Carolyn Hax: Advice

Teach kids to respect other houses’ rules

Carolyn Hax
Carolyn Hax

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

HI, CAROLYN!: My sister and I are raising our kids (all ages 8 to 11) just a couple of blocks apart from each other, so we see quite a lot of each other. This is exactly what we hoped for!

How, practically, do we handle the very different sets of rules in our two homes? For example, my sister’s husband, who is fairly religious, forbids swearing, and includes a lot of words many people wouldn’t. Our rule at home is that we don’t entertain any rules that are arbitrary, and “no swearing” is one of them.

My kids have apparently been pulled up for breaking certain rules at their cousins’ house, and have become somewhat eye-rolly about it — apparently having decided their uncle and aunt are unnecessarily restrictive.

I am trying to figure out how to send more of a “different homes have different rules, and they’re all valid” message, but I’m having a hard time figuring out how to make the “all valid” part believable when, obviously, we are choosing otherwise. Any suggestions?

Swearing has been the most overt example of this.

Auntie on Duty

DEAR AUNTIE: The validity isn’t in the rules themselves — it’s in the right to make them in one’s own home. There are limits, obviously, set by laws and common sense, but otherwise people are entitled to live as they choose.

Please implement this message quickly. Your kids are just kids and some eye-rollage is a pretty typical part of that, but: It’s a fine line between putting the “arbitrary” label on certain rules in your home, and deciding that what applies to your home takes precedence in all homes. The former is a kind of colorful in-home integrity, and the latter is arrogance. Thinking your way is the only right way might be an asset in matters of human rights — like, it’s not OK to own or exterminate other humans — but in anything short of that, it’s a steep societal liability.

If you back up your message of “different homes, different rules” with a robust argument for the beauty — and utility — of diversity in temperaments, beliefs and customs, then you’ll have a more complete and consistent framework for your kids to behave themselves with some grace and sensitivity in environments unlike their own.

Your rules work for your home, their rules work for theirs, repeat as needed. Your kids’ prospects for going far in life get much brighter the more able they are to “code-switch,” as in, recognize what’s appropriate in a given environment and regulate their behavior accordingly.

Email Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com or chat with her online at 10 a.m. each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.

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