Order Up

The Family Rule That’s Made Our Lives So Much Better, According to 12 Dads

From reminders that help everyone calm down to governing principles that reinforce good values, these family rules have led to great results.

Ariela Basson/Fatherly; Getty Images

Family rules are important tools. They can provide safety as well as necessary structure and predictability. While yes, it takes time for them to set in, and they must often be tinkered with to ensure they are clear and produce the right results. But when one sinks in and becomes a natural part of your family’s rhythms, helping to correct behaviors or solidify good habits, it’s a great thing. As no one rule is exactly the same from family to family, we asked a dozen dads to tell us the rule that makes their family’s lives a little bit easier. Whether enforcing the importance of family time, encouraging open communication during times of crisis, or modifying punishments and consequences to benefit everyone involved, the rules these dads have laid down are, for them, cheat codes to a more fulfilling family life. Here’s what they said.

1. Go To Your Room, I’ll Go To Mine

“I heard, ‘Go to your room!’ a lot as a teenager. And I felt like I didn’t have a voice to explain my side of things, all while my mom or dad got to do whatever they wanted. As a father, I’ve done my best to set up the “why” behind that phrase. Whenever I get into tough conversation with my son, and I can tell that he is getting upset, I say, ‘You go to your room. I will go to my room.”

My reasoning is that what’s good for him is also good for me. We both need time to cool down and to avoid saying or doing hurtful and regrettable things in the heat of the situation. It gives us both time to think. After we’ve cooled down in our respective rooms — usually for about 10 minutes or so — we regroup and I let him speak first. I let him know I want to hear his point of view as we try to work things out, and the rule about going to our rooms helps us communicate more effectively.” - Juan, 42, California

2. Share Instead Of Shut Down

“My wife and I, like many people, grew up in households that didn’t have a great handle on emotional intelligence. There was very little sincere expression of feelings and more outbursts, trying to smooth things when they were hard, or shutting down. So when we had kids it was really important to both of us that our kids learned how to share their feelings openly and straightforwardly, so they don’t learn to be volatile, like me, or passive aggressive, like my wife.

Our rule is that we need to allow each other to share what’s bothering us without being afraid. To help enforce this rule, we’ve tried to make sharing feelings a safe experience, and helped our kids learn to organize their emotions. As a result, we have almost no ‘little boy violence’ in our house and our five and seven year old can share their feelings pretty well. In fact, the other day my older son said to my dad, ‘Grampy, I’m feeling jealous of my brother because he gets to read with you and I have to do homework.’ My dad was floored. The rule works for adults too, as my wife and I make sure to continue to share how we’re doing each night so we don’t accumulate resentment.” - Aaron, 37, California

3. We Don’t Gossip About Each Other

“This rule was put in place because my sons had a big fight when one of them was talking about the other to his friends. The situation resulted in my other son and his friends bullying his brother. My son came to me and told me what happened and we concluded that if my other son did not talk about his brother behind his back this never would have happened. That is when we set this new rule for everyone in the house, not just kids. It’s taught us not to gossip about each other, because family members are supposed to have each other's backs. We have our kids repeat the rule to each other before school as an affirmation, and everyone in the family is on the same page with our words and actions moving forward. If we do have issues with each other, we can handle them with privacy and talk things out as a family.” - Tim, 31, Tennessee

4. Feed The Gratitude Jar Every Day

“Each day, every family member writes down one thing they are grateful for on a small piece of paper and places it in a dedicated jar. It’s a rule that has helped our family create a culture of positivity and helps us build appreciation for everyday things. Over time, the Gratitude Jar has become a powerful tool for strengthening our family bonds. The shared moments of gratitude create a sense of interconnectedness, reminding us of the support and love within our family. It has also proven a valuable resource during challenging times, providing a reservoir of positivity to draw from.” — Artem, 52, Serbia

5. No “Engines” For An Hour

“As someone who operates a mechanic shop, I'm constantly surrounded by cars, engines, and electronics. I realized our lives had become overwhelmingly tech-oriented. So we introduced this rule. Every day, we commit to one hour where we don't engage with anything engine or tech-related. No phones, cars, computers, nothing. This helps us reconnect with each other, and it's a breather from today's digital onslaught. The success has been apparent. We've become closer as a family as we spend that hour talking, playing board games, or simply taking a walk. Not only has it improved our dynamics, but it's also become a stress reliever at the end of a busy day.” John, 40s, Pennsylvania

