This week - The moms talk about those who place an emphasis on raising "well-mannered" children and explore what some of the benefits may be from focusing elsewhere.
By Regina Martine
I do not want to raise well-mannered children. I don’t want to raise nice children. I definitely don’t want to raise obedient children. I’m not saying that I don’t want my children to say please and thank you, or be pleasant in their dealings with others, or sometimes just do what I tell them because I said so. I don’t want my kids to strive to please other people, or squelch their own voices because what they have to say might not be nice, or do what they’re told because they fear punishment if they don’t. I want them to do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do. There are better virtues than manners, niceness, and obedience. For instance …
I want my kids to respect themselves and others. I want them to feel valued. I want them to treat people well and expect to be treated well. I want them to know that they don’t have to be nice and polite if doing so allows others to take advantage of them.
My kids have pretty good lives. I want them to know that and understand that many people have to struggle in ways they can’t even imagine. They should care about what happens to the people in their community and beyond.
I want my kids to be good thinkers and problem solvers. I don’t want them to wait to be told exactly what to. I want them to imagine all the possibilities and find the best path for them.
My kids are nice, and usually polite, and sometimes even do what I tell them to do without giving me a hard time. When I asked my 12 year-old daughter what qualities she wanted to have when she grew up. She answered “to be smart, strong, and self-aware.” I’ll take those virtues over “well-mannered,” thank you very much.
Do I want my kids to be obedient? Well mannered? Yes and no. When following rules keeps my kids and other people safe, then yes, they need to follow the rules. That doesn’t mean they are obedient to everyone or that they can’t challenge what they believe is unjust or unfair. I definitely want them to use their minds and hearts and make their world a better place by being in it. We have a saying in our house, “there’s no shortage of minds and opinions here.” I think my husband said that to me a time or two even back in our days of dating, but I am proud when my kids come up with their own perspectives of what should be done and how to do it.
Having manners is important but mostly as it relates to respecting people. I definitely want my kids to have a strong moral compass of respect—for people, animals and our planet. To the extent that well-manners is part of showing respect to people then that’s important. Being well mannered, though, without respect doesn’t get far. There are many sub-qualities in the “respect” category: being kind, caring, understanding, and empathetic. These are all important qualities and I hope my kids are learning them.
I also want my kids to be resilient. I want them to be able to cope positively with the challenges that life brings. I’m not sure how to foster resiliency in kids. My kids haven’t encountered any majorly distressing life event (yet) but the little ones are important to them: making that lay-up, completing the homework that is challenging. Our approach is to break into the emotional angst and once that is accomplished break the task down into smaller tasks. I guess it is somewhat of a “grounding”—figure out what you can do and then go from there. Speaking of needing to get grounded…hmm…can we say Red Sox. Late night and they lost!
Well, it just figures! I have recently streamlined my parenting approach: Instead of agonizing over everything I say or don’t say, or do or don’t do, or allow or don’t allow our kids to do, I decided that if I just make sure they know their manners, the rest of what my husband and I hope and believe for them will follow. Hey! We are a busy household! Nice kids can get their basic needs met with “pleases” and “thank yous,” eye contact and a firm handshake, can’t they? Can’t they??
My lazy, tired heart sank a bit when I read Kirk Martin’s, “Why I DO NOT Want a Well-Mannered Child.” (It came in an email. I don’t know how to link to it, but here is a similar post of Martin’s.) I read the whole thing and was relieved to see that he wasn’t against kids having good manners, for goodness’ sake, but saw that he was cautioning parents against thinking they had done their job as parents if their children could exhibit good manners.
As it happens, I also came across this article where I get all my information these days: Facebook. (“If it’s not on Facebook, it didn’t happen,” is my new motto.) In, “Exposing Major Blind Spots of Homeschoolers,” Reb Bradley offers nine “blind spots” that parents may have when raising kids. Though the article cited is framed within a Christian, homeschooling context, I think it warrants consideration by any parent who strives to raise kids conscientiously. Without accusing or being snide, the author cautions against such tendencies as, “Emphasizing Outward Form,” (i.e., manners) “Depending on Formulas,” (Just because you read it in a parenting book or it worked for someone else…) “Over-Dependence on Authority and Control,” (*sigh*) and “Not Cultivating a Loving Relationship With Our Children.”
My husband and I don’t seek to raise boys who are polite, empty-shelled automatons. We do want to give them the tools they will need to navigate this big, bad world on their own (or to find people to help them) so they will have the space and freedom to see all that is so amazing and good in this world- you know, since it’s the world we’ve got.
Because I often feel overwhelmed at home with the number of little beings I’m responsible for, I definitely tend to “over-depend on authority and control,” especially when feeling stressed. I yell a lot. I’m inconsistent. I feel frustrated that the weaknesses I see in their behavior or character are more than vaguely familiar to me when I look in the mirror. And I think that these weaknesses of mine that are seeping into my kids are getting in the way of “cultivating a loving relationship” with them, or rather, maintaining that loving relationship. I’m a star with babies. I fear that the truly hard work of parenthood begins when they start talking…and thinking…and having opinions. Pesky free will!
So, if I were to highlight three virtues that I hope to grow in our kids, I’d vote for integrity, bravery and an open heart. With those three, I think they could strike a good balance between caring for self and caring about others, with the ability to take risks, fight or forgive, as the need arises. With all the mistakes I’ve made in parenting and probably will make, it gives me comfort that they will survive just fine when they eventually decide their parents did everything wrong!