for the things they have, and those things have value. Right now if you break something you have a tendency to say “We’ll just get a new one ok, Mommy?” and I have to explain that’s not always the case. You have to respect your things – and most definitely someone else’s – and it’s not as simple as just buying more. Help clean if you made a mess. Listen to the rules as they’re given. Take care of your stuff. Take care of other’s stuff. If a friend says don’t touch something, don’t touch it. If you break it, fix, or when you’re older, offer to pay for, it. Learn that there are consequences to your actions and work within those perimeters.
Bullying. Never be cruel or mean to anyone, ever. Remember the Golden Rule. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. I was bullied as a child and it was awful. I remember those days, and feelings clearly, even now. Don’t be part of someone’s bad memories.
Lying. It’s not necessary and not worth it. I love you. Dad loves you. Anything you say, think, or feel is ok. Don’t lie. Don’t feel you have to lie. The truth is always the better choice. Plus, you don’t get confused and caught up in your story. Whatever’s happened we’ll work through it. Just don’t lie about it. The truth always comes out in the end. Don’t mess with the trust we have in you. It’s not worth it. The only time lying is ok is when you do it by omission in order to spare someone’s feelings. This is what is commonly referred to as a “white lie”. “Do you like my dress?” She’s already wearing it and has no chance to change? You say “You look great” . Someone asks, “Did you like the show?” and it was 3 1/2 hours of pertenscious BS, you say, “Yeah, I can’t believe how cohesive the cast was…” or, “The sets were incredible.” or what they really want to hear, “You were amazing in it!” Pick something that is actually true and say that. Just never say something you don’t believe or won’t do. Be someone who’s word means something.
Stealing is unacceptable, and I hope you know that without my saying it. Granddad tells a story of the one and only time he stole. He took a comic book from the General Store, got home and felt so bad about stealing it, he couldn’t read it. He told his parents and had to go back to the store, return the comic and apologize to the shop owner. I can only imagine that feeling. I’m the kind of person that tells waiters they left things off my bill, or if I’ve been given the incorrect change in my favor. Your Dad will tell you a story of how he once got caught shoplifting a Playboy. He panicked and ran, but because he lived on a US Military base in Japan, everybody knew everybody and later that day the MP’s came to his house and took him in. He’ll tell you he was overwhelmed by embarrassment because of what he’d done – and what he’d stolen – but mostly he was scared. Scared of what they’d do, or what the repercussions would be. When all was said and done Grandpa took him home and he went straight to bed. The next morning he felt like he couldn’t leave his room. He was too ashamed. Finally Grandpa came upstairs and instead of grounding him or yelling, he simply said, “If you ever need anything, come to me first. We’ll see what we can do.” He proceeded to tell Dad he loved him and then sent him outside to be with his friends. Dad had learned his lesson, and Grandpa, in his infinite wisdom, didn’t feel the need to rub it in. Frankly, I’m not sure I’d be quite as forgiving, but the point is, you don’t take things that aren’t yours. Good people don’t do that. And you are a good person.
Cheating is tough. More and more kids do it every day. I never would have dreamed of cheating, but I was a goody goody and it was a different time. The thing about cheating, as cliche as it sounds, is you’re truly only cheating yourself. It’s the easy ride. If you don’t learn it, then you get nothing out of it. If you don’t do the work, you don’t deserve the grade, and you’ll only have to cheat again to keep up with what you don’t know. Cheating only leads to more cheating. This goes for sports, games and work too. There is nothing worse than being in a situation where you’re in over your head. If you got there by less than honest means, you don’t deserve to be there, and you know it. No matter how many accolades you get you’ll never feel worthy. It’ll breed insecurity and make you act even less authentic. You’ll eventually lose yourself completely to your own dishonesty. Just buckle down, make the effort and do the work. It takes more time and energy but trust me, it’s worth it.
