22 March 2012

It's OK to make arbitrary rules

Actually, they’re not even arbitrary, if they serve to defend your sanity. What makes them seem arbitrary is how different they are for each mother, each household. And what’s important is not to let misplaced guilt (fed by your children) con you into breaking them (and perhaps breaking you in the process).

Here’s what I’m talking about: I once heard a mom say that she absolutely will not, never, no never, not under any circumstances, allow Play-Doh in her house. All Play-Dohing must take place outside (this in a climate that renders outdoor Play-Dohing impossible for about half the year).

This might have surprised or perhaps even appalled me back before I had kids, or back when I had just one or two. But I found myself nodding in respect as she mentioned her household nonnegotiable. For you see, while Play-Doh is legal in our house, glitter is not. Glitter glue, glitter paint—yes, yes, fine. Bring them on. We love them. Loose glitter—never, no never, not under any circumstances.

Let it be anathema!

When I first instituted the no-glitter rule, I had these ridiculous feelings of guilt. Maybe my children would be forever warped because I didn’t let them do projects with glitter! Maybe glitter crafts serve a deep psychological need, and my stubborn refusal to allow glitter-play will top the long list of mother-failings they someday discuss with their shrink! I almost caved a few times, but I’ve stood firm for a couple years now, and I am so glad. And so much saner for it.

There’s only so much (and for most of us, it’s really not much) in life that a mother can truly control. Craft materials are one of them. So if you find yourself gnashing your teeth for weeks over the insidious trail of glitter spread throughout the entire house by just one little project—do something about it. And harbor no regrets.  

Play-Doh. Glitter. Innocuous enough in themselves, but enough to drive otherwise reasonable (if I may be so bold) mothers to the brink. I’m sure I’ve got other “arbitrary” rules, but I’ve gotten so much better about not feeling guilty about them that I can’t even think of any offhand. I’d love to hear, though, whether anyone else has found peace of mind by banishing from their children’s lives certain substances or activities that are generally considered to be the stuff of which happy childhoods are made. :D

43 comments:

Leah said...

My kid used to make piles. He'd start with every stuffed animal, blanket, and pillow he could find, then add whatever he wanted to. Shoes, blocks, pots and pans, books, writing utensils. Then he'd climb in and say he was Oscar the Grouch in his trashcan.

I banished piles.

Emily Cook said...

LOL my husband is a pile maker... I wish I could banish his piles!!!

My boys went through a stage with "buddies" (stuffed animals) that really got out of control. They each had about 5 or something, (three boys) and they traded all the time, and they lost them too... and suddenly bedtime/naptime took 30 minutes longer... NOT OK!

So we banished all but one for each of them. No guilt.

What's even more mean an arbitrary- the girls have about 30 buddies in their room. But they can handle it. They are the types that will have throw pillows when they are older- and they will keep them arranged and make them look pretty.

Arbitrary double standard :) And no guilt.

Lucy said...

...almost all art paraphernalia aside from coloring books and crayons... I have a special drawer of contraband art, but they never see the light of day. There's never a time that the big ones can play without the littles screaming in horror at not getting to fully participate. No stress does indeed equal a saner mom.

Gauntlets said...

Plastic. HAHAHAHA! But seriously, I can't look at it anymore. It's so, so ugly and loud and stupid and breakable.

Their toys will be everywhere, and that will be OK once their toys are entirely made of wood and cloth.

Louise said...

I grew up knowing Playdoh was something we did at friends' houses, but not at home. Incidentally, when someone gave me Playdoh as a gift for my one year old daughter, I gave it away before she even knew of its existence. :-)

I don't think my mom ever felt guilty, so I don't either!

Gayle Wilson said...

I have teens, and one rule we had in high school was no boy friends/girl friends. My dtr was cool with that, but my son struggled a little.

Now he calls me psychic mom -- the mom who knows all -- as he sees all the pitfalls I warned about happening with friends. He's become the advice giver to his friends, which cracks me up.

No romance drama in our household.

Cathy said...

Thank you for the confirmation about glitter and Playdough. I put a serious ban on both of them in my house long ago. A few years ago, against my better judgement, I made one tiny exception for some glittery wedding decorations, and I was finding the microscopic bits of silver stuff on the walls for years, and saying, NOW do you see why I don't allow glitter? Now, for the Really Mean Mom Alert: I have banned any forms of life, except human, including but not limited to any form of animal, reptile, insect, fish, and bird. Call me mean, I don't care. Call me selfish, I'm impervious. Yes, I really do think puppies are cute, and faithful old dogs are one of life's joys, and someday, if I'm ever lonely for company, I will get one. PS I see by the wise comment of my daughter Louise, my steadfastness in this matter was not in vain. She's right, I never felt guilty about it at all. Not when I'm on the floor sorting through their dirty sox and underwear to start a load of wash! No guilt what so ever.

