Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Manner Mess Up

My Mom was verrrrry big on us having, and using, "proper" manners as children. She believed in taking us out, even at very young ages, to fancy restaurants so that we would need to use our manners. If we had a family dinner and you didn't act accordingly, well, it wouldn't have been pretty. My mom's philosophy came from her father, who would often say, "How you act in public and the world is a reflection of not only yourself, but your family and background." In our home, manners weren't saved for special outings or occasions either, it was a part of daily life. I continue that belief with my own children.

My husband, on the other hand, calls my manners "crazy" and "extreme." We literally get into petty arguments about the mere words "thank you." Here's an example of a situation-when we go through Tim Horton's drive through, they tell us how much it will cost. When we get up to the window, my husband will take his coffee from the clerk and give them the money. Inevitably, most of the them will then say, "thank you." At this point, my husband drives away, with me shouting back "thank you!!!!" It drives him nuts. His thinking is that THEY need to thank us for our patronage, where as we don't need to thank them for handing a coffee out a window because "it's their job." I totally disagree. We could go on and on here about how his argument is flawed. There are many "jobs" where you would still thank the person for their time, effort, prompt service, whatever the case may be.

That's not the only instance. When we go out as a family, I'm particular about my children's eating, proper linen napkin placement on their laps, using their cutlery properly, not getting up from the table, asking to be excused and all of what I call the "basics." My husband, sometimes, thinks they should just be allowed to be "kids." My thinking is that if you practice when they are young (really from the moment you start taking them out!) then as they get older it will be second nature and not a struggle. We've had many people, including strangers, comment on our children's manners. I don't think it's a punishment or penance to be taught how to act in social settings. If anything, it's to their betterment and ease in such situations.

When we took the girls to their new school to register, the principal came out and started chatting to my daughters. She said her name to my eldest daughter. My eldest, without prompting of any sort, stuck out her hand and said her name was A. and it was nice to meet the principal. Then, my youngest said, "And I'm B" and also stuck out her hand to shake hands. The principal looked shocked. Actually shocked. She looked at me and said, "what wonderful manners your children have! It's rare nowadays that I ever see that!" I have to be honest, even "I' was a bit shocked because usually I've had to prompt that exchange. I was also supremely proud.

My kids are by no means perfect. It's not perfection I'm expecting though. I do expect kindness to others, being helpful, and knowing how to act according to the requirements of the social settings in which they may find themselves.

The downfall of being so "mannered" however, is that I'm always conscious of when I've flubbed in that department. I will go over and over the occasion where I messed up in my mind and beat myself up for it. I can, off the top of my head, think of two instances that happened recently. Why can I pull such little scenarios up so readily? It's because I beat myself up for days, in my head, over my mistakes.

The first happened when my husband and I went to pick up my youngest from school. We were waiting outside and she came out in a long line of kids with an adult in the front. I said "hello" to the adult, whom I guessed was a teacher and potentially MY child's teacher, and then gathered my daughter. After dropping her line at the bus stops, the teacher came by again and chatted a bit to my daughter while my husband and I sat on the bench nearby. When we left, I realized that I should have stood up and introduced myself properly. I just wasn't thinking at all because the exchange was quick and casual. Do you think I just shrugged it off though? Nope. It lingered in my mind for days afterwards and what she must think of my horrific faux-pas. My husband laughs at that kind of thing and says that he doubts anyone but me even notices or cares.

The second happened when I was out walking my dog. As often happens, I was stopped by a man out walking with his dog. He was commenting on my dog being so cute and asking various questions about her age and name, as well as telling me what he knew about the breed and the temperament. I thanked him for his compliments and time, and walked on. I was about 3 minutes in when I again sank with the realization that I never asked any questions about his dog or made any compliments his way. Sigh. My mind kept going over and over that moment, off and on throughout the day.

While my husband says that I'm "hoity toity" with my manners, I disagree. To me, having manners is about showing appreciation and being kind. It's about being grateful and making others feel comfortable and accepted. Yes, it's also about being elegant and refined. I think that manners are one small way that human beings can be kind to one another and make the world a little less ugly.

I don't think one would ever regret having manners that were "too good" as opposed to being put on the spot by not having any. You can't go wrong with being polite. You may regret being rude, or may be embarassed by not knowing what fork to start with when eating, but you'll never be ashamed to act overly conscientious.

Thank you for listening. It was very polite of you to do so!


  1. I agree with you and can relate. I'm ashamed that I still have to remind my almost 8 yr old to say thank you at times. I have to remind my 39 yr old family member also though. I commend you for your dedication to teaching what is right, right from the beginning.

  2. I agree with you 100% Tracey. I think it's so important to teach your kids proper manners. Reuben is good with the please and thank yous but I have to work on him about behaving in public... he's like your B... sometimes takes tentrums in public... Ugh. It is embarassing and I feel like it's a reflection on my parenting.