Call it a mantra, a creed, house rules. Call it whatever you wish, just call it—say it often and out loud. We're thinking of your parenting Ultimate Bottom Line. The one thing that gives you instant perspective, the one great simplifier, the one thing that matters and lets everything else slip immediately away.
Of course, there could be two things. Two rules, even a whole set, of course, work just fine. Ten is a tidy number for commandments, but it gets a bit unwieldy for sleep-deprived parents and overwrought toddlers, neither of whom can always count to ten reliably.
No matter—pick your number, name your rules, and then enunciate them. Post them on your fridge door like theses. This is what matters to us, we dwellers of this happy house. Simple, direct, easy to find just underneath the emergency contact info. Amid all the noise and the oh-I-should-reallys of parenting, after all the day's false starts and redirects and interruptions and eruptions, this is all that really matters. These are the inviolables; everything else we yammer on about would be nice but isn't strictly necessary, actually. This is the big stuff.
One family we know distills it all this way: Don't Lie; Don't Play with Matches; Take Care of Your Brothers and Sisters/You Are a Team.
Another one spends New Year's morning with the kids writing (or dictating) their own rules, which has the delightful effect of giving parity to both "don't hit, push or grab" and "no making rhymes with a person's name if he doesn't say it's okay first."
Maybe your rules don't shape behavior so much as they offer perspective on any old behavior that comes your way. The wise Gretchen Rubin reminds us that "the days are long, but the years are short." (Gretchen also has all sorts of fantastic resolutions, rules of life and splendid truths for parenting happiness.) Perspective is also available by formula, thanks to Suzy Welch, when you look at things in terms of their effect in 10-10-10 (that's minutes, months, years).
You can gather nominations for your rules for living by committee. Take the occasion of your child's next birthday and ask friends and family to offer their secret to happiness as a gift to the child. It will give you a wonderful glimpse into the minds of your nearest and dearest, and it will give your wee ones (and you) wisdom from your village. What a gift.
Remember: simple, easy to remember and posted on the fridge. What's your One(ish) Simple Rule?
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