Mary P said...

I grew up in a no glitter OR play-doh home and I think I turned out pretty normal. ok, relatively normal. wait, very abnormal, but I don't think I can blame it on the lack of messy childhood crafts. Now my girls have one grandma who won't do glitter or play-doh with them, but can built the most amazing lego towns ever imagined, and a grandma on the other side who will do so many glittery, cut and glue, food coloring frosting type projects that I think my children will grow up well balanced. (well, at least in the craft / playing area.)

Anonymous said...

Amen to no glitter. A. Men. I might send it back to grandma's house so my kids can play with it at her house. Then she'll understand why I am mean about that one.

Cathy said...

PS Again. Mary is one of my wonderful daughters also, and she's right on. Why just yesterday, I spent a delightful couple of hours in the middle of the day, building Duplo Lego houses with two of my little grandchildren, and I felt like the richest person on earth. Just to look at their faces, and be with them. I told my husband last night. I felt rich. Who has that kind of free time, but a rich person? Thanks, Mary

Jane said...

If someone gives my children playdough, I assume they are inviting them over to play with it at their house.

Reb. Mary said...

Gayle, BRILLIANT.

And the rest of you too. Ah, see how sane we all are! So nice to see the intergenerational accord with Cathy, Louise, and Mary :D.

Sending illicit craft materials back to Grandma's (or other giver's) house along with the kiddos so that they can be thoroughly...enjoyed...there is an excellent strategic move. ;)

Katy said...

So nice to see two generations posting on here.

I agree with everything everyone said. My mom is the craft lady (I asked her not to use glitter at our house), I am a dog person w/o a dog, and I do not save paper. Paper crafts, coloring pages, etc., etc., stay on the fridge a week, and then gone. We got playdoh when my husband built a shelf way up high (before that ruined two play-room rugs).

The worst thing about being a mom in the 21st century is all the stuff. I am on a 24/7 war on stuff all over the place. And we don't even buy it. It just...appears.

Gauntlets, how do you enforce that? Once I threw out all those faded, brittle plastic outdoor toys all over the yard. All of them.

Untamed Shrew said...

I'm on the brink of banning Polly Pockets. They're cute, but generally the children who are young enough to want to play with them are too young to have the manual dexterity to change the outfits.

And the shoes, those microscopic things. Hardly a choking hazard, but inevitably they get eaten by a baby or a kitty, and then there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Christina said...

--Christmas Music between the dates of January 6 and the first Sunday of Advent will not be tolerated.
--Library books with corresponding TV shows may not be checked out
--One leaf of lettuce, or other qualifying green, must be eaten for every crouton taken.

Gauntlets said...

Katy: Observing St. Martin's Day has been a big help in getting the cr@p out of my house. The other is I've been very frank with gift-givers that if they choose to give my kids something made of plastic, they're really choosing to give that something to Goodwill. :D

Truly beloved toys (for instance, my daughters get American Girl dolls from their grandma) are exempted from my periodic toy purges. But the kids don't really even like plastic things, so we're mostly of an accord.

Christina: We've a similar library policy at our house. I've also banned them from checking out picture books (which inevitably get demolished) and audio books (which inevitably get lost). I might check out an audio book for a long car trip, but then it stays where I can be in control of it.

Anonymous said...

After reading this I'm getting a little concerned. I'm way into my middle years and I LOVE PLAYDOH. Not the homemade stuff and not the knock off brand of my youth. I love the smell, the forgiving qualities, the incredible way it can be used to imitate life. My kids and I have had many happy and sometimes therapeutic hours at the kitchen table making it one thing and then another. In fact, my best jewelry was made with the McDonalds Extruder. So my jewelry looks like fries. That's okay with me. I just always found that when my hands and my kids' hands were busy working the playdoh magic lots of important conversations tumbled out.

However I have forever banned SPIN ART from my home. I probably wasn't all that bright to have one in the toy closet to start with. The last neighbor child who played with the spin art in my kitchen covered the kitchen in yellow paint - and as I look at her in her white "I''m a Doctor Now" coat - all I can think about is the fact that I'm still finding yellow paint "spins" 18 years later. PlayDoh forgives, Spin Art taunts.

