Inspired by an article she read, my friend Krista has crafted a list of 25 rules so that her family can work on basic politeness and common courtesy this summer. It seems that “common courtesy” is no longer common, especially among the Nickelodeon-watching set. Whether or not your family is blended, basic rules about being nice to each other are indispensible.
Can I get an “AMEN”?
Kids in blended families often have to deal with competing sets of rules and regulations – at the very least, one at school and one at each parent’s house. This is something that we have struggled with consistently over the last four years.
One of the first days that Jason’s girls were at our house, they were watching TV on the couch in the living room. Jason and I were in the kitchen. One of the girls yelled, at the top of her lungs, “DADDY! DRINK!” and Jason immediately got up to fix her a drink. It was at that point that I realized how very, very far apart we were in our idea of appropriate behavior. So we had the first-of-many conversations about how we expected all our children to act when they are at our house. Quite frankly, they would do well to act this way no matter where they are.
1. When asking for something, say “Please.”
2. When receiving something, say “Thank you.”
3. Do not interrupt grown-ups who are speaking, unless there is an emergency.
4. If you need someone’s attention right away, say “excuse me” to get their attention.
5. When you have any doubt about doing something, ask permission first.
This is not rocket science. It’s also not Emily Post’s “Etiquette.” But somehow, it has gotten lost. Parents let their children walk all over them, terrified of being “mean.” Or, worse, uncool.
6. The world is not interested in what you dislike. Keep negative opinions to yourself.
7. Do not comment on other people’s physical characteristics, unless it is to compliment them.
8. When people ask you how you are, tell them and then ask them how they are.
9. When you have spent time at a friend’s house, remember to thank the parents when you leave.
10. Knock on closed doors and wait for a response before entering.
These rules work both ways. If parents do not model good behavior, how can they expect their children to do so? Do you say “please” and “thank you” to your partner? Do you compliment him/her? Or do you magnify his every flaw? Do you nitpick her annoying habits? Do you disparage his taste in music? Do you bemoan her shopping habits? The children are watching every interaction, learning from the behaviors that you exhibit.
11. When you make a phone call, introduce yourself first and then ask if you can speak with the person you are calling.
12. Be appreciative and say thank you for any gift you receive. Send a thank you note.
13. Never use foul language in front of adults.
14. Don’t call people mean names.
15. Do not make fun of anyone for any reason. Teasing people makes you look weak and ganging up on someone is cruel.
It’s incredibly easy to take your partner for granted, especially if you’re married or co-habitate. I try very hard to be consistently polite and respectful to Jason, and I admit I don’t always succeed. That’s what (sincere!) apologies are for. I think some people fall into the trap of thinking that being married, or being in a long-term relationship, gives you license to get away with behavior that would not be tolerated in a new or non-legally-binding relationship. “What’s he going to do, leave?”
16. Even is a play or assembly is boring, sit through it quietly and pretend you are interested. The performers are doing their best.
17. If you bump into somebody, immediately say “excuse me”.
18. Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze and don’t pick your nose.
19. As you walk through a door, look to see if you can hold it open for someone else.
20. If you come across a parent, teacher, or a neighbor working on something, ask if you can help. If they say “yes”, do so, you may learn something.
Divorced parents do this with their kids, too. Children are less able to leave than an ex-spouse was, and in the absence of a spouse, exes can cling to their children like life preservers. I think exes, whether they were the leaver or the leavee, are terrified that their children will also “abandon” them – not physically, but emotionally. This seems to manifest itself as a popularity contest. And what’s the first rule of being the most awesome parent to an elementary-aged child? Give them whatever they want!
And so we hear, over and over, “well, (other parent) lets me do that.” If the children are to be believed, their lives Over There are filled with regular Coke, Dunkin’ Donuts, unlimited unsupervised television and internet access, dessert after every dinner, and daily shopping trips.
21. When an adult asks you for a favor, do it without grumbling and with a smile. When someone helps you, say “thank you”. That person will likely want to help you again.
22. If you hurt someone, even if by accident, apologize immediately and sincerely.
23. Use eating utensils properly.
24. Keep a napkin on your lap and use it to wipe your mouth when necessary while eating.
25. Don’t reach for things at the table, ask to have them passed.
One day, when they’re older, they will be able to understand that both of their parents want what is best for them, but that each of their parents has different ideas about what that looks like. And as long as they are not in danger, neither parent is “wrong.” And that living with different sets of rules is not entirely foreign – even kids from non-blended families may face different rules at school, or summer camp, or even at a grandparent’s house.
Lest you think they are still screaming for “DRINK!” at top volume, the children have gotten MUCH better about their manners over the last few years. There’s still a transition time, usually when they first arrive at our house, but that disappears within hours.
So the summer challenge is to really look at the way our family interacts, and to make sure that ALL our interactions are positive ones.