"One characteristic of a nuturing family," says family therapist Virginia Satir, "is the ability to keep up to date with its rules. Most families are living by rules of which they're not even aware."
To assess the rules in your family, Satir suggests this exercise in her book "peoplemaking":
1. Sit down will all family members, elect a secretary to record information, and ask, "What are our current rules?" A young boy might, for example, assume the rule is that he wash the dishes when his sister is out. Don't enter into any arguments now about whether or not the rules are right, or if they are being obeyed.
2. Try to clear up misunderstandings, working together in "the spirit of making a discovery." Most people assume that everyone else knows what they know. Talking over your rule inventory can clear the way to finding reasons for misunderstanding and behavior problems.
3. Try to determine which rules are still useful and which are out of date (to be thrown out).
4. Discuss what -- of the remaining rules -- you want accomplished. Are they helping or obstructing? Decide how changes will be allowed."Our legal system provides for appeals," says Satir. "Does your family?"
5. Discuss "unwritten rules." Are all family members allowed to say what they feel, think, see, hear, smell, touch, taste? Can a child hearing his father swear and knowing there is a family rule against cursing remind him of it?
Are there some subjects that must never be raised in your family? A grandfather in jail, parents fighting, a previous marriage? How can you expect to behave as though these family facts simply don't exist? If the family rule is to talk only about the good, the inevitable bad action cannot be commented on. The result may be lying or estrangement from each other.