Cathy said...

PS 3X. Apparently this subject has really struck a nerve in our family, because Jane, whose comment is above, is another of my wonderful daughters! Also, all these other great comments have reminded me that I have always banned clutter. I ruthlessly throw away papers, projects and junky plastic toys, whenever the kids won't see me. I do not owe anything to the gods of consumerism. But I did learn to hide the stuff I throw away down under something else in the trash. If you leave it on top, kids always notice, and you have to act surprised...Hmm? How did that get in there? then pretend to rescue it, and as soon as they're not looking, quickly put it in the trash again, and hide it better this time. For big purges, or really suspicious kids, stuff goes straight out to the outside garbage can, and even then, hide it under something. Wise as a serpent, harmless as a dove. It's the only way to win the war against junk and clutter.

Katy said...

Cathy, I have a female relative who uncannily finds the bag I'm filling to give to Goodwill. And she asks about stuff. Like "where is....?" if she notices not seeing something around. I've tried the one-toy policy for birthdays, but those are ignored (she unconsciously competes with another relative, I think, for gift-giving). I have to donate clothes/stuff to the thrift store she doesn't frequent, lest she finds something she recognizes.

Gauntlets, I have the kids practice giving things away on St. Nicholas Day (one item for every year they are old). They like it (mostly).

Sarah Osbun said...

My daughter is not allowed to pull pots, pans, and tupperware out of cupboards. I let her do it a few times, but got tired of rewashing stuff when I needed to use it. We haven't gotten to the play-doh or glitter stage, but I have a feeling there won't be any glitter.

Cathy said...

Katy, Once I get rid of something, since I don't technically know where it ended up, I tell small children, "I don't know where it is." As far as relatives, I have been like this for so long, they know that I won't keep things I don't want, and they know I detest clutter, so they don't risk wasting their money on me. They tease me, but they have cluttered homes and I don't, so I don't mind the teasing. I put give away bags in the back of my van, and make it a priority to get them out of the house ASAP, so there's less chance of them getting picked through. I have gotten in trouble a couple times for throwing out things important to my husband or older kids, and I apologized. Good Luck.

Jody S. said...

Rubber bands. I didn't allow them in my classroom when I taught. I don't allow them in my house.

Consecutive Odds said...

Only three imaginary friends per tea party... and imaginary friends do not get crackers, only water.

Reb. Mary said...

This is all so inspiring and empowering! Plastic cr@p, begone! :)

Guantlets, I'm still in awe of your no-picture-book rule...

The bury-it-in-the-trash technique is SO necessary. EVERY time I forget, they find it, and there is great lamentation (even if "it" is only a wretched scrap of paper that they once scribbled upon).

Elizabeth said...

I refuse to read certain books - I have hidden/given them away. This is because every time I sit down to nurse #2, #1 wants to read the same books she read yesterday, which are always the most annoying, worst moral, etc. stories you can imagine. So I've banned those books. For my sanity.
I don't mind PlayDoh so much now that we have wood laminate in the dining room/kitchen. It was carpet before and NOTHING came out of that carpet... However, I can't recall that I've let #1 play with PlayDoh anyway, so I guess it's a moot point.

Rebekah said...

MARKERS.

Melrose said...

this IS inspiring! My oldest sister is a clutter freak. She bulldozes through her house with garbage bags throwing things away very often. She has 10 kids and her house is always very clean and orderly. I used to think she was a freak, AND mean.

Now I am reading a book with my husband called, "Large Family Logistics" by Kim Brenneman. I'm about to write a post about it on my blog. I only have 4 little kids but I want my home to be a place of peace and comfort not only for my family but for guests. I want to instill in my kids the importance of selflessness and service to others and I feel absolute zero tolerance for clutter and junk is one way to do this. I have a ways to go but I'm taking baby steps to get there. Now I'm "mean" just like my sister and I'm so proud that I'm learning to be like her. Because now, with 10 kids, her home is full of laughter and joy and very unselfish kids.

Anonymous said...

I'm interested in learning more about the idea that selflessness and service to others, admirable traits, can be more readily developed without clutter in the home. I can see a connection between less stuff and increased creativity in children's play, but I don't see the connection with the other traits .

Anonymous said...

I have always liked to think our house is pretty organized, but recently in preparation for putting our house on the market, I had to rent a storage unit to get the closets to the 1/3 full rule. Now that all that has been gone from our lives for two months, we don't even miss most of it!