6. Mom And Dad Are A United Front

“Back when I was a summer camp counselor, I learned the game kids played to get their way. I call it the ‘Mommy/Daddy Routine’. It happens when a child does not get an answer they wanted from one parent, they run to the other parent, make the same request and hope for a different response in their favor. My wife and I talked about the Mommy/DaddyRoutine and we agreed that lying and deception was not a behavior we wanted to encourage in our children. So we’ve explicitly forbidden the Mommy/Daddy Routine in our home. It’s helped us become a united front in terms of making decisions that affect our kids and our family. Our kids know that they can’t get away with playing us against each other. But they also know, because of this rule, that we will always be clear about where we stand in every situation.” - Norbert 66, California

7. Don’t Yell Across The House

“I'm the father of two, My son is 10 and my daughter is seven. One family rule I'm particular about is not shouting across the house to communicate with one another, or to get someone's attention. Instead, I have everyone make an effort to speak to that person in the same room. This rule removes any confusion about what someone is trying to communicate. It also further prevents tempers from escalating because of possible misunderstandings. I personally feel it's also respectful and kind. I grew up in a household where my parents would always shout during their arguments, and now they are divorced. So, a part of me doesn't want to repeat that same toxic behavior. On the lighter side, it helps my kids not be lazy by just shouting out questions or requests. They actually have to get up and approach us if they want to say something, which makes them consider what’s worth getting up for.” - Jonathan, 39, Nebraska

8. Spend 30 Minutes Being Creative Each Day

This can encompass a wide range of options, including painting, writing, crafting, or even experimenting with new recipes. The primary aim of the rule is to break away from our daily routines and engage in activities that ignite our creativity. Establishing it has transformed our family dynamic, motivating every family member to explore and cultivate new skills while acting as an effective stress reliever. Moreover, it strengthens our bonds by encouraging the sharing and appreciation of each other's creative pursuits. Implementing this rule hasn't been without its challenges, particularly amidst the demands of a hectic professional life. However, the invaluable benefits it has added to our daily family life make it worthwhile.” - Shawn, 40s, New York

9. Everyone Attends The Weekly Family Meeting

“Every Sunday evening, we gather around the dinner table for a quick, but meaningful, family meeting. During this time, each member of the family gets a chance to share their thoughts, feelings, and concerns. We discuss upcoming events, make plans for the week ahead, and address any conflicts or issues that may have arisen. This simple rule has made a world of difference in our household. It's given our children a voice and a platform to express themselves, and it's helped us to stay connected as a family. The weekly meetings have also fostered a sense of unity and cooperation, as we've learned to work together to resolve problems and make decisions that benefit everyone. The meetings have also helped us to build stronger relationships with our children, as we've gotten to know them better on a personal level.” - Ronald, 51, Florida

10. Respond Verbally When You’re Spoken To

“This is a relatively simple rule that’s helped a lot with our communication: When someone asks you something you respond with words to let them know that you heard them. We’d installed it when our kids were little but then let it slide as they grew. We found that we were all guilty of responding with a quick head shake or a grunt to someone’s request, which is a rude habit to build. It also leads to miscommunications — there’s usually something more that can be clarified. So we reinstated it and everyone issues reminders when it doesn’t happen. Yeah, it can lead to some eyerolls. But it’s helped us all tremendously.” — Stanley, 45, Wisconsin

11. Present Solutions Alongside Problems

“I had a lovely childhood but my parents were very protective and always jumped in to handle situations big and small. As a result, my problem-solving skills were shit. Now, when my kids come to us with a problem — something my wife and I make clear they can always do — we ask that they present a potential solution alongside it. They’ll say what’s wrong and what they think can help or fix the issue. Then we’ll talk about both. This helps them articulate both sides of the equation and strengthen their problem-solving skills. While it took some time to get in the habit of doing this, it’s really helped them grow and feel more confident in their skills.” — Martin, 41, Connecticut

12. Take 3 Deep Breaths Before Reacting

“It took me a long time to learn that the only thing you can really control is how you react to situations. Since my kids were around the age of six or seven, I taught them to take deep calming breaths when they were feeling riled up and to also take a few moments to think before reacting to situations. It applies to my husband and I too and it’s been great. I’m calmer when my kids remind me to breathe and I’m always proud when I see my kids take their breaths and collect themselves in soccer matches or when they just around the house.” — Hiram, 51, Washington D.C.