Not playing by the rules

for The Brooklyn Paper
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I am the one to set the rules in summer, and I am terrible at setting up rules.

I am on vacation in Chicago where my mother lives here, and we have come to visit — and I am all too cognizant of the downside of my laissez-faire parenting style.

My boys throw the football on the sidewalk and it nearly hits passersby. They tussle in restaurants and can hurt each other. They play too often on their iPhones.

There is no homework to work on, no tests to study for, and the boys are “living free.” Where are the boundaries?

It is 4:44 am as I sit here in my hotel room and ponder how, exactly, I might handle things differently, how I might force myself — and my children — to adhere to some “Rules for Harmonious Living” that we make up at random, that might help reign all of us in a bit in the summer days before and after they go to camp.

They are begging for hard and fast rules. The older one demands that I “do something” about the younger one hitting him or stealing his hat. Ten minutes later, it is he who starts things.

“What should I do about you?” I ask. I am loath to punish, though clearly it is called for.

I consider setting up a code of conduct, but then I recall the article I just read about how kids are in college these days are depressed without the iron fist of Mom and Dad. They don’t know what to do without being told. They can’t come up with their own set of rules for living.


My Libra nature rears its ugly head, and I am stuck weighing the pros and cons of different parenting styles, so stuck playing with scales that my children will be grown and gone by the time I figure it.

But I am who I am. I do try sometimes to come up with chore charts and specific rules, but the systems that tend to stick and work are the ones the kids come up with themselves when I finally explain that I’m not going to be the one to figure it out for them. It is they who separated out the chores and decided who does what finally, which is what I remind them whenever they complain.

I know my mother thinks I should set up firmer boundaries for my boys, like she did for us. And I so wish that I was more like her in so many ways. But then, as the sun rises and I begin to pack up to head home, I remember that I am doing the best I can.

I will try to be firmer about what I believe is good behavior, but I am bound to dart and dash like a dragonfly because — for better or worse — I don’t believe in straight lines.

Read Fearless Parenting every other Thursday on
Updated 10:17 pm, July 9, 2018
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Reasonable discourse

Powder from Brooklyn says:
Your rules have nothing to do with your children, and that's a pity. Your thoughts (not only here, in most of your articles) always seem to be about yourself, not about your children. Parenting is balancing you with them. Do they need rules? Are you not providing them because it would difficult for you, or because you honestly think they are better off for it?
Having rules doesn't mean disabling your children and making them dependent on you to tell them what to do. Rules for important things (like not hitting one another - common decency) and freedom to make other choices will give them a structure and a model on which to base their own decisions in the future. Without any guidelines, they'll probably continue to be wild and ego-istic as adults. Perhaps they'll follow your model and get super introspective while ignoring their one job (you don't work right, you only do parenting and writing about yourself parenting as far as I understand).
Give them what they need, in the way that works for you. All people need to learn to set their own rules, but also to be able to follow rules made by others. If they can't fit into your systems, or follow your instructions - how will they ever keep a job? How would society be if everyone only followed their own rules? It would be chaos. Don't control their every moment, but don't let them control every aspect of their lives. Teach them that society is built on being you while respecting others' wishes as well (even when you might rather go crazy and d whatever your whims dictate).
July 16, 2015, 2:25 am
Liz from Cobble Hill says:
You are not a parent, you're knowingly harming those children, who, who as a result of your neglect and lack of structure will grow up to be a bigger —— than you. When they don't follow the rules as adults the consequences are worse. If you are doing the "best you can" you've failed at life and shouldn't have ever had children, they are people, not an accessory.
July 16, 2015, 9:31 am
George from Park slope says:
H8rs gonna h8
July 16, 2015, 1:26 pm
Ed from Bay Ridge says:
Powder and Liz -- get a GRIP, willya?
July 16, 2015, 3:16 pm
Reasonable from Park Slope says:
Ed and George, while Liz was a bit harsh, I believe Powder's comments were right on and not "H8"-ful at all. The writer seems unable to distinguish between and having an "iron fist" and imposing reasonable structures and rules, which all kids need and actually want, deep down. The writer admits that even her own children are "begging for hard and fast rules," but she refuses to provide them. Therein lies the problem: the writer sees any discipline at all as draconian (or maybe just too much trouble?) and as a result is denying her children the parenting they need. It is clear that even the writer, however, is now seeing the unfortunate fruit that is borne of a "parenting" style that denies her children any discipline or guidance, and is beginning to regret the choices she has made or failed to make. Kids can't raise themselves.
July 16, 2015, 4:36 pm
Me from Bay Ridge says:
"Stop HITTING YOUR BROTHER!!!!!!!" Easy peasy.
July 17, 2015, 5:36 am
Destructo from Gowanus says:
It's ironic that Mrs. Thompson has a column titled "Fearless Parenting," but writes an article about being too afraid to actually do any parenting. Pathetic.
July 17, 2015, 9:11 am
Mustache Pete from Windsor Terrace says:
What is fearless about this column is her masochistic need to expose herself to ridicule.
July 17, 2015, 1:08 pm
Stacey from Park Slope says:
Rule-based parenting is akin to torture. Children need love, attachment, and respect for whatever their true gender is - not their arbitrarily assigned genitals.
Have you tried co-sleeping?
I never set any rules for my children. We don't believe in that kind of negativity. I run my home as a safe-space, where nothing is right or wrong. The children choose themselves what we do, when, what we eat, if we eat. I was criticized by the school system because of it's backwards patriarichal notion that children are subject to the will Of the teachers. Not how I see it. Take it from a person who was 41 when IVF allowed me to bring a fertilized embryo into this world - rules are like physically beating your children.
July 17, 2015, 4:20 pm
old time brooklyn says:
stacey rules
July 18, 2015, 11:37 am

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