Family Boundaries

Many people see how my children love helping others, are proactive in doing house chores, and ask me curiously, what is my secret? Especially in children with a large age gap, with my third and fourth child a decade apart, for young people, that’s almost two generations. My two daughters went through elementary and middle school in Taiwan, completing their high school education in North America and now are in graduate school. My two sons went through elementary and middle school in North America and are in the midst of their teenage years in high school.

In fact, every family has their own difficulties. If there is any uniqueness, that would be that I share my burdens and troubles with other family members during Family Time so that the load is divided and the joyful moments multiplied. The children have since small learned to participate by voicing their own opinion and learned seamlessly and unknowingly how to take on responsibilities. Through this, the benefits of setting fitting house rules become apparent.


Who Should Lead?

When it comes to house rules, it seems to be a very serious term. “Creating family boundaries” seems more appropriate. We use Family Time to discuss the issues which often cause friction between parents and children, changing them to become constructive, then creating bounds that everyone can follow and live out. As the children enter different ages of growth, the house boundaries will then be modified as needed with flexibility.

For example, a child knows to eat at the family dining table from a young age because he or she won’t be allowed to continue eating once he or she leaves the table, thus in my home there won’t be any chase feeding phenomenon happening during meals. Using the golden opportunity when their age is between 15 to 18 months old, I let them self-feed, then I only need to place newspapers below their chair before each meal, making cleaning up afterwards much easier.

When my two daughters are still very young, they often rush to be the first to get a bath. As adults, we know it doesn’t matter to wait a few minutes until it’s your turn. However, my daughters often make this a moment of crisis. I asked them to think up a plan, and the two daughters, after some deliberation, decided to make a form and post it on the bathroom wall, with the elder daughter taking charge to mark whose turn it is to take a bath first, with the two alternating each day. This seemingly small thing, is a kind of training. The kids learned to use conversations to discuss problems to resolve difficulties in their life.

When the children are in elementary school, the house boundaries are guided by the parents, with a draft that we create, with the final version agreed to and customized by the children. For example, out of four rules, there are three which us parents would make, with the fourth customized by the kids. We have discussed many topics, like how much pocket money they should have and how they should spend it, washing the dishes, doing the laundry, sweeping the floor, vacuuming the home, taking out the garbage and other household chores that they need to do to even out the burden, computer time and cellphone usage time, etc. has all been hotly debated.

When the children enter middle school, most of the house rules are drafted by them with us parents modifying them as discussed. On one hand they know they are growing up and need to take on greater responsibility, learning to keep their promises, and knowing how to participate.


Meeting New Challenges, Resolving Crisis

We often open our home to our children’s friends, sometimes to do homework, other times for recreation. We put down the rule that they can invite their friends, but they also have to share in the cleanup afterwards.

One day my son brought a few kids home for homework. After desserts, my son was doing the dishes. I asked one of his classmates whether it’s because they are there that he needs to do house chores. My son told them that he and his brother take turns every day to do the dishes, with one washing and the other returning the dishes back to where they belong. My son then asked them in return whether they need to do chores. Turns out because they are the only child, they never had to do chores. Ever since that day whenever they come to visit us, they have learned to love learning to do chores with my son as a guide.

In this age of technology, teenagers often relentlessly keep up with tech product trends, enduring peer pressure, with even the parents feeling that they cannot keep up with the changing times. I often see many teenagers hanging under clouds of difficulty, so it is very important during Family Time to learn to listen to the children first, to hear their thoughts, and consider their opinion.

During my son’s time in middle school, I allowed them to play educational computer games such as Tetris but actively discouraged and disallowed them from playing games involving killing such as League of Legends, with a special emphasis on discouraging online games. A few months ago, I discovered that my third child would wake up in the middle of the night to play the online game Toontown, which worried us a great deal.

Ten years ago in Taiwan it was unusual to hear teenagers’ parents say they cannot communicate with their children. Nowadays, children either coop up in their room, play online games, or go to internet cafes. The teenagers of the present age even has the smartphone, which is essentially a portable computer, allowing them to be connected to the internet with ease and making tech an even greater lure.

Thus we use the “Family Safety” feature to limit our children’s computer usage time, using Wi-Fi settings to restrict the smartphone internet usage, filtering violent and pornographic content from them to help my children escape from the world of internet addiction.

As parents, we must use wisdom to meet each new challenge; to not easily allow for the provision of technological products to children, to carefully evaluate the possible negative impact of internet use, and letting children know how to best use tech, leading them on the right path.

Shifting Their Interests, Reaping Joy

During multiple Family Time sessions, the kids agree to abide by the boundaries we set. We create a set of fitting bounds and encourage them to transfer their interest to other hobbies. For example, my two sons like to play ping pong, and so us parents encourage them to cultivate this interest. One son likes to use his left hand, while the other use his right hand, making them a good ping pong team. The elder son learned from the ping pong coach: “Regardless of how high your score is in online games, in reality it’s still zero, without meaning. You’re just wasting your time and your life.”

In addition, the older son loves to watch Child Genius, using YouTube to analyze international ping pong players’ techniques. The younger son likes to watch TEDtalks, MKBHD and other tech related knowledge, especially the development and growth of the phone.

Last summer, we bought a DIY 3D printer. The elder son had taken software classes using SOLIDWORKS, the younger brother looked into hardware maintenance and product printing. The two sons used a Christmas vacation to invite friends over for ping pong tournaments, then used the 3D printer to produce a trophy. It was a very constructive holiday, from the father and sister helping the brothers assemble the 3D printer, to the printing of the final product.

During Family Time, it was decided openly that from then on, they will not spend money to buy their friends’ birthday presents, instead using the 3D printer to print the gifts. The sons’ classmates loved their custom gifts, with many never seeing the new technology before. So every time when my children’s friends visit our home, we would show off our 3D printer, with the sons explaining them with great enthusiasm.

All in all, using Family Time increases parent-child relationship, using discussion to turn crisis into constructive moments, creating an open and positive family boundary. If after two to three months the effects don’t meet expectations and no one is able to keep the family boundary, then we would re-discuss the issue and modify the boundary as needed.

It is after many trials that we came to realize the immense usefulness of settling family problems: Husband-wife communication, parental guidance, parent-child crisis, everything can be discussed and communicated, building up a robust communication channel with your children, allowing you to manage your home with great happiness, growing in joy, and letting your family be filled with love.

  1. Bring up the most often-encountered challenge in the family.
  2. Turn the discussion into constructive verbal communication.
  3. Set up family boundaries that can be kept by everyone.
  4. Do a review every two or three months.