There were 613 commandments in the original Jewish law. There were almost the same number of rules in our home in the first several years of our parenting. I spent countless hours coming up with different “Goetz Family Laws” based on our kids’ ages and stages.
I read book after book on parenting, trying to get a grip on how this whole thing was supposed to work, how I could be a successful mother. In fact, about six months ago, I found an old Word document from 2006 and it was entitled, “Family Boundary Agreements.” Inside, there were contracts with each of the four kids, ages 17 down to 10, filled with expectations about right behavior and clear consequences if that behavior wasn’t met and privileges given if it was met. I was desperate to just manage the chaos that seemed to be a natural part of raising a family. Reading it 10 years later basically caused me to LOL (seriously LOL). I probably had never followed through on any of it, no matter how hard I had tried.
Needless to say, this went on for many years until one day, I cried in desperation to one of the kids (I may have been in a bit of a frenzy at the time. Just saying), “Take care of your SELF and your STUFF and you’ll never have to hear from me!” If I had been a cartoon at that moment, a giant “lightbulb” would have appeared over my head. HUGE PARENTING CLARITY MOMENT!
When I had a minute to analyze this to see we could actually adopt this as our new framework, I mentally began to test all of the things that might happen in our home:
- dropping wet towels on bedroom floor (STUFF)
- brushing teeth (SELF)
- not eating 17 cookies (SELF)
- doing homework (STUFF)
- putting away toys (STUFF)
- washing hands after wiping (SELF)
- getting a job (BOTH)
- taking off shoes in the middle of the kitchen and leaving them there (STUFF)
- going to bed (SELF)
- developing friendships (SELF)
- putting gas in car (STUFF)
- etc. etc. etc.
Believing this was the answer, we adopted a new Goetz Family Law, one that didn’t take hours of preparation and doctorates for each of us to understand. I could pretty much throw out the charts and the contracts. Each situation was evaluated by these two simple questions: “Are you taking care of yourself? Are you taking care of your stuff?” It didn’t matter how old these precious children of mine were. It didn’t matter what kind of personality they had. It didn’t matter if they were a boy or a girl, an introvert or an extrovert, played the guitar or lacrosse, 15 or 3.
As time marched on, many things fell under this purview. I had great relief as I had a tool to help me. External behavior that aids in teaching character traits like responsibility, ownership, and stewardship were more easily managed. However, not all things landed neatly in the columns of self and stuff. We still faced:
These were the deeper issues of the heart. Thankfully, I didn’t have to muster up another lightbulb moment to address these. Someone much wiser than me had already done the job about 2,000 years ago. In fact, He had summed up all 613 of those rules in the Jewish law with just two: “Love God. Love your neighbor as yourself.” No rocket science needed here. Easier on the mind and on the heart (so glad I live on this side of history).
I am coming out of the parenting years (very slowly and painstakingly…in fact, our youngest just graduated high school yesterday). Can I put all of this away now? My answer to myself is “no.” All of this stuff applies, not just to parenting, but to life. And certainly to me. I need to take care of myself and my stuff (my health, my family, my finances, my emotions, my home, etc.). But my greater need is one where love (the love of God, self and others) is the center of my heart and all the richer and deeper things of life flow from that center.
What “rules” do you live by? How might living in and from love change your world? Would love to hear your comments.
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