Suggested House Rules [by my 9-year-old]
1. When there is a fight/argument, don’t say anything.
2. Play as much as you can.
3. HAVE FUN!! 🙂
4. Read ALOT!! 🙂
5. Keep track of Library books
6. BE HAPPY
7. Think Positive
8. Help each other
9. Be kind
10. Calm down when needed
Fred showed me this list a couple of weekends ago, after witnessing Max and I fight the night before.
“I wrote some rules for us last night, Mommy,” he said. “And I read and drew until 11:00. I also found a calm place in my room. I’ll show you.”
He led me to his room and pointed to the left corner of his packed closet.
I asked him if he was okay, and he nodded with an exaggerated smile, as if to reassure me he was really, really fine. I sighed to myself and pulled him into my arms and held him, telling him we were okay too, and that I was glad and proud that he’d found a way to make himself feel better.
It pains me to look back on that evening, remembering Fred’s shouts, “No, don’t say anything more! It’ll only make things worse!” He tried so hard to get Max and I to stop where we were, to not escalate our emotions any further.
And unlike my situation growing up, Fred doesn’t have a sibling with whom to seek comfort while his parents squabble.
But also unlike my childhood, Fred has the reassurance of experience that things do get better, if not by the next morning then by the next evening, or the day after. He knows that Mommy and Daddy love one another and that the conflicts are temporary and smaller than the relationship. It took me the perspective of adulthood to understand my parents’ love and marriage; as a child I honestly didn’t know if my parents loved one another or not, and I grew up equating conflict with detriment.
So while we haven’t been able to shield Fred from seeing our conflicts – nor do I expect that to be realistic – I hope that we have been able to show him that real and worthwhile love encompasses both unparalleled joys and surmountable difficulties. This is no small feat in the multi-generations of our family, because despite being connected by strong love, we also have a more hidden history of divorce, estrangement, and displacement.
Last year, when his class was asked to write and display a personal narrative, Fred chose to write about his relationship with his best friend of the last five years. Here is a part of it:
I was happy to find a friend. He is my first friend in kindergarten. Me and Jack are very close friends and now we are still friends. Once, maybe in first grade we were mad at each other. I forgot why we were mad at each other. I didn’t play with him for the whole recess. The next day we played with each other.
This idea that he and Jack can be angry for a whole day and sometimes say mean things to one another and still be close friends is something that has really impressed him, because it’s a story that comes up again from time to time. Yes, it is possible to be angry at someone you love, to not even want to talk for an entire day, and still be the best of friends. It’s quite something when you realize it; I certainly wish I had understood that in my friendships and even in my family growing up.