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Discipline Leadership

House Rules vs. Universal Rules

There are universal rules and there are house rules.

Universal rule: do not steal.

House rule: don’t put your feet up on the couch.

Universal rules never change. House rules can vary from house to house, from town to town.

It’s important to keep these categories straight and never conflate them. Treating house rules as universal rules is the path to tyranny. You risk alienating your children or worse: turning them into little Pharisees.

House rules flow from the authority of the father and he has every right to make them, but he should not treat them as universal rules. A father should not place his whims, no matter how practical or useful, on the same level as a command from God Himself. His authority to enforce that rule doesn’t extend outside his household anyway.

Little Tommy is a friend of your son. Before he comes inside, you ask him to take off his shoes. Little Tommy is a respectable lad, so he does as he is asked, even though his own parents don’t have that rule.

When your son goes over to Little Tommy’s house, he might take off his shoes at the door, but he is not required to. It would also be inappropriate of your son to think less of Little Tommy because he doesn’t take off his shoes in his own home.

Different house rules.

You might see some house rules as vital to obey. Maybe Little Jacob’s parents don’t care if he says a few four-letter words. In that case, you don’t want your son going over to Little Jacob’s house, and that’s totally fine. But if Little Jacob comes over to your house, you fully expect him to abide by your “no four-letter words” rule.

But remember to never conflate house rules with universal rules. Equating them does not elevate your house rules. It only lessens the universal rules in the eyes of your children. It drags them down.

So don’t do that. Make clear distinctions. Talk about those distinctions. Couch the house rules in different language.

“Based on my experience, it is best to…”

“It’s not something I personally like, and so…”

“Not everyone agrees, but…”

“As a family, I want us to be known for…”

For house rules, more often than not, you want to explain your reasoning. You do not want to fall back on “because I said so” with house rules too often, though that is fine as long as you have made it clear that “because I said so” is not equivalent to “because God said so.”

House rules are important. They will be part of what makes your family different, what defines its culture, and what helps form a legacy.

But understand the hierarchy and make sure your children do the same.