I've been considering the importance of having rules and guidelines for daily living while raising kids. Babies and children need structure and routine, but they also need to be OK with change and ready to adventure on their own. How much freedom is too much freedom and when are rules too strict? How have you found the middle ground? I'm finding it, more or less, by trial and error.
Here are some examples of things I am struggling with: what should I be OK with when it comes to babysitters and grandparents giving my child things to eat or play with, how many times (if any) should I pick up a toy that my baby has thrown on the floor from her high chair (possibly intentionally), how do I comfort her and also try to help her get to a point where she can comfort herself?
The main reason that I have begun to dwell on this subject is because over this past weekend we were out of town visiting family. We had the opportunity to see my step brothers and their families, who all have children as well. We watched how other families organize themselves and how other parents discipline their children. I witnessed many things, from eating Cheetos off the floor to being put in time-out for minor misconduct. Every child is different and thrives on different forms of guidance, but there also has to be continuity with how parents treat all of their children or there will be one saying, "She was able to do that, why can't I?" and another saying, "You can't do that, only I can."
One topic that came up for discussion while spending time with the other mothers was that of sleepovers. I loved sleepovers growing up and during the summers, more often than not, I would either be spending the night at a friend's house or they would be staying at my house. However, it is scary thinking about how difficult it is to trust others with your own child and also sleepovers can become catalysts for mischief otherwise avoided. So, how do we decide to make a rule for our house about sleepovers? We could have them only at our house, only with family members (like cousins) instead of friends, no sleepovers at all, or trust our kids and the people they are staying with by letting them have as many sleepovers whenever/wherever? (based on how they have behaved or if they finished their chores) It's hard to know for sure, I hear horror stories about molestation cases during a harmless sleepover and imagine how easy it was for me to possibly get into trouble when I wasn't at home during the night. I think this is a rule that needs to be made and decided upon before our kids get to the age where they are asking us about it. If we already know then we won't have to debate when the time comes.
Other things are good to have guidelines about and make decisions based on the individual child, such as sugar intake. This can become more flexible, but have a general guideline attached, such as "You can't eat ice cream until you have eaten something healthy." Then the parent can make the decision as they watch their individual children make their own choices - good or bad. Parents can also take into account how each child reacts to having sugar.
Anyway, these are just a couple examples of how I think there are rules that need to be made, but it is also possible to have guidelines instead of hard rules about everything. I'm learning the hard way about some things though. It took me picking up my baby's toy and giving it back to her for what seemed to be the 100th time yesterday, for me to decide that I am going to have a three strike system for this situation. She throws the toy off from her high chair and I will give it back to her once, assuming that it was an accident. I will give it back to her after she throws it a second time, but with a warning that if she does it one more time then she won't get it back. Then when she does it the third time I either leave it on the floor or take it into a completely different room so she won't be able to have it anymore. I know that Squeaker is only 6 months old, but you have to start somewhere, right? I don't want to start putting these rules into place when she is 2 years old and is used to me giving it back to her 100 times. If she starts off young with certain rules or guidelines in her daily life then they won't be such a shock later, hopefully.
There are some things I wish I would have made decisions about already, instead of having to take the situations as they come. For instance, some babysitters and grandparents want to give Squeaker things I'm not comfortable with her having yet, but it took me seeing one of them giving Squeaker some licks of a Popsicle to realize this. I know that a Popsicle won't kill her, but I don't want her already getting used to having sugar as a daily thing or even something that she gets occasionally, but wants more than her other food. Bananas, peaches, cantaloupe, these things should be the most sugary things she is taking into her body at this age (in my personal opinion). So now I have to back track a bit and start making decisions about what I am OK with her having and then be very clear about that when I leave her in the care of someone else.
I also wish that I knew better about when to comfort her and when to let her be. I'm figuring it out, slowly, and there are certain cries that I know are signs of her needing me, but she is starting to whine a lot as well. She is teething, and I want to help her as much as I can, but I also don't want her to think that I will constantly be fixing her problems and carrying her around the rest of her life. This is especially true for when we have another baby, I imagine it would be traumatizing for Squeaker to find that she is no longer the center of my universe when I have been treating her that way for so long. Now that Squeaker is a little over 6 months old I am trying to help her learn to self-soothe and cry on her own more. I am open to suggestions in this department.
Anyway, how did you start to decide on rules and enforce them in your home? Do you have flexible guidelines too? Are there certain rules that you wish you had decided upon earlier?