Our biggest problem is toys (of course). Our kids are only grandchildren on both sides, and to top it off my husband is an only child so my MIL will always only have us to focus on.

We are moving to the west coast where housing in general is much smaller (in our case, 300 sq ft smaller than our already not-large house) and shortly after our moving our third will be born. I just can't bear the thought of more toys, so I have asked if we could pool our birthday money and get some kind park passes (Sea World, Disney, Legoland, the zoo, etc) instead of collecting stupid, expensive, cheaply-made toys that the kids rarely play with.

Also, I struggle with throwing away art work (crafts). It feels like they really put their heart and soul into it, so it feels so cruel to put it in the trash. However, I've had to come to terms with it early on with our first. We have a bulletin board for the most prized pieces. When it's full, something must come down before anything else goes up (this helps the kids realize that we can't keep everything). Things that don't make it to the board lay around a short time just to make sure. Then the night before trash day (to ensure they don't see their art in the trash), their is a purge. They apparently have never questioned where it all goes.

Susan

Gauntlets said...

Susan: Another good non-toy grandma present is lessons. Dance, music, horseback riding, painting ... whatever you like. I don't know if your kids are old enough for such stuff just yet, but the lesson-as-gift thing is just too good not to mention. :D

And if you're sad to throw their artwork away, take pictures of their pictures. Digital files are so much smaller than paper. :)

Rebekah said...

We could live in an entirely unfurnished cardboard box and it would never be a place of peace or comfort to guests simply because it would have six children in it. :D

Katy said...

Melrose, I too have converted to no clutter. I think there is a certain sort of person, though, who really can live with a lot of stuff and keep their house orderly. But for people like me (slob, undisciplined about daily tasks, collector of odd and interesting things, etc.) the less to do the better, because those basic tasks take so long and are mentally taxing. (Weird, I know.)

Anonymous, I think one needs to figure out what works for one's family. I am in a perpetual rage when (and everyone in the family gets really grouchy and lazy) I'm always playing catch-up and going through cycles of rest/messiness and frantic cleaning for guests. And then spending 20-30 minutes finding things that don't have a place. And whole rooms (for us basement and den, sometimes 3-season porch) held hostage by stuff we didn't put away. And then these mad cycles give me no opportunity to teach the kids how to pick up after themselves or care for their possessions. That's the irony. Too much stuff = not caring for your stuff, properly.

I think one can get obsessed with decluttering, too, and be selfish and ruled-by-stuff in a different way--especially when you're hurting your family members or throwing away things that don't belong to you (your kids' stuff belong to you). It's like two sides of the same coin, IMHO. But worrying I'll turn into an obsessed neat freak is a hilarious excuse...

And another thing... :)

We are doing the lessons (music), family vacation fund, special zoo or park days, etc., for birthday gifts. It's not working too well (the relatives contribute to the fund and then buy stuff, too). I guess we'll have to put our foot down this year. The good news my BIL is marrying in June, and we really need to press the PP lifestyle so our kids are finally not center stage.

But it's small price to pay to have healthy, relatively young grandmas and grandpas living very close. It's so important to handle those relationships patiently and with love, even when parents don't honor our requests. Whew! Good post, Rebekah.

The Mama said...

Markers. I hate markers. I also don't allow access to scissors unless they are at the table and I am staring at them the whole time or pens.

I do allow play dough. I have all hard floors and it vacuums up nicely.

No glitter.

Rebekah said...

Katy, Reb Mary gets the credit for this hot topic. :D

pekoponian said...

Absolutely no chewing gum is allowed in our house. And crayons are strictly limited to the kitchen table, when we actually have any.

Anonymous said...

Many moons ago I prepared a beautifully written speech ( IMHO ) to present to my mother in law. The purpose of this was to gently, but firmly, place some restrictions on the number of gifts she gave to our children ( just 3 kids at that time and the only grandkids). Oh if she could just learn from my wise counsel. For some reason the weekend passed so quickly that I could never find the right time to deliver the speech and I begrudgingly put it away for the next visit. Unfortunately there never was a next visit. She was diagnosed with cancer just days after they returned to their home from their weekend with us. As we shared her final days she was still dispatching me to Target to pick up this or that for one of the kids. Unbelievably a few weeks after they visited our home she was called Home in her early 60's. I'm not sure if it was the Holy Spirit that rendered my "speech" undeliverable but I do know that it forever changed my presumptive thinking that my rules would dictate the spirit of the giver. Now I'm the Grandma and I try to run any questionable gifts past my kids first but I've found that it is really is an indescribable grandparental joy that makes us do crazy stuff which might appear to not follow the arbitrary rules. I'll never undermine my childrens' authority but I do want to retain my title as the fun grandma and I pray my children will forgive me my trespasses .

