What are the Rules?

By Phillip Garside

While setting up playdates or sleepovers, we try to respect any rules that parents impart for our guests. It turns out different parents have different methods of setting rules for their children. In navigating one such situation, we were dealing with a child whose parents had separated. This common situation compounds the complexity by adding two sets of alternate rules for the visiting child. 

It was in that context we were discussing a certain behavior and, what was hidden from the wise and the learned, was revealed to the child. Our guest simply said, “Every adult has different rules.” 

From the child’s point of view, it’s true. Every teacher, each parent (even when they try to coordinate) and into every room they go is an adult with a different set of rules. It’s not that different from our adult experience of having to navigate so many different social, civil and even religious systems. 

How do you help children make sense of so many various sets of rules? How do we help them know which rules are “right,” which rules to “put up with” and which rules are dangerous and need to be rejected? How do we make sense of it ourselves? 

It helps to have a calibrating principle. For example, our principle for our children is “safety.” If we can explain it by that principle, the rule is hard and fast. If it does not adhere to, but also does not contradict that principle, the rule can be “put up with.” If it does contradict that principle, it must be rejected. And, finally, if an action adheres differently to the principle in different situations, then the “rules” must adapt. 

In raising children, we chose “safety” because it can start biologically. As the children mature, it can expand to psychology and, ultimately, to spirituality.

The goal is to, ultimately, translate that supreme “spiritual safety” to Christ’s teaching of our primary calibrating principle: love. Love of God and love of neighbor is the principle upon which all of the law and the prophets hinge. 

It is by this relationship that we judge which rules are binding, which can be tolerated, which must be rejected and how we must adapt to the complex terrain of existence. 

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