Doing Drugs. Drugs are illegal. If you get caught with drugs it can screw up your life. If you do the wrong drug it can take your life. Take my advice from The Importance of Safety and really limit, if not avoid, drugs altogether. They are so prevalent for young people now. When I was in high school I knew a couple people who smoked pot, but that was it. I didn’t even try it till University and it made me either neurotic or starving. Both pretty harmless reactions but, you can definitely do too much. One summer I smoked pot pretty regularly as a source of recreation with a boyfriend. We had some very laid back, goofy fun, but by August I was both fatter and dumber. I literally found myself struggling to find the right word for things a LOT. I might not have been stupider, but I was definitely slower, and it was a bad feeling. I stopped right away and didn’t go back. Look, between you and me I think marijuana should be legal, both medicinally and recreationally. I think it is no worse for you than drinking, and if it was monitored and controlled by the government the way alcohol is, I think we’d have way less bogus arrests, court appearances and clogging of jails. Public funds could be allocated to something more serious and we could put more truly “bad guys” behind bars. But that’s just me. The other drugs out there I can’t really speak to, aside from saying don’t do them. Seriously. Don’t. Do. Them. Drugs made in a lab can kill you in a hot second, and nothing is ever as good as the initial high. You can chase that feeling for the rest of your life. Don’t waste your time. Find another vice.
I’m not going to get on you for drinking. I’m not saying do it, I’m just saying be responsible with your choices and respectful of your body and situation. But, if that’s what your friends are doing – providing you do it in moderation and a safe environment – you won’t be in trouble for it. Drinking can be fun, but it can also make you do really stupid things, and it can get you really sick. You don’t need booze to have fun. Truly. I hope you’ll learn to respect alcohol in our house so that it won’t be such a big deal when you do start drinking. Being Canadian, with a drinking age of 19 in Ontario and 18 in Quebec, drinking starts a lot earlier than in the US. I personally believe the US drinking age is too high. 21 seems crazy in today’s world. If you can go to war and vote for your leaders by 18, I think you should be able to have a glass of wine. Most of my pals started drinking in Grade 7. I didn’t start until Grade 9 . In retrospect, both seem a bit young, but it was normal to us. That being said, it took me a while to understand how to properly handle it. Many of my peers weren’t as lucky, and found themselves with serious alcoholic tendencies by the time they were in University – Drinking only to get wasted. Drinking until they blacked out. Not knowing how to function socially without drinking. Turning into a different person when they drank – By my mid-20’s I had at least 3 friends in AA. Drinking can be a good time, but if you abuse it you can find yourself down a rabbit hole you can’t control, and your best possible solution is to stop drinking forever. I admire my friends that said, “no more” to their destructive behavior, but I can’t help but feel it’s kinda sad they can no longer enjoy a glass of bubbly on New Year’s Eve, or a cocktail in a bar. Seek to control your drinking lest it control you. I actually think the Europeans have it down. You must be 18 to buy spirits over 16.5% but adults can purchase for minors. Beer at 4.5-8% is fine before you’re 18. Alcohol is simply part of the culture, and I’m of the opinion that learning to drink earlier – in the safety of your home – allows you to better control and maintain yourself when you do turn 18, and can drink anything at any time. I believe when you make things taboo, and force people to do things in secret, it makes it worse. I think that’s why American kids tend to handle drinking so poorly. No one taught them differently, and when they turn 21 they just go crazy. I’m hoping to avoid that. We’ll just pretend our house is France. You don’t often see Parisian kids puking their guts out on the street. I told my parents when my friends started drinking, and then when I did. They chose not to punish me, but to educate me on how to handle drinking with some sense of decorum. They also gave me taxi chits to get me home from parties and keep me safe. So, aside from a handful nights where I truly over indulged, and there were some blotto nights, for the most part I’ve had a healthy respect for alcohol my whole life. I also have seen what a drinking problem can do to a family and I have no interest in going there.
As a side note on drinking, you will not get out of things you’re expected to do if you are hung over. That is not a legitimate excuse. So if you have something to do the next day, keep that in mind the night before. I’m cool. I’m not that cool.