Melrose said...

Anon, I think the connection comes between understanding the needs of our family and guests (a clean and orderly home so that guests feel comfortable relaxing) over one's own desire to keep too many (Katy loved your point about not going too far the other way and throwing away prized or special items) things around. When you have a large family and each family member desires to hold on to lots of belongings, peace in the home can be disrupted due to so much STUFF. But, when children are asked to get rid of those belongings and not hoard so that the home can be comfortable for everyone, they are learning to be selfless and to serve others :).

Rebekah, I disagree :). Children can be taught through role play and constant practice how to serve guests and the appropriate voices and places of play that are good when guests are there. My sister's home is so beautifully peaceful and comfortable for guests that I marvel. Gives us something to strive for no? :D

Rebekah said...

Melrose, weren't you the one who was just boohooing about kids not being as church-trainable as everybody seems to think they should be? ;) I just mean that most people find the company of this many children overwhelming regardless of how well the children are behaved. (I also feel that if my guests are well-fed and have decent places to sleep and put their stuff it's their problem if the pile of junk on my phone cubby makes them "uncomfortable". Most of them are made far more uncomfortable by our not having cable or a Taco Bell.)

Anonymous said...

There seem to be several Anonies hanging about. I'm the rule resistant grandma who also loves Playdoh . Isn't it a wonderful thing that we have the freedom to differ in our lifestyles. We often joke that our home would be passed by for burglary; it looks ransacked more often than not. I grew up with a well ordered home and it apparently skips a generation. I can only assume that our guests feel welcome, they seem to visit frequently, stay a long time, and make themselves at home. My willingness to go with the flow worked for our family and opened our doors to loads of friends and church members. If I do get stressed I just remind myself that we live in a home, it's not supposed to look like a hotel.

Reb. Mary said...

Heck, even I find the company of this many children overwhelming ;P.

I think that so long as we're not talking filth, vermin, and piles upon piles, people are actually relieved to see a bit of untidiness and a cobweb here and there. Because that's the way most everyone's house is, at least when nobody's looking. I don't know why we all secretly suspect that everyone else's grout always sparkles.

The tricky part that has to be renegotiated every time another kid comes of property rights age is the perennial "How much is too much?" And a large part of the answer, as ably demonstrated in these comments, will quite simply depend on the mom's personality. Among which, as Anon the latest pointed out, the variety is a delightful spice. ;)

Melrose said...

Yes, I am. :) And I certainly don't mean any legalism by it. I just like to help people feel happy when they come to my house, I love having company! So the kids and I spend lots of time excitedly talking about all the ways we can help people feel happy and comfortable and just try to do our best. So I guess what I meant by it is anyone lucky enough to be invited to our house ;) knows how many kids we have and knows what kids are like and kids are kids no matter how much training they do or don't have but it's fun to practice hospitality.

Anonymous said...

I've actually been made to feel rather uncomfortable on play dates due to tidiness. First, I've walked in and literally though "Where's all your stuff??" Second and more importantly, she spent so much time cleaning up crumbs and going behind the 3(!) total children, putting away what they had gotten out, that I felt like my daughter and I were a nuisance. Furthermore, we couldn't enjoy each other's company (she's an otherwise likable person) because she was so distracted.

When we have people over for dinner, I'm perfectly happy to pile the dishes in the sink and continue visiting. I kind of see it as rude to be cleaning while guests are there. I prefer to give them as much of my attention as I can (with kids around).

Susan

Cathy said...

Wow, is this the longest run of comments on one post ever? Important topic I guess!
Melrose, Your sister reminds me of me, because I had eleven kids, and a fairly neat house thanks to constant de-cluttering. My sisters thought I was mean because I didn't save everything, but they couldn't figure out why their houses with two and three kids were messier than mine. As far as de-cluttering, my husband and I wanted lots of children, but we always lived in very tight quarters, so I figured out pretty fast that if household space is full of 'things' there isn't space for people. Also, the more stuff I had setting around, the more there was for my babies and toddlers to mess up, pull down, tip over, and drag around. As my daughter, Jane reminded me today about her children, they can't just walk through a room and leave it the way they found it. They pick up things and then randomly drop them on the floor. She's right. They leave a trail of miscellany, every time they walk through a room. But, I wanted to enjoy my children, and not be mad at them all the time, so that's why I fought the clutter war.