Sunday, January 08, 2006

My soapbox: a long-winded diatribe on manners

Well, the girls' night out last night was fun but apparently I'm pathetic as far as party-going goes anymore. I made it as late as 10:30 before my one beer did me in and I had to peel myself up from my chair and stumble home in exhaustion. Sad, huh? And did I mention that we hadn't even made it out the door to the actual bar yet? Doubly sad. Truthfully, I'm maybe a tad wiped out still from the holidays and the stomach virus and a bad cold on top of that. I feel a wee bit run down lately. My body's even toying with the idea of throwing another bout of mastitis my way, I think. I've got painful lumps cropping up in my left breast again. Hopefully, nothing will come of it.

But today was pleasant, despite my being a little weary. I went to another friend's house for lunch and some more much-needed grown-up female conversation. She's a mother of 2 very cute, bilingual kids that Bean enjoyed sharing toys with, plus she made me a rockin' tuna noodle casserole that was apparently just what I was craving. That was very nice indeed.

Watching this friend interact with her children brought to mind the whole topic of teaching manners to kids in these modern times, somthing I've been meaning to post about for some time. This friend of mine is quite adamant that her kids treat grown-ups with respect--acknowledging when they arrive at the house, calling them Mr. or Mrs. What-have-you, saying yes please and no thank you and the like. This makes them quite charming and pleasant to be around and, lest you suspect otherwise, they aren't the least bit parrot-like, or creepy little robot kids. They're just good, nice kids. This is the kind of thing I've learned not to take for granted in the hyper-liberal little college town where we live. I've run into more than a few kids around here whose behaviour has practically made my jaw drop. I'm going to go out on a limb here and just say what I think about certain incidents I've witnessed: saying loudly that food someone puts on your plate at a friend's house is "icky" is not okay. Bursting into the middle of someone else's conversation on the phone is rude and annoying. Ignoring someone speaking directly to you in a social setting is not acceptable unless MAYBE you're under 2 and extremely shy. (I know THAT'LL piss someone off, so just shoot me now.) Allowing your child to sing rude songs at the top of her lungs about how boring the new soccer coach is at soccer practice? Just atrocious. A child who shoves past other people while going through a doorway? God-awful. These are all behaviours I've seen in our little town where I've come to understand that manners are somehow regarded as oppressively right-wing. Or maybe it's that working parents have such little time with their kids that they don't want to spend it playing the heavy, I don't know. But I frankly find it appalling.

Now, I'm as liberal as most of the next folks in this town. I also know that mannerly behaviour is basically false in that it's intended to curb natural inclinations and instincts so as to put others at ease. But, folks, I guess I just don't understand why one child's natural-ness has to take precedence over someone else's feelings or even personal safety in some cases. And the issue of respect for others older than you--why is it no longer common to teach our kids to call adults Mr. and Mrs. So-and-so anymore? Does it make adults seem less friendly in some way? And if so, is that a bad thing? I mean, I'm not advocating hostility or even extreme formality with kids, but on the other hand it seems like grown-ups are much more likely to be treated respectfully if there's a little distance put between them and kids. This is maybe a stretch, but would there maybe be less violence in schools and even on the streets if people had manners drilled into them from an early age? All etiquette is fundamentally, is just acknowledging another's humanity--and I'm not talking about the which-fork-to-use branch here. I guess what it seems to boil down to is that so many adults now seem to want to be a friend to their children, rather than a parent to their children. Someday I'd like to be a friend to my children and a friend to their friends, too. But right now I want to be the grown-up in our relationship, and I want other grown-ups to do the same around my kids. I want my daughers to say, "It's nice to meet you," and "Excuse me," and "No, thank you," and to call you Mrs. Your Name Here until you know them well enough to invite them to call you by your first name somewhere down the road. I feel like I'm doing my children a big favor by teaching them how to treat others respectfully. I'm not crushing their personalities or individuality in the least. Being well-mannered and polite will only help them in the long run when they get to be grown-ups themselves, but the time to learn is right now.


Nancy said...

I agree completely. I have noticed that we've started spending more time with families that emphasize manners as much as we try to in our household. We emphasize the "please" and "thank you," and calling adults Mr. and Mrs., and not interrupting -- but I have noticed that we are more and more in the minority in this regard, so I am always happy when we find other families whose kids are well-behaved like ours. It just helps to reinforce all around the kinds of lessons we want them to learn. And it's more pleasant too.

Moonface said...

Saying "please" and "thank you" and "sorry" are an absolute must in our household. I find it appalling when kids just snatch presents and things off you and just walk off without even a smile of gratitude, and especially when the parents dont say anything to encourage the kids to be more respectful. The Mr & Mrs part I am finding to be so difficult though, because I find most people dont want to be called that. But for me, it's disrespectful for a child to call a grown up by their first name.

The Daring One said...

I so agree. My friends and I have had several discussions about the Mr/Mrs thing. It's sort of a hot topic. Weird. I think our society has forgotten what it means to respect our elders. What we call people is just a symbol of how we feel about them. Adults have specific roles in children's lives. That's why I'm called Mom, not Kathryn.

Sugarmama said...

The Mr./Mrs. thing does seem to have fallen out of favor, doesn't it? In the South it's a little easier because it's traditional and quite acceptable to call adults Mr. First Name and Miss First Name, at least once you know them a little. I think this is nice for kids to do even if your friends insist that calling them Mr. or Mrs. Last Name makes them "feel old." And my older daughter knows a couple of my closest friends as Aunt First Name, rather than just by their first names--also a nice Southern tradition. I have to admit, though, that I've had to adopt these customs on my own. My mother was still a teenager when she had me, so her friends DEFINITELY didn't want to be called Mrs. anything. I grew up not knowing it could be considered disrespectful 'til, embarrassingly, I was corrected by an older man I'd just met one day--ouch!

MQ said...

Hi, I found you through another mommy blog. I just had to comment on the manners topic. I would like my kids to say Mr. and Mrs. but no one else does it here in Northern VA. I let the other parent dictate what they would prefer to be called. And I totally agree that too many kids are running around like ungrateful banshees these days. When I see them, I show my kids how NOT to act. :)