Boy eating cake with hands


Pardon Me, But Aren’t We Teaching Kids Manners Anymore?

Nov 29, 2017

Fun fact: Spaghetti is not a finger food.

Neither are scrambled eggs, mashed potatoes or soup. If you’re old enough to ride a bike, scale a playground structure, or download a game, you’re old enough to hold a fork.

Does that make me sound old fashioned? My daughter certainly thinks so.

I didn’t always think this way. In fact, as a kid I couldn’t understand most of the rules of my parents’ generation. No elbows on the table, chew with your mouth closed, always put your napkin on your lap. Why do we need so many regulations, and I mean, who really cares anyway?

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It made about as much as sense to me as not wearing white after Labour Day, not pointing a finger at someone, or never brushing your hair in public.

I began to take pleasure in bucking certain conventions. Who has time for all this antiquated etiquette? When I got married, I made a point to eschew all formalities that I deemed too stuffy and out-of-date for my big day.

Matching bridesmaid dresses?! My maids will wear whatever the heck they want! And not just bride’s maids for me. I want a bride’s man. No seeing my fiancé before the ceremony? We’ll greet our guests together before the main event. Receiving line? Too awkward! Taking my husband’s last name? Too patriarchal. Assigned seating? Too premeditated!

My tween is one of the worst offenders. But when I complain, she boldly points a finger to all the other kids she knows who do the same.

But now that I’m a mom, something has changed. Somehow I’ve suddenly morphed some kind of deranged Miss Manners. It’s like I’ve become that dear old aunt who sits in a rocking chair in the corner scolding the little children to remember to say “Pardon?” and not “What?”

I admit it; I hate it when kids don’t have manners. It grosses me out to watch them stick their little fingers in their mac and cheese, or let pasta noodles dangle out of their mouths as they chew, or slump over the table as they shovel chicken fingers in their face.

I get annoyed when they don’t say please and thank you, or just say “huh?” Or when they whine that they don’t like what I made for dinner. I do not like it when they bring their phones to the table, or sit with their legs on the seat, or talk with their cheeks stuffed with food.

And don’t get me wrong. My tween is one of the worst offenders. But when I complain, she boldly points a finger to all the other kids she knows who do the same. On a recent family vacation, she told me we could relax in the resort restaurant. She had just seen a kid at another table eat fettuccini with his hands — this was her kind of place!

I want my kid to be comfortable in any social or professional situation... I also want to get through a meal without losing my appetite while watching her eat.

As parents, I think we have shed a lot of unnecessary staidness to make life more comfortable and relaxed for our kids. But have we have gone too far?

The word etiquette is defined as the customary code of polite behaviour in society or among members of a particular profession or group. Perhaps we need to rethink this and reinstate some of the rules that make eating together at the table a pleasant experience.

I want my kid to be comfortable in any social or professional situation she may encounter when she grows up. I also want to get through a meal without losing my appetite while watching her eat.

She may not often show it, but I think I’m slowly getting through to her. For my mother’s birthday, my mom wanted to celebrate by having our extended family attend a formal afternoon tea. I was frankly a little nervous. I know my kid doesn’t always put her best manners on display at family meals. I didn’t want her to spoil my mom’s big day by using her hand as a human ladle from which she would drink her tea. Reminders and dire warnings were issued.

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When we arrived, all dressed up with clean hands and faces, my daughter was handed an ice-cold glass of homemade lavender lemonade. She took one sip and then leaned over to her nine-year-old cousin and declared the drink delicious. The two girls decided the forthcoming treats might be worth a little effort. For the rest of event, she and her cousin were the models of decorum. Napkins were on laps, elbows were off the table, heck they even drank tea with their pinkies up. They made us so proud that I promised we would do it again soon.

Even though she may not always listen, I’m going to persevere in my Pygmalion pursuit of transforming my daughter into a lady. Or at least someone who can actually hold a fork. And ultimately, I think she’ll acquiesce.

There is a moral to this story: Good things come to those who use utensils.

Article Author Laura Mullin
Laura Mullin

Read more from Laura here.

Laura Mullin is a playwright, director and the Co-Artistic Director of Expect Theatre and PlayME Podcast. Laura is passionate about the arts and works in theatre, film, and new media. She lives in Toronto with her writer/producer husband and their budding fashion designer nine-year-old daughter. When Laura isn’t writing plays or turning them into podcasts, she can usually be found picking up tin foil and duct tape off the floor after one of her daughter’s many avant-garde art projects. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @expectlaura.

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