At first glance, bed times and house rules may not seem to be vitally important if you're just starting out as foster parents. Bedtime may be somewhat of an afterthought and house rules may be something that you plan to make up on the fly. But bed times and house rules can save your foster child's life by helping her learn the fine art of taking care of herself and how to arrange her life with boundaries and an organized approach to doing self-care.
House rules should be in place from the moment a foster child arrives on your doorstep. These rules should be a microcosm of society. In other words, they should reflect societal values and be geared at helping the people living in your home be safe and harmonious. House rules keep everyone safe and happy in ideal situations. They are meant to give every person in the home the space they need to unwind and digest the goings-on of the day. Don't overlook the creation of house rules as an important piece before foster children are placed in your home.
House rules should take into account your needs as well as the needs of other children living in the home. For example, it may be appropriate to have an “open door” rule in your home, where you don't allow children to close their doors all the way (depending on the circumstances of the children living with you). If a door is closed part of the way and left open a crack, it should be a house rule to knock before entering. As the foster parent, you should also knock before entering your foster child's room. Setting boundaries like this can help kids learn how to cope with the world outside better and experience the feeling that they have space to have their own thoughts in a safe environment without announced interruptions.
Curfews are an excellent example of house rules. Curfews are definitely enforced to keep kids safe. We once had a 16-year-old boy who refused to come home on time and meet curfew. When he would arrive home, he would give us a list of excuses for arriving late. So we cracked down on him and provided him with a typed list of consequences that would happen in response to his inability to meet curfew and follow other house rules. He was extremely upset at us for exerting control over the household and as soon as we made it clear to him that we were in charge, we realized how out of control he was and how he was being controlling toward us. By reasserting our authority, we felt like we were in charge of the house again and suddenly the power struggles were quelled (at least for the time being).
As I've mentioned before, sometimes birth parents will try to usurp your power to enforce house rules like bedtime, for example. But house rules can help you maintain your sanity and help create harmony with the children who live there. I like to think of house rules as though they function like gravity. Gravity is a law of nature that keeps the planets in alignment. Sure, gravity is inconvenient at times, but it keeps the solar system from imploding. House rules are should function like gravity. They may be inconvenient but they help the individuals in the family work together harmoniously.
Harmony is one of the biggest reasons why house rules are so important for foster children and all children for that matter. It's really hard to “teach” kids how to work harmoniously with others. It's a lot like balance in that way. You can't read a child a book about balance and expert her not to fall down. You can't give a child (or an adult) a book to read on “harmonious relationships” and expect for that person to be able to actually create harmony in relationships because they read the book. Harmonious relationships must be practiced. Children will watch you enforce house rules and make observations about the comfort in your home…the harmony that exists there because of your willingness to lay down the law. They will observe the effects your actions and then have the opportunity to implement similar strategies in their own lives and relationships. It is through constant tweaking and attention that your house rules reflect the needs of the children and adults who reside there and by adhering to these house rules, you are teaching your foster children important lessons.
House rules do more than just teach your child healthy behaviors, they also teach your child how to interact with others in intimate family relationships. The delicate interplay of needs that your house rules reflect is something that your foster children can tune into and learn from to use in their own families when they grow older.