Every once in a while (every day), we parents might (for sure) realize that we probably dropped the ball years ago on some crucial parenting responsibility. Among mine is probably teaching the kids proper manners. In the beautiful fog of my thinking, this was justifiable. After all, wasn’t teaching kids “manners” merely bowing to the arbitrary dictates of The Man? Who says they should dress up for church or eat with a certain fork? It’s what’s inside that counts. Kids should be focused on the more important things in life. Freedom! America! Surely everyone can see that we’re just deep and authentic, man. We’re above conformity and “manners.”
Eh, well, about that. Maybe I should have paid a little more attention to this manners issue, just like Husband always says. So I found a great infographic on Pinterest about manners and put it up on the fridge (problem solved, right?) Within an hour, I hear from the kitchen, “What’s this?” Next time I go by the fridge, I see that Manners 101 has been turned face down and re-affixed to the refrigerator with its charming magnet. Somebody may have absorbed a little too much subtle resistance from me.
I’m working on my next approach here in Manners for Non-Conformists. As the kids have entered the teen years, manners look a little different to me. Manners don’t look so much like power and control and stuck-uppedness when the kids and I are closer to actually being equals. Instead, it looks like I have really poorly trained housemates. You’re going to lie on the couch and play video games for an hour while I slave in the kitchen right next to you and not even offer to cut the ends off some green beans? You’re going to grab a free ride while other people work? You’re going to leave your stuff in the space everybody has to use? You’re gonna eat all this and not even say thank you? The kind of manners I’m talking about are the ones that help you get along with people as an adult, including your own parents. It comes from realizing that you are not a glorious and uncontrollable rebel, but actually kind of a jerk.
This is one of many developmental milestones that I suspect is a few years off – I believe I first realized that my mom might want some help and consistently offered both help and thanks around age 27. But naturally, I want adult-level manners in my everyday life with kids and I want it now. So how can I accelerate this process?
Set the goal. I think I’ll start with some discussions of a couple key principles of adult manners that I value (always pitch in, say thank you). I’ll let them know I still don’t actually care if they wear their pants 5 inches too short or put their elbows on the table if they do those things. I want to see manners that show character not conformity. I'll discuss adult "pitching in" vs. "keeping score and waiting to be told what to do" LIKE A CHILD.
Give adult responsibilities. There’s nothing like being the one who has to do all the work to make you realize the importance of help. By dividing things up more like housemates, I may be able to get spontaneous help and consideration and gratitude sooner.
Parenting is such a continuum and it never ends. By helping my kids develop adult manners, even in their interactions with me, I can help make them welcome everywhere they go, and lay the foundation for many years of happy post-childhood family life together.