Finally, no drinking and driving ever. Ever. There is no flexibility on this. Not only can you be arrested and have it on your permanent record, it can KILL YOU, or someone else. Life is truly precious. You don’t F around with life.
Smoking is a big one for me. I know kids smoke and 5 years ago I would have advised you not to get into the habit because it’s expensive and gross and bad for your teeth and lungs. But now, having been diagnosed with a lung disease, and living with compromised lungs, I can’t be more adamant about this. Don’t smoke. Period. You’ve been born with perfect, healthy lungs and to f*@# them up deliberately is to spit on everything I’m dealing with. Having a lung disease is horrendous. Not being able to breathe properly, needing oxygen, not being able to walk up stairs or carry your own child, having to shower with the bathroom door open because the steam makes it too hard to take a deep breath, these are all things you don’t want. I didn’t get PH from smoking. My minimal social smoking – which I never really mastered or liked – was not the cause of my disease. But if I had been a smoker, my diagnosis and response to the disease would be way less rosy. Keep your lungs healthy and I’ll continue to pray that my disease isn’t genetic. Deal?
Being Lazy. I was at Subway the other day getting a sandwich and there was a teenage boy there with his Mom, Granny and sister. They waited in line while he sat like a blob at a table. I’d love to say he was saving seats for his family, but I can’t. There were plenty of tables. He sat there and deep sighed, put his head on the table, and generally acted like everything was just the biggest burden. Answering his family’s questions on type of cheese or bread he wanted was like a horror show for him. Groan, “Provolone!” Sigh. I was one step away from telling him to get his a#@ up and stop being such a tool. I’ve got no time for lazy dude. I’m not talking about sleeping in on the weekends, or bumming around at the cottage in the summer. I’m talking about just not bothering. Not making an effort. One of my biggest pet peeves with you right now is you say “I can’t” a lot. I don’t mind helping you, but most of the time when you say “I can’t”, you really mean, “I don’t want to” or “I won’t”. That’s annoying when your 4 but if you’re 14 or 24, it’s pathetic. You get out what you put in. Right now, you’re always so proud – and a little surprised I think – when you complete something without me. You fight it like hell – say putting away your toys, or getting dressed on your own – but when you finish, you look at me like hey….wow. I think that feeling follows you right through life. There’s pride in a job well done. Pleasure in a sense of completion. Get to the gym. Look for the better job. Do a better job. Work at your relationship or get a new girlfriend. A little more effort adds up to a lot more life. I’ll be all over you if you’re lazy. It’s so lame.
You know what else is lame? Being a Bad Sport. Being a bad loser or a bad winner. The guy who decides not to dress up for the costume party, or refuses to play the game everyone is playing. Play the game. Wear the costume. Put on the tie. Shake the winner’s hand. Buck up. Put a smile on your face and have a good time. Don’t be the putz that’s too cool or the a-hole who rubs his greatness in everyone’s face.
Not Asking. We’ll want you to always ask our permission. We’ll do this not to control your life, but so we can help you navigate it. You want to have a party? Ask. Want to stay out late? Ask. Want to go to someone’s house after school? Just ask. We want to know where you are. We want to know you’re safe. We want you to make smart decisions that won’t mess around with the bigger picture that maybe only we can see right now. We aren’t trying to jack up your fun. Don’t treat us like we are. Just ask.
Be cool. Don’t be a punk. Use your manners and your head when making decisions. Remember, you are building the person you want to be. Start with a good foundation. I want people to say, that Lochlan is a nice kid, let’s have him over again, or honor him with that award, or give him that promotion. A*^holes might sometimes get those things too, but trust me, people wished they didn’t.
I love you baby. Choose wisely.
I agree with much of this, and think a lot of it was taught to me by my parents, though not as clearly as you write it here.
