It is dinner time. The kids, ages 8, 6, and 3, are eating their food while telling funny stories about something that happened at recess or school.
Parent 1: CHEW WITH YOUR MOUTH CLOSED!
Parent 2: Let him tell the story! Do you have to criticize him every time he talks?
Parent 1: Oh, I'm sorry! I thought we were raising them to be polite adults. I thought we were supposed to instill some manners in our children, not let them grow into barbarians.
Kid 1: Why are you guys always arguing?
Parent 1: Because you're a slob!
Parent 2: Stop calling him a slob! He's only 8!
Parent 1: He's 8! He should have some gosh darn manners! (Okay, nobody in this house says gosh darn. Let's get real: It's "goddamn manners.")
Parent 2: I know, but you don't have to interrupt every single story to tell him to have good manners. He'll get it.
Parent 1: Oh, he'll just magically GET it? If we don't tell him to stop talking with his mouth full, HE WILL NEVER LEARN!
I'll stop there. It's not pretty.
Parent 1 has a valid point: It is our job as parents to usher our kids to adulthood with great manners, a great work ethic, and a solid sense of right and wrong. And compassion. Shit. We've got to mold these little people into adults we'd want to be around. Right?
Parent 2 has a valid point, too: It is our job as parents to nurture our kids' spirits and help them grow into confident adults who aren't afraid to try new things, who aren't afraid to make new friends, go on dates, or speak up in class or at work or if they see something amiss in the world.
On one hand, we MUST teach them manners. I don't believe, by any means, that we should celebrate mediocrity. Cheer them on for hard work, yes, but don't make a huge frickin' deal of a "great effort" if they can't put the damn dot on an i or cross a t on a kindergarten paper.
On the other hand, we MUST celebrate their successes, let them tell their stories, pay attention to what they're saying and doing rather than nitpicking them every time they speak with their mouths open or "drop four pieces of rice on the table!" (Yes, this is a quote from dinner tonight.)
If we don't give our kids ANY direction, they'll turn out to think they do everything right even when they're spitting their food across the table at their first girlfriend's house or leaving their dirty underwear on the bedroom floor on their honeymoon.
But if we're constantly on their cases, they'll grow into meek little creatures afraid to do anything because they don't think they can do it well enough.
So what do we do?
A few things are common sense:
1. Lead by example. We all know this. If we have good manners, say please and thank you, chew with our mouths closed, hold the door for people, clean up after ourselves, hopefully our kids will see it and do the same. (Or WILL they? We have to remind them, right? But how often?) Teach them compassion by being compassionate.
2. Always show kindness. Even when we correct them, point out bad manners, help them get something right we know they can do better, we must do so with kindness so they don't feel picked on and put down.
3. Nurture their confidence. Encourage them to try new things, cheer them on for working at it, tell them how proud we are they DID try new things.
4. Be honest with them. Don't tell them they're great at basketball if they keep dribbling with 2 hands and can't make a basket. But DO praise them for working hard to get better.
6. Let them do for themselves. Kids can put away their own laundry, carry their dishes to the sink or counter after eating, and do some chores. They can do their homework, pick out their clothes for the next day, and clean their own rooms. Yes, for so many parents, acts of kindness mean a lot - we love caring for our kids. But do we do them a disservice by doing it all for them.
7. Teach them responsibility. If they forget their homework at home, don't go pick it up and bring it to school for them. If they don't want to do their homework at night, let them suffer the natural consequence at school. (But DO guilt-trip the shit out of them. Definitely.)
But WHAT ELSE? What are some dos and some don'ts for parents?
I want this to be a conversation!
How do YOU strike the balance? Where do you think we go too far, or don't go far enough?