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Me: What are the rules of the house?
BA (10): Do not encroach on the person or property of another. Do all you have agreed to do. [We took those rules directly from Richard Maybury.]
Me: Who has to obey the rules?
BA: Everyone in the house?
Me: Me and Dad?
Me: What if you don’t want to obey those rules?
BA: You can ask if you can change the rules.
Me: Who would you ask?
BA: It depends on who is in a good mood.
Me: Young Statesman, what are your thoughts? What if you don’t want to obey the rules? Do you only lose the constraint?
YS: You lose the protection that the rules provide you.
Me: What does that make you?
YS: An outlaw. Fair game.
Me: So, BA, what would you think if we said, “Great. You don’t want the constraints or the protection of the rules, there are more of us, we’re going to take your stuff!”
BA: I’d be like, “That was a bad choice. I take that back.”
Me: So you think those are good rules.
Me: Are they rules you’ll take with you into adulthood?
BA: I think so.
Me: What if you met someone who didn’t obey those rules?
BA: I would be quite upset.
Me: What would you call that person?
BA: A thief.
Me: Are you free to leave the family?
YS: Yes. I’m not going to.
Me: So you’re here voluntarily?
Me: How can that be? What recourse do you have? Isn’t it dangerous just to leave?
YS: You would help me find a good home that suited me better.
Me: That’s true. That’s a big part of being a member of this family. You are free to go. Your father and I both agree on that point. He is free to leave, I am free to leave, you are free to leave, your brother is free to leave. How do you think it impacts our parenting to know that we have agreed that you can walk away–right now–and not look back?
YS: It makes you think about your actions and consequences.
Me: Does that make us perfect parents?
Me: Why don’t you leave?
YS: Because I love you all and you are my family.
Me: What if we were oppressive?
YS: You aren’t so how would I know what I would do?
Me: So if we were prone to being oppressive we wouldn’t give you the option to walk away.
YS: Right. If you’re going to be oppressive you aren’t going to give the kid the option to safely walk away.
Me: But you’re given the right to walk away when you’re eighteen, right? Earlier if you become an emancipated minor. So eventually everyone has the right to rid themselves of relationships they find abusive or broken. We’ve just given it to you earlier. Why would we do that?
YS: Because you want to be respectful of me.
Me: It also keeps us honest. Knowing that you can leave us. It levels the field. What if I couldn’t leave my marriage to your father?
YS: That would make you a slave and he could do anything.
Me: Would that be healthy?
YS: No. You couldn’t do anything. You would have no power.
Me: There has to be balance. We decided early on that our relationships had to be balanced. You had to have the right to leave. Your father and I agreed to that with one another. That’s our agreement. If one of us refuses to make leaving the family a safe option for a child, the other is the fail safe. They will guarantee your safe departure and survival until you are old enough to make it on your own. Are there other adults who would assist you if your dad and I suddenly lost it?
Me: Miss Katy, Miss Alison, Miss Karen, Mr. Jamie, The Whites, Scott. Would they help you?
YS: Yes, they would. But I’m not leaving.
We have this conversation about every six months. Just so he knows his father and I remain bound by this rule. We check in. They know the rules of our union as a family and they know that removing themselves safely is an option guaranteed to them as members of this family. Particularly as they become young adults with all that adulthood brings with it, I think having the option to walk away is fundamental.