Having been in Europe for a year and a half, though, I need to comment on what I see as a North American myth about Europe “getting” alcohol. I’m admittedly in Central Europe, so that is what I have the most experience with. In the countries of Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and likely also Hungary and Ukraine, the laws about who can buy alcohol(age 18 here) are pretty much there for show. Anyone can buy virtually anything from anywhere without any proof of ID; if you look like you might be 16, you’re good to go. And even younger kids can go to wine festivals in the spring and fall and get whatever they like, straight from the vineyards. The problem of underage drinking is increasing across Western Europe and Great Britain as well, fueled by the fact that beer is literally cheaper than water in many restaurants and grocery stores.
Additionally, some studies have shown that kids who are allowed to drink a little at home, before they are of age, have no fewer instances of alcohol problems than those who are not allowed to drink at home before they’re of age.
I’m someone who doesn’t drink, and never has, for some of the reasons you mention, like its ability to control your feelings and make people feel dependent, even long before they are ‘alcoholics’ by most people’s definition. I don’t expect everyone to make that choice, or think they need to, and I agree with what you say here, I just felt the need to add my own experiences. While alcohol doesn’t have to be destructive, I think society has largely forgotten how to do it safely.
I have to disagree with you on the alcohol point. 21 is the set age here in the US for very scientific reasons. Obviously, it’s not followed very closely, but it should be. The developing brain is not ready to fully handle and process alcohol until over the age of 20 (at least0, and therefor by consuming alcohol, especially on a regular basis, one is limited their own brain abilities by stopping the developmental process short. It’s not about at what age are we responsible enough, but at what age are we biologically developed enough, which is something we have no real control over.
Very interesting post as always. Only thing I take a different tack on is your section on lying. Most specifically your indication that is it OK to tell “white lies”. I used to agree until I read a little book available on Amazon titled, “Lying” by Sam Harris. He has a chapter devoted to white lies, and even specifically addresses your example of “Do I look good in that dress?”
I felt it was OK to do this to spare others feelings, but Sam makes excellent points. He says it best, so I will quote him. “When we presume to lie for the benefit of others, we have decided that WE are the best judges of how much they should understand about their own lives–about how they appear, their reputations, or their prospects in the world.This is an extraordinary stance to adopt toward other human beings, and it requires justification. Unless someone is suicidal or otherwise on the brink, deciding how much he can know about himself seems the qunitessence of arrogance. What attitude could be more disrespectful of those we care about?”
This information is couched in a wonderful analysis of the impact of lying. It is a very short read and I would recommend it for anyone as it changed my view of lying in what are “socially acceptable” circumstances to one of an all out goal of never lying to anyone about anything. I’d encourage you giving it a read and you might find you edit your recommandation to your son and to other’s over time. Your suggestion to offer some point of truth, I agree with. Again I provide Sam’s final statements as my closing:
“Lying is, almost by definition, a refusal to cooperate with others. It condenses a lack of trust and trustworthiness into a single act. It is both a failure of understanding and an unwillingness to be understood. To lie is to recoil from relationship.
By lying, we deny others a view of the world as it is. Our dishonesty not only influences the choices they make, it often determines the choices they CAN make–and in ways we cannot always predict. Every lie is a direct assault upon the autonomy of those we lie to.
And by lying to one person, we potetially spread falsehoods to many others—even to whole societies. We also force upon ourselves subsequent choices—to mantain the deception or not—that can complicate our lives. In this way, every lie haunts our future. There is no telling when or how it might collide with reality, requiring further maintenance. The truth never needs to be tended in this way. It can simply be reiterated.
How would your relationships change if you resolved never to lie again? What truths might suddenly come into view in your life? What kind of person would you become? And how might you change the people around you? It is worth finding out.”
You bring up a very interesting point. I’ll totally check out Mr. Harris’s book. I would like to stress however, that I’m not for lying, only properly used omissions. I would never suggest you tell someone they look good when they don’t, just to pick the least of all possible hurtful answers in which to rely. You might not be able to say the dress rocks but you can compliment their hair, or skin, or overall appearance. I think often, people get hung up on being “truthful” when they are actually just “hurtful”. I think there is a fine line between honesty and cruelty.
