Welcome to the June 2013 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Parenting in Theory vs. in Reality
This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants are sharing how their ideas and methods of parenting have changed.
Here's the danger of blogging: You find yourself doing something that you know you wrote against at some point before…
As Mikko's gotten older — he just turned six — I've found my laissez-faire attitude about his (lack of) manners shifting into appointing myself instead his own private Courtesy Cop. And I had this nagging suspicion — more than a suspicion — that at some point I had written a blog post all about how I don't coach my kids to say "please" and "thank you," that I just model it. Yet here I have been, whispering to him, or saying outright, "Remember to say 'thank you'!" or "That's not a very nice way to ask; what would be a better way?"
I didn't really want to write about this subject for the carnival, because — well, gee, how embarrassing! But let's delve in, shall we?
Various excerpts from the post in the past:
We've gotten several compliments lately about how pleasant and agreeable our three-year-old is. He politely thanks people for giving him things. He always wants to help with whatever we're doing (whether it's helpful or not!). He gives affection freely and spontaneously, leaning over with an unexpected hug and "I love you, too, too, fweetie Mama" since I responded to his earlier "I love you"s with "I love you, too, sweetie." (The cute makes your teeth ache, doesn't it?)
We try not to (sometimes I slip up!) tell Mikko what to say to be socially acceptable. I never appreciated as a kid having something withheld until I remembered to "use the magic word" or being prompted with a whispered "Tell Grandma you love her!" It felt false to me, like a breach of manners rather than true sociability.
My theory — and it's not just my theory — is that humans are innately social creatures. They want to fit into their social group (their tribe). To specify this with children, children are always looking for ways they can cooperate within the social structure and model the behavior they see in older children and adults. This doesn't mean that every action they make is in line with what we want from them at all times. For one thing, we often don't want our babies acting like adults (trying to operate the lighter or turn on the stove). For another thing, they often miscalculate what is expected of them (not picking up on social cues and signals) or their own abilities to follow through (like being able to pour from a heavy pitcher). What it does mean is that, overall, barring anything that keeps them from taking part in the social group, children will act like little social scientists in finding their proper behavior within the group. They will observe what their elders are doing and try things out for themselves. They will self-correct if something they try goes badly. Of course, all of this takes time and repetition and is limited by their current developmental abilities, so they don't get it correct right away or every time. (And sometimes they simply choose their own unique paths!)
When it comes to manners, I don't teach Mikko how to be polite. I model it. (I hope!) I say "please" and "thank you," "excuse me" and "I'm sorry," to him, and to others in his presence. Despite not being "taught" manners, he has them, and he knows how to use them!
I remembered that Amber Strocel had disagreed with me in the comments, based on her slightly older child. Wouldn't you know — her daughter at the time is about the same age as Mikko now!
Here's her comment:
I don't require politeness with me, or with family members. And often, my kids come out with it and it's all sweetness and love and all that. But for my 5 1/2-year-old, in public, I sometimes ask her to say 'please' or 'thank you'. For example, if we take advantage of the free cookies at the store I ask her to say thank you to the person who gives it to her. Is it sincere? I don't know. But also, I'm not sure I particularly care.
She is beginning to reach an age where she's having her own social interactions with others, and I explain to her that saying certain things smooths the way. I don't withhold or make a big deal out of it. If she's feeling shy I'll say it for her. But she needs to understand how to operate, and sometimes that means that I explain it to her.
I wouldn't do the same thing with my 2-year-old, and I didn't do it with my daughter until she was old enough to feel comfortable talking to other adults in public. But I think it's all right to occasionally remind your kid what the polite thing to do would be - it makes others feel good, and it helps them to navigate the world. I don't think that every 'please', 'thank you' or 'sorry' I give is sincere, and so I'm OK with teaching some level of manners without complete heartfelt sincerity behind them.
And my response:
I agree, and I don't. Here's where I totally agree: I don't need every interaction to be from the heart. Plenty of times I say "thanks" when I'm handed a bill. Am I really thankful in such moments? Ha. I also agree that we need to help our kids navigate the world and the social scene around them. All I'm coming from is that as a child there was a lot of prompting that made me feel small and ashamed (even if unintended). Now that I'm a parent, I can see my parents just didn't want to be left hanging themselves and be thought impolite or that they were bad parents. But as a kid, I just thought, Oh, I screwed up again and forgot to say thanks to the cookie lady. OR, I was GOING to say thanks, and my mom beat me to the punch. You know? Whereas, if you as the mother just said, "Thanks so much!" to the cookie lady, smiling at her and your daughter in turn, that might be all the prompting she needs to remember her own thank you.
But, I can see where outright teaching would come in handy, too. When I was in junior high, I visited a family that ate much more formally than ours did. I could have used a crash course right there in proper table manners! As it was, I did my best to observe and mimic, but I'm thinking maybe it wouldn't be amiss to do a little manners clinic with slightly older children. Like, your 5-year-old might enjoy a fancy-schmancy dress-up party with her friends, where you all practice saying, "Please pass the tea, Mrs. Crumplebottom."
