Miss Manners


“When are you leaving?” my 10 year old daughter innocently asked my sister during her recent visit.

“Naomi!” I chided her, “that isn’t a nice question.”

I flash-backed to years past when I asked the same question of my uncle when I was a child. My mother taught me that it is more polite to say instead, “How long will you be staying?”

I relayed this story to her and we had a pleasant little discussion about how posing the same question in a more positive way can make the visiting person feel better. My daughter then continued to hang around while my sister and I wanted to talk privately and have grown-up conversation.

“Naomi, how long will you be staying?” my sister asked with a smile.

All parents want to raise polite children. Why? Honestly, because they are a reflection of us and we want our product to perform well in the world. Also, we want them to be pleasant and productive members of society. Good manners and general amiability will always get you farther in life. On those occasions when a friend or teacher will tell you unsolicited how nicely your child behaved when you weren’t around, admit it, you feel like you won the gold medal in parenting. Even if said child can be a pain in the neck at home.

There are several fundamentals that I strive to impart to my children. Clearly, this list is not exhaustive.

  1. Proficiency in please, thank-you, no thank-you
  2. Making and maintaining eye contact
  3. Offering a firm handshake
  4. Maintaining a reasonable appearance
  5. Crafting a basic thank-you note
  6. Demonstrating basic table manners
  7. Being a good host/guest
  8. Being a good citizen: holding doors, giving up your seat, helping with luggage, etc.

Technology has added further wrinkles into the art of civility. No one would like it if someone stood outside of the door of their home and listened in on a phone conversation, yet so many are guilty of talking loudly on their cell phones for all the world to hear. One of my pet peeves is when people talk on the phone while checking out at a store, ignoring the person who is helping them. To me, that is the pinnacle of rudeness.

Many of us are guilty of checking our devices compulsively.  I was recently with my son, who was looking at his phone as we waited in the examining room for the eye doctor. When the doctor came in, I was pleased to see my son put his phone in his pocket. When the doctor left, he resumed his phone play. It irked me that he didn’t give me the same respect he showed the doctor but at the time I chose not to fight that particular battle.

I am, however, on the warpath occasionally. Electronic devices do not constitute a “manner-free” zone.

“No screens at the table,” I remind the kids.

“Read, talk to each other, or stare off into space,” I suggest, when they protest.

Or maybe experience those most awful, dreaded, very terrible things that no one can tolerate in this day and age – being alone with your thoughts or maybe even good old-fashioned boredom. Oh, the horror.

Teaching manners is part of the job of parenting, just not a particularly fun one.

So, again, thanks so much for taking the time to read this essay. I really appreciate it. You may now resume playing Candy Crush and checking Facebook on your Iphone.