Flying blind has always been my nature. In general I tend to go on instinct rather than the rule book. This has served me well and terribly— probably in equal measures. When it comes to parenting and raising my kids I am often at a loss. I have an interest in them behaving in certain ways but only have a certain amount of energy to invest in getting them to do what I want and rarely think that the conflict that ensues in the pursuit of said behavior is worth it.
Enter table manners—my children often appear as if raised by wolves. They prefer fingers to forks and spoons, napkins are invisible to them, and my daughter really likes eating with one foot on the table (it’s those open hips). It drives my wife and me crazy and we spend a certain amount of exasperated time every day trying to corral them into some semblance of publicly acceptable conduct.
We made a choice early on to teach by example rather than declaration (which doesn’t help when I don’t necessarily have the best table manners myself), and saw that leaving them alone to learn to say please and thank you on their own worked very well. We let them find their way and they both found it pretty well. Watching my daughter say, “excuse me”, and “thank you”, to people in her way when she is on her bicycle really does make me happy.
This past weekend we took both of our kids to my Sister-in-law’s for a sleepover. When we picked them up we were regaled with stories about how good they were, using forks and knives, clearing their plates and asking to be excused. “Huh? What? Who?”
Driving home in the car I caught my daughter’s gaze in the rear view and asked her if it felt good to be polite and helpful. “Yes,” she answered with that amazing twinkle in her eye. So I told them both that I would leave them alone at home if they were able to behave like that when we go out to which they both readily agreed.
I really have no idea what I am doing as a parent. I feel lucky to be somewhat older and able to process emotionally but the time flies by really fast and all actions have consequences. I try to be honest and let them see me for who I am, warts and all. Maybe we should be more strict and demanding of them in the realms of politesse but maybe we are on the right track. I don’t think we will ever know for sure.