Maybe another thought for a child who needs some help in social situations would be to lean down and whisper in her ear, "I bet Grandma would like it if you said 'please' first" or "It looks like Grandpa needs a hug if you have one for him." Then no one else is hearing the teaching, which limits the shaming effect.
So there I sit, not being dogmatic about it but leaning more toward modeling vs. suggesting/prompting, even though I do it myself when I forget. :)
The presentSo. Yeah. Anyway, I do this all the time now. And I haven't been feeling particularly bad about it, either. (Gasp.)
What happened to me seems to be what happened with Amber. My sweet little three-year-old whom adults could barely understand in any case, and for whom they made tons of allowances because he was so wee (well, relatively…), turned into a six-year-old who loves to take charge when we're out (and we're out a lot): at restaurants, in stores, at museums. He wants to be the one who orders the hot dog at the Costco counter (he'll shoo me away if I get too close); he wants to be the one to ask for a takeout box for our leftovers; he wants to pay for the stamps at the post office; he begs random shopkeepers for balloons and brochures.
Now, the upside for him is that he lives in a cuteness bubble.
So people are willing to kowtow to him a lot. They nod along as he talks up Club Penguin (his favorite online game). They offer him stickers (UPS is great for this, for instance). They add freebies onto his meal or into his shopping bag. As an example, we went to Krispy Kreme (I know! So healthy! So what!) for National Doughnut Day, because — free donuts! — and the woman behind the counter noticed him carrying his birthday balloons and asked about recent birthdays. She ended up giving both boys a free ice cream with Oreos on top, along with their free donuts. (Can we say sugar shock!) This sort of thing happens to Mikko all the time. That photo at the top? That's my suave dude being all casual about how everyone throws stuff at his feet.
And so…I want him to be polite about it. I want him to say "please" and ask nicely when he requests something reasonable or un-. I want him to say "thank you" and smile and act appropriately grateful when strangers strew him with their largesse.
I want him to because it's right, because it would hurt their feelings (I believe) if they go out of their way for him and he seems indifferent or, worse, irritable (this does happen, as when they give him the wrong color balloon, or not enough stickers). And since he sometimes asks nicely, and he sometimes says his thanks, but he sometimes does not, I as the parent mediator feel the deep-seated need to jump into the breach. When Mikko was younger, I felt OK speaking for him. As he gets older and sometimes doesn't just say nothing but says the wrong thing, I feel more of a desire for the right phrases to be coming out of his mouth as well as mine.
The futureRereading my older article and thinking through this whole topic has brought me back around to my rather meandering response to Amber: that I agree and don't agree — with myself, both past and present.
I think, as Amber was saying, that there does come a point when children might need some coaching on how to get along more smoothly in situations — such as I desired for table manners. I think a little practicing and some playacting wouldn't come amiss. Maybe Mikko and I can have that formal tea party. I do find myself offering him scripts if he's going to approach a counter or employee on his own, making the manners just part of the overall message: "All right, wait until she's not busy and then say, 'Excuse me, I'd like a straw, please,' and then say 'thank you' when she hands it to you."
However, I've also been reconsidering how often I prompt for specific phrases, and how I'm going about it. Jennifer at True Confessions of a Real Mommy told me her family uses sign language — easy for the kids to understand, less obtrusive to others. I could also use German. I like the reminder I gave myself (ha) to whisper to the kids to make it less of a performance. Sometimes I feel like I'm saying, "Remember to say 'thank you'!" really obviously for the sole benefit of the other adult — so that person can hear what a proper grown-up I am, and what a good parent. That strikes me as pretty stupid. If the interaction is truly between my son and these other people, then I need to back out of it and let them have their connection. Or, if it's involving me, too, then I need to own it and just say my own thank-yous and leave Mikko to manage his own.
I have a sense I'm not done with thinking this through, so I'd love your perspectives as well. Do you prompt your children to be polite? Do you teach manners intentionally or let it develop — or not — organically?
P.S. Golly, I used to get a lot of discussion on posts! I miss those days. Although, to be fair, half the comments on that older post were from me. So I guess I can still do that: ramble on in my own comments. Have conversations just like this one with myself…
P.P.S. Mikko at three is a cutie.
P.P.P.S. In the same post, I write about how he helps willingly around the house and volunteers for chores. Um…yeah. Subject for a future take-back post?? The good news is, I also wrote that he was freely affectionate even though we never cajoled him to hug or kiss us — all of that is still true. Phew!
Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:
- My little gastronomes — "I'll never cook a separate meal for my children," Maud at Awfully Chipper vowed before she had children; but things didn't turn out quite as she'd imagined.
- Know Better, Do Better. Except When I Don't. — Jennifer from True Confessions of a Real Mommy was able to settle in her parenting choices before her children arrived, but that doesn't mean she always lives up to them.