White lies are many times lies of omission. Mr. Harris addresses this in his paper. The focus he dictates is on letting them know the honest truth. If they need to work on something to get what they want in life, omitting telling them is damaging. IOf they look bad in a dress, any dress, because they need to lose ten pounds and you know their biggest goal in life is to be attractive, not letting them know is not giving them the choice to act. It falsifies their reality, from a trusted friend.
A big portion of the rest of the paper is devoted to explaining how telling the whole truth really ends up being much less painful and hurtful than people believe. That when you try it and people understand you will always be honest (note not, brutally honest, but totaly factual in a well meaning way) they quickly come to value your opinion and when you give a compliment for example it carries all that much more weight because of the truth telling background you have built with people.
I totally get what you’re saying, Leigh and I agree. 🙂 xo E
Excellent post and interesting debate that is following… your child lke most will rebel to a greater or lesser degree it is part of the growing up process – pushing against those boundaries.. I hope he will not push too hard..
That’s normal. I expect some rebellion. I just want him to know where he stands and what lines he better watch out for…
But I agree with you. The debate is interesting.
Thanks for this. My husband and I have taken a ridiculous amount of grief from some members of our family because we insist on setting and enforcing boundaries and demand that our children, even as little as they are, treat everyone they meet respectfully. No calling adults by unadorned first names, no slurs (I am utterly baffled by people who think it’s totally okay to use pejoratives of many kinds in front of little kids — not that I’ve never dropped an f-bomb in front of them, but neither my husband nor myself permit the use of any denigrating terms to refer to people who differ from us in any way), taking care of other people’s stuff, being kind even when we didn’t really like something. The world’s a better place with moms like you in it.
You’re welcome, and you’re doing great, from where I sit 🙂
Wow.. I love this. Very awesome. I may need to print out a few parts and give them to my 16 year old daughter to read.
My small people are 3 and 4 and I’ve also encountered the “they’re too young to say please and thank you” argument from family. They could sign “please” and “thank you” since before they could talk and I continue to encourage manners and good behaviour as they grow.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s a battle. But I’d rather have it now and set the ground rules for when they’re older, than end up with spoilt brats at a later date.
I’m also with you on alcohol. Here in the UK we have a terrible problem with binge drinking and for me, I think it’s important to acclimatise them to responsible alcohol consumption, as well as giving them the personal confidence to say “no” to peer pressure. It’s a hard one but I think you can only give them the tools and the information and support them to make the right choices.
I love reading your posts. I often look at the children around me and think I’m completely on the wrong page. So many poor choices are condoned or encouraged. It’s nice to know there are other mothers in the world who have the same values as I do.
I so agree with you PendleStitches. I live in the UK too ( in Cambridgeshire now) and misuse of alcohol amongst the young is a very serious problem. I lived in Ireland for 25 years too ( only back in the UK for 7) and the problem was even worse over there.
But.. I do also have friends with children of all ages that are wonderful kids with manners and good sense.. so it’s not all completely doom and gloom.
Loved the post!! and my mother is somewhat related to you in this regard as she is always setting boundaries. When I was younger I used to get irritated by this but now that I’m 18 I’m happy that she is my mother. I would be totally different person without her! Great post.
I tagged you on my blog.
Have fun! 🙂
BTW, I forward your posts to my daughters because you say so many things so well that I want them to know, but don’t know how to express them the way you do. So, thank you.
That’s a lovely compliment. Thank you. xo leigh
You write with so much care and love for your son, it just makes me happy reading your posts. Believe it or not, my mother is very much like you. She never stops me from doing anything, but always defines boundaries, things are just not acceptable, and just not worth doing. And just like you, reasons about it, rather than just impose.
I love reading your posts…just keep them coming! 🙂 🙂
God bless you. 🙂