"We seldom get into trouble when we speak softly. It is only when we raise our voices that the sparks fly and tiny molehills become great mountains of contention."
- - Gordon B. Hinckley
December 4, 2014
Enforcing House Rules
by Cyndie Swindlehurst


My sister-in-law and her family will be visiting us for Christmas. Their family does not have the same house rules as our family. I think it’s fine to ask them to take off their shoes in the house and only eat or drink at the table, but my husband thinks it would be rude. But he’s not the one who will be scrubbing spilled milk out of the playroom carpet.

What do you think?


I agree with you. It is not rude to ask your sister-in-law and her family to follow your house rules while they are visiting in your home. House rules are simple rules of behavior that preserve the condition of a house and its contents. They are perfectly compatible with hospitality.

In fact, understanding the house rules is a key ingredient to a happy visit with relatives. And reasonable houseguests do not resent you for telling them your rules — indeed, knowing what a host expects is a relief, not a burden.

But I don’t think your husband is really worried that it’s rude to tell your five-year-old nephew to sit at the table with his cookie. I think his real concern is that he wants his sister and her husband to feel welcome in your home. He is concerned that applying your rules to them and their children will make them feel unwelcome.

So here are some suggestions for how you can give your guests a warm welcome and promote observance of your house rules.

First, act happy that your guests are visiting. You want them to feel welcome in your home, so greet them warmly. Have their rooms clean and ready. Make a special dinner or treat for them to enjoy. Engage them in conversation and plan activities you know will interest them. Compliment their children and their talents.

Don’t overdo it — you don’t want to gush or seem insincere — but have as many positive interactions with them as you can. That way, if you have to remind a niece or nephew about a rule, the reminder will not be the only thing he or she has heard from you all day.

Second, present your house rules to the children. Gather everyone together shortly after your guests arrive. Put all of the children — including yours — directly in front of you and say how happy you are that they are visiting. Then, tell them that you have three (or four or however many) important rules that everyone needs to following order to have a good time.

You’ll have to decide which rules are most important to you. Try to phrase them in a positive way. For example, “All food and all drinks stay in the kitchen,” “We sit on the furniture,” “Shoes off at the door,” “We run outside,” “We stay in our own back yard,” “You may look at the piano,” “Aunt Alzina’s office and the living room are off limits,” and so forth.

Show the children what you are talking about. Where is the kitchen? Where do they take off their shoes? Where are the forbidden living room and office? Show them where they can play, run and eat. Keep your presentation short and smile a lot. Finish by saying how much fun you will all have together.

Although your sister-in-law and her husband will be present, the purpose here truly is to present the rules to the children. This is not a passive-aggressive attempt to manipulate your sister-in-law and her husband or control their parenting. You are simply setting forth the basic house rules to the people who most need to follow them: the children. Unless your guests are totally unreasonable people, they will not be offended.

Third, ask your sister-in-law what rules she has for her children regarding TV, movies, computers, video games, phones and tablets. Consult her before her young children watch or play something on a screen.

If her rules are more stringent than yours, I suggest you follow her rules during her visit. This will show respect for her as a parent. Also, she won’t have to tell her children to stop playing or watching while your children continue. It will be a good exercise in gracious hosting for your children.

Fourth, make allowances for your guests’ needs. For example, consider your rule against wearing shoes in the house. That is a reasonable prohibition for children, who have not yet learned to check their soles before tramping in from the yard. Also, children often enter the house at a run, and stopping to remove their shoes slows them to an appropriate indoor speed.

However, there are many people who cannot physically remove their shoes without difficulty, or who cannot go without shoes because of foot, balance or other problems. There are also people who are disgusted at the thought of walking bare- or stocking-footed in another person’s home.

So if your adult guests know about your no-shoe rule, but do not remove their shoes, don’t mention it. Assume that they are incapable of complying and let it go. Don’t force them to tell you what physical limitations, hang-ups or disabilities prevent them from removing their shoes or going barefoot in your house.

These are adults, after all. I can 99% promise you (1) that if their shoes are truly dirty they will find a way to clean them or change them before walking through your house and (2) that they will not ruin your floors just by wearing their street shoes in your house. Floors are built for walking on in shoes.

Fifth, enforce your rules kindly and fairly among the children. If you see toddler Rosetta wandering around with a sippy cup of milk, take her tiny hand (and the milk) and escort her to the kitchen. If Elmo is coming in from outside, say, “Hi, Elmo. Will you please leave your shoes there by the door? Thank you.”

If Clyde is playing cars on the glass living room table, say, “Hey, Clyde. Let me show you where you can play with those.” If he was just looking for a quiet spot to play alone, find him an equally quiet spot to continue playing.

You must, of course, enforce the rules on your own family. You cannot ask people to eat in the kitchen if you or your children wander around the house munching on toast.

Finally, when it comes right down to it, you cannot enforce rules on adult guests. Most adults will watch the way you do things and follow your lead when they are guests in your home. But if they don’t, if they plop on the couch to eat cake and put their heavy boots on your upholstery, even after you have offered them a seat at the table, you must remember that it is more important to treat them graciously than it is to enforce your house rules.

And that will probably mean saying only, “Let me slide this ottoman under your feet,” and “Here’s a tray.”

Do you have a quandary, conundrum, or sticky situation in your life? Click this button to drop Cyndie a line, and she’ll be happy to answer your question in a future column. Any topic is welcome!

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About Cyndie Swindlehurst

Cynthia Munk Swindlehurst spent her childhood in New Hampshire and her adolescence in San Diego. She served a mission in Manaus Brazil. She graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in English and from Duke University with a law degree.

She practiced law until her first child was born. She enjoys reading, tap dancing, and discussing current events. She and her husband live in Greensboro, North Carolina with their two sons.

Cyndie serves as the Sunbeams teacher in her ward.

Visit Cyndie at Dear Cyndie
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