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3 Questions I Tell My Kids To Ask Before They Decide To Follow A Rule

The following was syndicated from Thorsten Eggert’s website for The Fatherly Forum, a community of parents and influencers with insights about work, family, and life. If you’d like to join the Forum, drop us a line at [email protected].

I took my kids to school today  —  nothing unusual about a father taking his kids to school   — except that this was the first Monday that I got to do this. Ever. You see, I live in Cape Town and my little ones go to school in Somerset West, which is where they live with their mother. Normally they are returned to their mom on a Sunday afternoon and that is the last that I see of them until Wednesday supper time.

I was determined not to mess up my paternal responsibility, so I set the alarm to an hour that even Farmer Brown’s roosters would have found offensive. For once I was up earlier than Phoenix and Dakota, and before they could angle me for device time, I managed to shoo them out of their PJs and into their school uniforms. Ruby, my 11-year-old princess took a bit more coaxing to be extracted from dreamland.

At 6:15 sharp, (I am German), we were on the road, giving ourselves a safety margin of a couple of hours before school was to kick off. The closer we got to school, the more it dawned on me that perhaps we could have slept for another hour, and I started thinking of things to do to while away the time, whilst waiting for school to start.

The obvious solution presented itself to us when I realized that the gas station had a Vida Cafe attached to it. Before you could say: ”Mochachino”, I had ordered them each an extra large hot chocolate. Thinking that I had done really well, I presented each one with these tubs, straight out of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. It took about 4 to 5 seconds before my youngest had shared her first sip with her clean school shirt. The second sip proved way too hot and she was able to share that with the back seat, (generous little soul that she is). Having witnessed Dakota’s brush with death, my 2 other kids found their cup holders and assumed a safe distance.

As we pulled up at the school, I ran a quick mental inventory of all the things that I had forgotten at home, and realized with some satisfaction that nobody was going to die from exposure, hunger or loneliness (even Piggy the teddy had been packed).

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Sometimes rules need to be bent just a little bit.

I cheerfully announced that this was the final stop on the daddy express bus.

Once out of the car, though, I realized that the cup holders were still in possession of their hot chocolates. I asked Rosey why she did not want hers.

If she had told me that she simply did not like it, I guess I would have been satisfied with her answer and allowed her to be on her merry way!  But they chimed in unison that hot chocolate was only allowed to be consumed on the school grounds unless it came in a thermos flask. I did not agree with them having to ditch this awesome drink. This was when I did something that may not be deemed cool by some. I insisted that they took their drinks with them, telling them that hot chocolate does not grow on trees and that if they were big enough to have me get it for them, then they should be big enough to finish it…

Ruby was mortified. As 11-year-olds with a hyper vivid imagination can do, Ruby was having visions of being thrown into a dungeon and forced to repent her evil ways, all the while being exposed to ridicule from her peers…

I bent down to her level, so that I could look straight into her eyes, and asked her, “Rosey, what is the worst that can happen?”

“But daddy, we are not supposed to do this.”

I told her that I completely respected her healthy respect for the rules, but that I was going to persevere with this one. She was to take her little cup of rebellion along with her — how about that for the old rock and the hard place?

I received a fairly icy goodbye from her and released her into the wilds of the school yard, cup in hand…Likewise, Phoenix and Dakota were issued with their cauldrons of dissent and were sent off into their day.

Winding my way back to Cape Town, I wondered wether I had done the right thing. It’s not everyday that a father should encourage dissent. My angle is this: Sometimes rules need to be bent just a little bit. I try to teach this to my 3. They need to look at what they want from a situation and they need to question these rules, and yes, sometimes, they need to dare not to follow them. I am not embarking on a campaign to raise little criminals, but they should think about and understand why they are following an action. I am writing this from a prison cell (just kidding).

When you switch off the autopilot and take hold of the wheel, interesting things start to happen in your day.

The point that I am trying to make, though, is that things need to make sense to you. Don’t trust in the system to take care of you. The system is like a flawed net. It robs us of our power of consideration. It puts blinkers onto us. Follow the rules, stay within the lines and you will not be called out, or reprimanded. Get reprimanded sometimes, I say! Explore the boundaries and then even push some more. I have never come across an inspiring sheep (except maybe a black one) . The net has been created by people like you and me. When last did you look at a rule and ask yourself whether its existence made your life better?

When daddy asks you to disobey the school rules, he’s not building you up to get a tattoo in the school holidays. He’s asking you to ask yourself — why am I doing this? Is there a better way to go about this? Does this work for my own reality?

I implore my kids to ask themselves that following questions:

  • Does this rule make sense to me?
  • What’s the worst that can happen if I bend this rule just a little?
  • If I did not follow the rule, would I be putting someone else at a disadvantage?

To come a full circle, I asked Ruby if her reprimands had been traumatic, and she admitted that her misgivings had been for nought, that in fact, she had been treated like royalty by her peers. She was able to share her prize with 2 of her best friends.

And always remember the escape clause — it’s your child’s “get out of jail free card” — tell them that any rule enforcer is to come to you, the parent. It will give them a huge amount of confidence.

I try to rattle them a little from time to time. It’s only when you step out of your comfort zone, when you switch off the autopilot and take hold of the wheel, that interesting things start to happen in your day. This applies to parenting and to ourselves. Wake up from the daze of your routine and push a boundary. Do something today that scares you. You may just set off on a path that can change your life for the better…

Thorsten Eggert is a writer living in South Africa. Check out more of his writing at his website.