- Judgments Made Before Motherhood — Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama looks back on her views of parents she came in contact with before she became a mother and how much her worldview of parenting has changed!
- A Bend in The Road — Lyndsay at ourfeministplayschool writes about how her visions of homeschooling her son during the elementary school years have changed drastically in the last year - because HE wants to go to school.
- I Wish Children Came with Instruction Manuals — While Dionna at Code Name: Mama loves reading about parenting, she's not found any one book that counts as an instruction manual. Every child is different, every family is different, every dynamic is different. No single parenting method or style is the be-all end-all. Still, wouldn't it be nice if parenting were like troubleshooting?
- The Mistakes I've Made — Kate at Here Now Brown Cow laments the choices she made with her first child and explains how ditching her preconceived ideas on parenting is helping her to grow a happy family.
- I Only Expected to Love... — Kellie at Our Mindful Life went into parenting expecting to not have all the answers. It turns out, she was right!
- They See Me Wearin', They Hatin' — Erin Yuki at And Now, for Something Completely Different contemplates putting her babywearing aspirations into practice, and discussed how she deals with "babywearing haters."
- Parenting Human Beings — Erika Gebhardt lists her parenting "mistakes," and the one concept that has revolutionized her parenting.
- Doing it right: what I knew before I had kids... — Lucy at Dreaming Aloud, guest posting at Natural Parents Network realises that the number one game in town, when it comes to parenting, is judgement about doing it right. But "doing it right" looks different to everybody.
- A synopsis of our reality as first time parents — Amanda at My Life in a Nut Shell summarizes the struggles she went through to get pregnant, and how her daughter's high needs paved the way for her and her husband to become natural parents.
- Theory to Reality? — Jorje compares her original pre-kid ideas (some from her own childhood) to her personal parenting realities on MommaJorje.com.
- The Princess Paradigm — Laura at Pug in the Kitchen had planned to raise her daughter in a sparkly, princess-free home, but in turn has found herself embracing the glitz.
- Healthy Eating With Kids: Ideal vs. Real — Christy at Eco Journey In The Burbs had definite ideas about what healthy eating was going to look like in her family before she had kids. Little did she realize that her kids would have something to say about it.
- How to deal with unwanted parenting advice — Tat at Mum in Search thought that dealing with unwanted parenting advice would be a breeze. It turned out to be one of her biggest challenges as a new mum.
- How I trained my 43 month old in 89 days! — Becky at Old New Legacy used to mock sticker charts, until they became her best friend in the process of potty training.
- My Double Life: Scheduling with Twins — Mercedes at Project Procrastinot was banging her head against the wall trying to keep up with the plan she made during pregnancy, until she let her babies lead the way.
- Parenting in the land of compromise — As a holistic health geek trying to take care of her health issues naturally, Jessica at Crunchy-Chewy Mama regrets that her needs sometimes get in the way of her children's needs.
- Practice Makes Good, Not Perfect — Rachael at The Variegated Life comes to see that through practice, she just might already be the parent she wants to be.
- 3 Dangerous Myths about Parenting and Partnering: How to Free Yourself and Your Family — Sheila Pai at A Living Family shares in theory (blog) and reality (video) how she frees herself from 3 Dangerous Myths about Parenting and Partnering that can damage the connection, peace and love she seeks to nurture in her relationships with family and others.
- 5 Things I Thought MY Children Would Never Do — Luschka at Diary of a First Child largely laughs at herself and her previous misconceptions about things her children would or wouldn't do, or be allowed to do.
- Policing politeness — Lauren at Hobo Mama rethinks a conviction she had about modeling vs. teaching her children about courtesy.
- The Before and The After: Learning about Parenting — Amy at Me, Mothering, and Making it All Work reminisces about the perspective she held as a young adult working with children (and parents) . . . before she became a mother.
- Parenting Beliefs: Becoming the Parent You Want to Be — Mandy at Living Peacefully with Children discusses how we can make a mindful decision to become the parent we want to be. Decisions we make affect who we will become.
- The Great Breastfeeding Debacle — In Lisa at The Squishable Baby's mind, breastfeeding would be easy.
- What my daughter taught me about being a parent — Mrs Green asks, "Is it ever ok to lock your child in their bedroom?"
- Sensory Box Fail! — Megan at The Boho Mama discovers that thoughtful sensory activities can sometimes lead to pasta in your bra and beans up your nose.
- Montessori and My Children – Theory vs. Reality — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now shares her experiences with Montessori parenting and describes the results she sees in her now-adult children.
- I Like The Mother I Am Now More Than The Mother I Intended To Be — Darcel at The Mahogany Way thought she would just give her kids the look and they would immediately fall in line.
- How I Ended Up Like My Tiger Mom With Peaceful Parenting — Theek at The Laotian Commotion somehow ended up like her Tiger Mom, even though she purposely tried for the complete opposite as a peaceful parent.