A: A great first step towards setting rules for a new family is to stop using the word “rules.” Rules are hard to swallow and harder to follow, especially for kids. When it comes to newly blended families, “family principles” usually work better.
For example, if one of your family principles is that you value your time together, you might set a precedent that you’re going on a family vacation each year. In my experience, this can quickly become a cherished family tradition that yields great experiences and memories.
Kids will accept principles sooner than they’ll accept rules. So it’s
easier to get them to buy in and commit to following the principle.
Buy-in and commitment can make a big difference as the kids get older and are in a better position to push back. If one of them has to give up something to go on your family vacation — maybe your son has to forgo income from a summer job, or your daughter misses her best friend’s party — honoring a family tradition might be more motivating for them than adhering to a family “rule.”
Remember, family principles have to be
demonstrated and reinforced by your own behavior.
Of course, parents have to buy in and commit as well. But if one of you decides that you’re just too busy to take time off for your family vacation, the tradition and the family principle behind it will quickly become negotiable to your kids. They will start to push back, and soon the principle will lose its cohesive power.
So it’s important to show your commitment by putting the family vacation on the calendar, having a plan and selling it through, especially when the kids get a little older. It takes some doing but it’s a great way to lead by example and reinforce your own commitment to family principles.