When we first decided to marry, blending our two families of four into our tribe of eight, we read every book possible. Each of them recommended we establish house rules as a couple, sit down around a table for a family meeting to share the rules, and ride off happily into the sunset.
We didn’t do any of that.
Especially the ride off into the sunset part. In fact, the first year of our blended family was rough. Change is ridiculously difficult for everyone, and leading children through enormous change as you navigate that same change yourself is a tall order.
While we’d planned to build our blended family by the book, our actual life had other plans. We never drafted the rules or had the family meeting.
You can imagine the slight awkwardness this presents in my role as a blended family expert.
“How did your House Rules Family Meeting go?” asks everyone, always.
“Uhhhh…we didn’t really do that.” says me, looking away.
The good news is that years later we actually do have family rules we adhere to, and the kids know them. As usual, we just got to the end a different way.
Today, in the event you are newly blended and following expert advice, I am sharing our house rules, perhaps as a starting point to your own discussion and family meeting.
In the event you’re like us, and got distracted by the shiny newness of your blended family and forgot all about making the rules, don’t worry. You can start now. Unless you tell people, no one ever has to know you were late to the party.
Rule 1: Be Kind
If I say this once a day I say it a hundred times. In our house, we are kind to others. We use kind words. I don’t use the word hate, and talk about it when others do. We talk about kindness in the news, kindness at school and work hard to demonstrate kindness at home.
Rule 2: We’re One Team
We eat together whenever possible. We travel together. We talk about our blended family history and make up funny combined blended family names. We share chores and space on the sofa. We’re careful to include all members of the kids’ tribe in this one: their other parents’ are also on the team. The goal is unity and a sense of belonging to a group, not exclusion.
Rule 3: Respect Privacy
A closed door requires a knock. Children aren’t allowed in each other’s rooms unless explicitly invited. If you are asked to leave a room, you must, and quickly. Toys in a room are for the exclusive use of that kid, and we never require sharing. We don’t post pictures on social media without explicit permission from the subjects. We don’t discipline children publicly, and don’t talk about anything remotely negative about a child (a tough test score, a failed audition) in front of the others. This is a really important one for our family: it creates trust and helps the kids learn about boundaries.
Rule 4: Work, then Play
The kids are responsible for a fair amount of their own care and keeping. They clean their rooms, help with meals, and manage their laundry. In the mornings, we expect them to get dressed and eat breakfast on their own. Many pack lunches or get sports paraphernalia ready for practice in the afternoon. They complete their homework independently. All that happens before the TV turns on or the crafts come out. This rule was a game changer for us.
Rule 5: You Do You, But Don’t Cramp Others’ Style
There’s room to breathe here. Kids can be anyone they want to be. Paint a mural on your wall? Sure. Dig up worms and keep them in your aquarium? Right on. Bake endlessly in the kitchen? Delish. As long as you clean up after yourself and don’t negatively impact others, we’re all for whatever strikes your fancy.
This extends to our day-to-day life. Don’t like what we’re having for dinner? Fine, make your own dinner and join us. As long as your dinner is ready on time to eat with others and you clean up your mess, it doesn’t matter to me. Had a rough day? So sorry to hear that. Hang out on the couch listening to your moody music to your heart’s content. But if you snap at your sister? Take your storm cloud to your private room, please.
What Happens When a Rule is Broken?
Lest you think we are practically perfect, let me assure you: rules are broken all the time around here. All.The.Time. This is real life, after all.
When a rule is broken, we gently correct and move forward. Because these are house rules, Gabe and I are equally comfortable enforcing them. So, for example, if Caden is needling Lottie and I am not around, I’d expect Gabe to remind Caden to be kind. If Caden kept pushing, I’d be comfortable with Gabe removing Caden from the situation by kindly sending him to his room.
Like in all families, sometimes a rule is broken egregiously or repeatedly, and requires a consequence bigger than removing the child from the situation. In those instances, the parent leads and the stepparent supports.
If the drama includes more than one perpetrator, as it often does with six children, Gabe and I listen to each side of the story in front of the offending parties. We then discuss privately and return with our decision. That cuts way back on my crew telling me one thing and his telling him another.
I should tell you these rules aren’t the ones the kids would list. They’d rattle off our rules for making your own dinner and where your cell phone has to be plugged in at bedtime and what time is lights out.
The truth is that each of those more specific rules has been built on the foundation of the top five I’ve shared here. Having these as our simple, broad house rules helps each of us navigate new situations and establish consistent boundaries.
Want some help getting started? Schedule a date night in with your partner and access my exclusive free Blended Family House Rules worksheet here.