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Screw the Rules, Sometimes

by on Dec 31, 2016

In our house, we’re pretty strict about certain rules. Our kids (four and seven years old), hear them all the time: no playing on the couch; it’s for sitting. No sliding on the banister; it’s a hundred years old. No jumping on the bed; it’s a fancy Sleep Number model and you’re likely to burst one of the air chambers.

My kids handle the rules pretty well, abiding by most of them, and breaking others relentlessly (like the no-tipping-your-chair-back-at-the-table one, which all kids seem duty-bound to disobey). I don’t think they feel particularly oppressed. I’m nit-picky about a few rules, but it’s not like I lose my mind over every infraction.

But today I’m worried I’m being too hard on them, and I need to loosen up. My doubts stem from a particularly vivid childhood memory I awoke with this morning. It’s just a simple one, but for some reason, I couldn’t get back to sleep, thinking about it:

It’s a sunny afternoon, I guess I’m around six years old. I’m in my parents’ bedroom with my mom, my dad and my sister. And we’re jumping on the bed, and having so much fun, and my parents are watching and laughing.

In my memory it feels like we’re jumping so high. And I don’t remember anyone telling me to stop.

When I was a kid we lived in a student housing complex. My parents – recent immigrants – didn’t have much, not nearly as much as I’m lucky to have now, so the mattress we were jumping on was probably a thrift-store purchase. It was just an old mattress and a box spring on the floor.

Which may or may not explain why they used to let us jump on it. They couldn’t afford an expensive mattress back then, but that doesn’t mean they were careless with their things. Actually, quite the opposite, they were meticulously careful with what they had; maybe that’s where I get it from?

But, even if if was just on that day, they let us jump on the bed. We used to play like that a lot, my sister and I. There were times when we slid down the banister (or whatever that thing was, the apartment wasn’t exactly an architectural treasure), and times when we did gymnastics routines on the couch, or careened down the steps on bath-towel-sleds. We built forts in the living room, and did science experiments in the kitchen (our field of research was baking soda, mostly).

Certainly, there were plenty of rules in our house. But what I remember now is that we also had freedom to have fun, to bend and break those rules, and to explore the boundaries of what it meant to be a kid.

We moved out of that apartment when I was ten. My parents saved for years and were finally able to buy a house nearby. By that point I was more interested in computers and getting a Discman and whether I could get Meghan O’Connell to ‘go out’ with me (hey, Meghan). My sister was on the cusp of her teenage years; we didn’t really play together anymore.

And my parents got divorced a short time after that.

So that one memory, of that one second in the air, in the sunlight, with my whole family around … that’s kind of precious, actually. And there’s no way my parents could have known, at the time, how much that would end up meaning to me, so many years later.

You never know, in the moment, how much each moment will matter down the line. And although rules have their purpose and their place, as parents we need to remember how important some of those moments will become for our children. How briefly our kids get to be kids; free and spontaneous, blissfully ignorant of the cost of a mattress or a couch.

The things in our home don’t matter as much as the experiences we have with them. And if you can give your kids just one more memory of jumping on the bed, laughing, you should do it. Even if it’s against the rules. Even if the air chamber pops and you end up having to buy a new mattress.

It’ll be worth every penny.


What were rules like in your house as a kid? What are they like now that/if you’re a parent? I want to hear it! Let me know in the comments.


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  1. A good lesson that things do not matter nearly as much as the experiences and memories we make along the way. My parents were moderate in their approach which seemed to get a bit more relaxed the older we got. Enjoyed your story!

  2. My kids were outside most of the time building cities with every sheet and towel we owned. they would spend hours out there with the neighbor kids and after a while, the lawn looked like a desert. But they didn’t watch much tv, the sheets were easy to wash, and they turned out to be very creative thinkers.

  3. I loved reading this post, it almost made me cry. Even though my parents were also divorced, my childhood was without a doubt one of the happiest fases of my life. And almost all of my memories are about playing freely without adult intervention nor rules (of course we had manners, but in what comes to play we were completely free). Maybe that’s why I think I’m quite the opposite of you, I’m very permissive with my daughter in what comes to exploring, playing and using things around the house in the name of just having fun. I’m very detached to material things and I really don’t care if my house is messy, the couch is not in its best shape or the mattress gets hurt by jumping on it. I wish you the best of luck trying to loosen up, I truly understand it’s quite difficult to relax watching your kids “destroying” things that were hard to get. But you know what? Things come and go, memories are forever! Your kids won’t remember how fancy your mattress was. Like you, they will remember that one time you let them jump freely on it!

  4. @lena – thanks! I mean, I’m sorry you almost cried! But I’m really glad to hear my post connected with you. And we’re totally on the same page: it’s good to let kids play and not worry too much about the consequences (especially as it relates to furniture!).