The Rules That Keep Our Home Happy And Peaceful
by Chaya Kurtz
On the inside of the door to my apartment, there is a list of rules. It might sound obnoxious to post house rules where everybody who comes into our apartment can see them, like we live in a dorm or something, or like we demand compliance to a set of nitpicky no-no’s. But, that’s not the case. We keep them in full view for ourselves, and I have to say we’re proud of our house rules. Instead of keeping them in a private place, they are out there for anyone who visits to see because we think other people will like them too. We hope that our friends and neighbors will write their own house rules that reflect their values, life experiences, and how they want to live. I’d like to share them with you, and explain why each one is something we really try to live by.
The Kurtz Family Happy House Rules:
1) Try to be happy.
Happiness is a choice. While we are real about feeling stress, sadness, anger, and other unpleasant emotions, we work on happiness. In our house, we know that being happy takes work, and that it is something that we need to support each other in. We don’t define happiness as ecstatic joy or constant laughter; for us it is a sense of contentment, maintaining a cheerful affect, and trying to turn around bad moods when they come up. We function under the axiom that nobody and nothing can make you happy – it’s something you’ve got to choose.
2) Work on yourself instead of trying to control others.
If you have ever worked for or lived with a micromanager, you know how demoralizing it is to be pecked at and told what to do all the time. Trying to direct the steps of your spouse or child in scrutinizing detail is a sure way to create an environment of resentment and neurosis. We choose not to do that to each other. The only thing a person can truly control is himself or herself, and we’ve all got plenty to work on.
3) Avoid clutter like the plague.
My husband and I both grew up in cluttered houses, and as adults we are choosing to acquire as little clutter as possible. Our parents are wonderful people and are certainly not hoarders. But they all collect things – they enjoy it and I don’t begrudge them the joy of having collections of things that they like. It’s just that having a lot of stuff in our apartment makes my husband and me feel stifled and encumbered. We work together to keep clutter down. Families can choose whether or not they want to keep and collect stuff or not. When making purchases, we’ll ask each other, “Will this become clutter?”
4) Minimize excessive questions and chatter.
Just like we like open surfaces without stuff on them, we like quiet. My husband and I have consciously chosen to give each other the space to think, work, and exist without constantly being talked at or questioned. We let our son play by himself in quietude. Some people are uncomfortable in silence; we’re quite happy with it. Some people have the gift of gab and are happiest when being spoken to – others need mental space. It’s your house – you get to choose the verbal environment you create together.
5) Expect and accept imperfection in all humans and allow them the right to be wrong.
There are homes where being wrong is a cardinal sin, or where parents will do anything to avoid their children doing something the wrong way. The side effects of that include shame, self-hatred, criticism of others, controlling and micromanaging others, feelings of incompetence, and all kinds of insecurity. We’ve decided that it’s OK to be wrong in our house. If you make a mistake, then figure out a way to fix it. Nobody is going to cry if you spill milk in our house – we’ll hand you a towel to mop it up with.
6) No forbidden speech.
That means gossip. This is the one rule that we’re rather mean about enforcing. If you come to our house, sit at our table, and proceed to talk bad about people, we won’t invite you back. We think that condemning people in the community and taking other people’s inventories creates an environment of judgment, negativity, and hostility in a house. Kids learn how to disrespect others by listening to their parents disrespect others. The level of gossip you are willing to accept in your house is something each family can choose.
7) Don’t call people “smart” or “stupid” or the like.
My husband and I learned Carol Dweck’s Growth Mindset theory together. We liked it, and decided to incorporate it into our life. If you come across a theory that you like, you can put it into action by distilling it down to its most basic action steps and incorporating them into your house rules. In this case, we boiled down Dweck’s whole beautiful educational and parenting theory into, “Don’t call people smart or stupid.” Will it help our son to avoid being a slacker with a high IQ, as my husband and I were as teenagers? I’ll let you know in ten years.
8) Judge not – including oneself.
I judge myself a lot. My husband made this rule because I am my own worst enemy. Our house rules are really goals for how we want to think and behave – this one has helped me to get over feeling like a failure.
9) No arguing in front of the kid.
We want our son to grow up in a peaceful house. Parents inevitably have disagreements or overreact to each other. We don’t really bicker or criticize each other on a daily basis, but like all spouses, we annoy each other from time to time. When disagreements start escalating into arguments, we remind each other that we don’t argue in front of (or within ear shot of) our son. It works to diffuse things until we both calm down enough to speak rationally and kindly.
10) Calm voice.
In some houses, it’s totally normal to talk loudly and excitedly. In other houses, talking that way is a sign of anger. I grew up in a loud-voice house; my husband grew up in a quiet-voice house. When you get married and start your own home, sometimes you have to let go of certain mannerisms you picked from your family of origin in order to live in peace with your spouse. And it turns out I actually like living in a quiet-voice house!
11) Torah-true attitudes about the body, beauty, health, work, and money.
The material world is very powerful, and it’s pretty darn hard to keep it out of one’s house. We try, though. One thing that helps us to keep our heads on straight when it comes to our attitudes toward the material world is to review the Torah’s attitude toward these issues. In general we try to keep in mind that G-d provides our opportunities to work and earn money, and that G-d created us to be exactly as we are.
12) Try again!
Clearly, our house rules are a tall order. When we fail, we try again.
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