The Rules

“Let’s go! C’mon! The day is wasting! It’s 5:00 am! Get your shoes on!

What’s that? It’s raining? Who cares! You won’t melt! You are not made out of sugar! Everybody’s waiting! We need to go! Now!”

The oft-cited Golden Rule suggests doing unto others as you would have them do unto you. Something to be said for this concept. Indeed, the Golden Rule appears in pretty much every religious tradition dating back to forever ago. The Golden Rule makes sense: Members of my running group support one another. We inspire one another to get off the couch. We help one another with diet and exercise. We motivate one another to stay healthy.

Because that’s what we want for ourselves.

But we are careful not to overstep (sorry!) our boundaries. If you don’t want to slog through a swamp in the dark, we’re not going to come to your house with torches and pitchforks demanding that you plod along. We treat you the way you want to be treated, not the way we want to be treated. It’s 5:00 am and it’s still dark out. You might want to have a cup of coffee or get some writing done or take the kids to school or live your life. Maybe you want to make a sandwich or invade France. Who are we to say? Running in circles in the dark works for us. It’s not for everyone.

“Two thirds of two is what part of three?” was one of my dad’s favorite math problems. “Two thirds of two is what part of three?” was also how he would begin a conversation. Frequently with someone I was dating. “Two thirds of two is what part of three?” he would ask. “I just remembered I have to be somewhere else,” my date would reply. “Anywhere else.”

My dad loved math problems. My dad and I communicated through math problems. Math problems were our love language. I don’t remember birthday presents from 50 years ago. I do remember the farmer with the grain, the chicken, and the fox logic puzzle. I celebrate dozens of chess games and hundreds of Parcheesi games. My dad never said, “I love you.” He did say, “Want to play Monopoly?”

My dad and I were lucky. He got to live the Golden Rule by playing the board games with me that he enjoyed playing himself. He also got to live the Platinum Rule by treating me the way I wanted to be treated. Fortunately, we were one brain inhabiting two bodies. We both loved strategy games; we both loved logic puzzles; we both loved Raymond Chandler novels.

But what if you and your kid aren’t monozygotic twins separated by a generation? (biologically absurd but you understand what I mean.) What if your child prefers poetry to “two thirds of two is what part of three?” What if your child would rather build a canoe than go for a run? What if—and here’s where it gets tricky—your child has some language delays and you are a person who communicates effectively (not to say relentlessly)? Would you follow the Platinum Rule and allow your child to be who he is?

Or would you obstinately insist that your child accept only those gifts you have to bestow? Would you force your child to bake cookies if she would prefer to read Shakespeare? Would you require that she change the oil when she wanted to go for a hike? Would you demand that she play soccer if she would rather be writing a story? Would you treat her the way you want to be treated or the way that she wants to be treated? Helping your running buddies to get up and get out at 5:00 am is a significant contribution. Connecting with your child on your commonalities is an unmitigated joy. Whereas allowing your child to be who she is might be the greatest gift a loving parent can bestow.

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