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Food For Thought

I’ve never quite understood the difference between policies and rules, though there must be some distinction or we wouldn’t need both words. Policies, I’ve always felt, were intended to make decisions simple. If the company policy dictates that everyone must wear a uniform to work, then everyone is spared the trouble of deciding what to wear. Policies can also apply to the public that the company deals with. Take those return policies at department stores. Individual sales clerks and cashiers are not required to make judgment calls about returns and refunds. If a receipt is required for a returned item, the store has an iron-clad argument for not giving a refund without it. When a charitable organization has a policy against sending information to persons who request it without first making a contribution, then the workers soliciting contributions are not burdened with the decision to send or not to send such information. There’s no sense arguing because the solicitor can’t change the policy which, supposedly, comes from higher up. (When I request such information and am told it is against policy, I can claim that I have my own policy of not making a commitment without first receiving the information. Takes me off the list and I’m not pressed to provide any other reason.)
When my children were growing up, I had a number of policies (though I didn’t necessarily call them either rules or policies – they were just guidelines that both they and I could use to make decisions simpler.) These, which I thought of being the ALWAYS and NEVERS, changed with each child’s age, abilities, trustworthiness, etc. A two-year old was never allowed out of the house or fenced play yard alone. They knew it, the rest of the family knew it, most of the neighbors knew it. A toddler playing in the driveway or strolling unsupervised down the front walk usually attracted attention which led to prompt rescue and possible disciplinary action. By three-and-a-half or four, children were trustworthy enough to understand that they could play in the neighborhood with other children as long as they didn’t cross the street or enter other houses. By five, when they would soon be heading out for school, it was time to allow street crossings, but only at designated crosswalks and with great care in watching for traffic.
So, policies were subject to change under changing circumstances. Rules, which applied to everyone in the family, weren’t based on individual needs and seldom changed. These concerned such things as never leaving a lighted candle in an unoccupied room, always turning off the television when you were done watching if no one else was watching, never letting strangers into the house, always writing down telephone messages, never inviting friends for meals without checking with the cook first, always spending holidays, Sundays, and birthdays with the family. Well, you get the idea.
Those things soon became so ingrained that they became habits that required no conscious judgment or reminders– at least for the kids and myself. They were just accepted as things our family did. My husband, not so involved with the children’s behavior and abilities on a day-to-day basis, and often more influenced by his own mood than by family rules, sometimes broke the rules or denied the kids things that were usually agreed on as being acceptable, but we all learned to be tolerant and forgiving and things always got smoothed over and turned out okay. That, in itself, was probably a valuable lesson for the kids to learn– that things don’t always live up to rules and expectations, but we can survive them as long as we have a sense of humor and a bit of compassion.
And, then there was the matter of setting good examples. There’s something about fathers that can’t seem to resist the urge to entertain their sons with all their own so-called “war stories”– you know, all the shocking, daring, slightly illegal and always unwise thing they themselves did while growing up. The accounts of the things they got away with. How they kept their parents from finding out about this or that peccadillo. The time they and their best buddy sneaked out of school and spent the afternoon on the gym roof smoking cigarettes. The time they went duck hunting and bagged four plump birds from some farmer’s flock. How they sneaked their uncle’s car and went joy riding one summer night– with no driver’s license. Not exactly the best role model.
Having grown up in a family of all girls, I was unprepared for the years when those teenaged boys are tanked up on self-confidence, testosterone and just wanting to see how much they could get away with. Well, they grew up. And I survived it!