Family Rules (2/2)

By Wong Suen Kwong, Centre for Fathering

Rules make it possible for us to live in communities without getting in each other’s way or violating each other’s rights and boundaries. Here we examine the last two categories of family patterns with their respective polarities:

Overt – Covert

See Part 1.

Appropriate – Inappropriate

See Part 1.

Flexible – Rigid

Flexible rules are pliable and adaptable to meet the demands of unusual circumstances are important to guide children to self-care and self-responsibility as they grow into their adulthood.

Rigid rules focus on strict obedience at the expense of individual uniqueness so that the child lacks a sense of self. This can be seen in the failure of an adult child who have yet to ‘cut the umbilical cord’ as adults.

Healthy – Toxic

Healthy family rules have the following characteristics: promote openness and equality; confirm a person’s inherent worth and uniqueness; foster feelings of unconditional acceptance and love; and to enable family members to discover appropriate, functional and acceptable behaviours for self-efficacy.

Toxic rules produce “dis-ease” among family members; destabilize and impede family relationships; and intensify family dysfunction.

Below are 4 common toxic rules that characterize severely dysfunctional families:

a)      Do as I say, not as I do.
b)      Don’t wash dirty linen in public.
c)      Don’t express feelings.
d)      Don’t be selfish.

“Family rules… enable family members to discover appropriate, functional and acceptable behaviours for self-efficacy.”Wong Suen Kwong

Reflection pointers…

Take a time out by yourself and recall what it was like to grow up in your family. What were some family rules that helped you be the man you are today? Did you make any discoveries about how these rules have shaped your fatherhood? You may like to share this exercise with your spouse. It is important to make “I” statements and avoid making judgments.

Action pointers…

Take time personally to think through and write down the rules that are in place now.

  1. Do these rules train and nurture your children to grow into an upright adult or are these rules made to make your parenting easier.
  2. Are these rules still relevant to your children today? As your children grow, some rules may become obsolete or incompatible for your children.

Make the conscious effort to set rules that are beneficial to your children’s learning process and keep them relevant according to the different stages in their life.


No part of this publication shall be reproduced without permission from the author and Centre For Fathering Ltd. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of Centre For fathering Ltd.