Last month I sat around a table with 1/2 a dozen sticky faced toddlers. Each one clutching a mangled dixie cup of cheerios in their hot little hands. Upon reaching the bottom of the cup they lift hopeful eyes in my direction. The more assertive personalities hold up their cup beseechingly.
“What do you say?”
Each one, in turn, squeaks out an adorable “pa-wease.” Even S rubs his tummy to sign the word.
After that, it’s smiles all around, flush with the success of snack acquisition and the effusive praise that comes with having “SUCH good manners.”
This is what we do. We teach our children what to say.
Say “Hi” to Grandma. Wave “Bye-bye.” Tell your brother “No thank you! I don’t like it when you throw sand in my eye/take my toy/hug me until I fall to the ground/bite me on the shoulder.”
We give our children words to foster relationships, stand up for themselves and express their feelings. We teach them how to treat others, and ourselves, with respect. Words are the
sticks and stones brick and mortar of relationship development.
At the end of a meal our big kids are expected to clear their plate and say to whomever prepared the meal, “Excuse me, thank you for my dinner.” It’s a pretty habit we admired in the respectful, well-behaved children of other families we know. We do the same in the hopes that one day our children will morph into something similar.
I’m not so deluded as to believe it is always the honest expression of heartfelt gratitude. Some nights is sounds more like “excusemethankyouformydinner, it’s MY turn with the iPad, put it DOWN, it’s NOT FAIR, where’s MY ice cream, DON’T touch me, MOOOOOOO-OOOOOOM.”
Other nights we get the sullen, slumped shoulders version which sounds like the exact opposite of gratitude “Ex-cuuuuse me. Thanks for my ‘dinner.'” And we launch immediately into a lively post-dinner discussion about attitude and tone of voice, which is always fun. “What do you mean? That’s my normal voice. I always talk like that.” This actually does have a ring of truth, since sullen-pre-teen-cool is becoming our new normal. Sigh.
But we plug away. Every time they say the words, they go through the motions of Grateful. If nothing else, it is a reminder that meals do not magically appear on the table; they are a gift of time and effort, and hopefully (most nights) some small amount of skill.
Manners are a big deal in our house. I went toe to toe with the speech therapist who insisted that the sign for “want” was the strong verb B needed to use most in her communication. I insist on “please” when she needs something. It may seem like a small thing, but when words are few, they should be the right ones.
And hopefully attitude will follow action.
The easy part is writing all of this about my children; yet another parenting technique we subscribe to. The hard part is applying it to myself.
Glen and I had one of those rare lingering disagreements this weekend (we usually have heated/hurt feelings/cry/make up/I-can’t-really-remember-what-the-big-deal-was-anyway/quick fights). We are tired and overwhelmed and in this life stage, with head colds all around, it’s probably inevitable. But the lingering is worrisome. And unhealthy. And I haven’t been ready to let it go.
I won’t go into the details (mostly because they are pretty stupid and petty), but we both felt disrespected and devalued. Me, by his actions and he, by my words.
I’ve been absolutely certain that actions trumped words. Wasn’t that the point? Not what we said or how we said it, but what we DID. Sure, I had been a little bit wrong, but he was wrong-er.
Then this morning I dusted off this blog post that I had started weeks ago: pontificating about the importance of words. Gah. I suck.
I thank the doctor for his time. I say ‘please’ to the waiter who brings me a drink. I excuse myself from a meeting rather than abruptly walking out. I would never demand or yell or belittle someone I had just met. Doesn’t my family, and especially my husband, DESERVE respectful words even more than the strangers and acquaintances I practice my manners on all day long?
I know they do. And when I am feeling entitled and ungrateful and irritated, I can only hope that saying the right words will help adjust MY attitude too.
So here’s me, thanking my husband for all he does. He speaks to me with respect and that means a lot. I’m sorry.