Ages 2-5Discipline

House Rules – to Love, Honor, and Disobey

My apologies to anyone who clicked on this link thinking that this was a post about your favorite grumpy doctor. I do think that he would appreciate my satire and demands for evidence, but, instead of an homage to sarcasm, I wanted to share the framework that my family has created for a happy and peaceful home. We wrote these rules together and posted them on the wall. We refer back to them daily – a constant reminder of how to be kind and love one another.


When many people hear the labels “attachment parent” and “peaceful parent,” they envision a “free range parent,” who lets her kids play alone and naked in the mud pit in the backyard. Or maybe a frightening “lord of the flies” scenario where mom cowers in fear in a corner, while her tiny dictators have free reign of the house all day and night long. I think this comes from making the mistake of conflating peaceful parenting with bat shit crazy, err, Dr. Sears’ brand of “natural parenting.”

I am a peaceful parent, but, I am also a pro-science and pro-common sense parent. I wore my babies for convenience, sanity and snuggling purposes, used cloth diapers because they are fucking cute and fun, and I don’t use punishment, because it doesn’t work and it is not in line with my values as a person or a parent.

I have never been either a “free range” or helicopter parent. More like a cheerleader and sometimes child herder who draws boundaries with love and redirection and seeks to teach skills versus obedience. I try to allow my kids space to be, grow, fail, succeed and learn, with my support and love lifting them up.

Obedience is not a value I hold. I have spent most of my life embracing radical individualism and disobedience – ask my parents. Why would I expect or desire obedience from my young children? I don’t want them to do good things and treat each other and the world with kindness because they fear punishment or even worse, fear me. I remember vividly the first time I read about blanket training, or the practice of teaching infants to stay on a blanket through physical discipline. The idea that anyone shows young children anything other than love and affection sickens me. And spanking has been shown to be harmful. To a child’s psyche and mental health. To her trust. Increasing violence in children, which can lead to future violence in those children as adults. And, it is ineffective at creating short term or long term behavior change.

I want my children to learn to be kind and do the right thing because they want to, and because it is the right thing to do. I want them to learn empathy, how to love and how to make good choices. Not because they are afraid, but because they hold those values. To guide them there is my responsibility as a parent.

The rules we created together reflect the values I hold dear – kindness, effort, gentleness, consent, sincerity, forgiveness, self-regulation, calm, respecting others’ needs, peace. Can you imagine a world where everyone held those values and held each other accountable when they weren’t honored? What a beautiful thing.

What does rule enforcement look like in a home without punishment? I remind and affirm. That’s one reason why the statements are all positive. And I validate what they are feeling. Because small people feel big emotions, have little self-control and need lots of help learning how to interact with the world, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have a right to be angry or upset.

You know how to stay calm. Let’s sit together and take some deep breaths. I know you don’t want to. Yes, you are having a hard time right now. YOU can do this. Let’s count. You don’t want to count? Okay, lets take a deep breath. I will take one with you. Are you ready now? You know how to stay calm. Can you show me?


We only use gentle touches. You know how. Can I show you? Let’s give the kitty gentle touches. She likes gentle touches. Show me how.


You just hurt your brother/sister. Now s/he’s sad. Can you apologize? You know how. Can you show me?

And they remind me.

Mommy, you are supposed to use your inside voice.


You’re right. I am sorry. I made a mistake.


I forgive you.

Does it work all of the time? Does anything? It’s comforting to have rules to rely on, repeat and remind. And we do this constantly. And it’s empowering to know that we all hold each other to the same standard. That the rules are our values that we teach and renew in each other every day.

You really don’t punish your kids? We enforce natural consequences. If you make a mess, you clean it up. If you hurt your sister, you apologize, and we talk about what just happened. If I yell, I say, I’m sorry. My kids get to see that I am imperfect and make mistakes. They get to see that I care enough about them to hold myself to the same standard. It generally looks calm, repetitive, logical and loving. Again and again. Trying our best.

Will our rules work for you? I don’t know. They are ours. I encourage you to explore your own values and together, with your children, to write your own. A contract and commitment with each other to live those values and love one another. Your family knows how you want your world to be. You have the answers.

You can do this. 

There’s a OneRepublic song called, “I Lived.” Every time I hear it, I think of my desires for my children. The space I want to give them to love, learn and feel pain and joy, hoping that they live their lives to the fullest, take risks, and experience both rewards and disappointment

Are my kids perfect? Nope. They are beautifully disobedient and fucking awesome. Do they break our rules? Every day. Do I break our rules? As hard as I try – of course I do. But we remind each other, laugh and forgive, knowing that tomorrow is a new day.



All images: Steph, all rights reserved.


Steph is a mom, stepmom, freelance writer, and advocate. When she's not busy writing, chasing kids around, cleaning up messes, and trying to change the world, Steph enjoys snuggling, making pies, politics, reading paranormal fiction, yoga, and fitness. A fully recovered natural parent, Steph now trusts science, evidence, and common sense to lead the way. She has been actively involved in the reproductive and women's rights movements for more than 20 years and is a passionate pro-choice feminist. Her writing can be found on Grounded Parents, Romper, The Cut, and other print and online publications

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  1. My kids are now 21 and 24. I can’t say that raising them was anything like this organized or thought out. I think it depends upon the kids.

    My situation is that my sons are a lot like the rest of my family: we’re not exactly malleable. So dealing with them has been more like managing a herd of cattle. A lot of figuring out how they respond to things and using that to get them to do what they need to do. I also have, by other parents’ standards, fairly loose expectations. I don’t make any demand without thinking out exactly how I am going to enforce it (and how it may escalate) and being prepared to do that enforcement for the first 100-1000 times I make it. So I don’t make a lot of demands. I do reinforce a _lot_ . (I’m down to 5-10 reminders per demand now, after 20 years.)

    I also make allowances for what my kids can handle. My older son, when he was younger, dealt very badly with overstimulation, especially sensory overstimulation. We had to avoid noisy or distracting environments and sometimes simply remove him if he was having trouble. Both had trouble with instructions that contained more than one step, so we would have to break things down into simple steps and not present them with step #2 before they were done with step #1. We stayed in hotels when visiting family to allow us to focus on the getting-up and going-to-bed tasks without family around. Etc.

    I generally don’t punish (in the usual sense) because it doesn’t work. It didn’t work on me, or my brothers, why would I assume it would work on my kids? I have dragged each under a cold shower, I think on one occasion for one and two for the other, when they got the idea that Daddy doesn’t mean what he says. (This is according to my rule: never threaten a punishment you’re not prepared to carry out.)

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