The Manners Police: The Good, the Bad and the Awkward

Confession: There was a period in my life where I read etiquette books for fun. Not for a class or to prepare for a job interview or an upcoming social gathering, but just because. You might think it’s weird and that’s fine. If you know me personally, you might think “wellllllll, what did you learn, exactly?” because I’m socially awkward a lot of times. It probably is considered weird to most people nowadays, but social rules and manners have just always interested me. But hey, I do NOT consider myself to be perfect, WHATSOEVER. In fact, now that I have my own kids to ‘train’, I’m even more aware of how many flaws I have. Or maybe these things have always been there and have just worsened since having kids. I can’t really be sure, but all I know is that I need work.

For instance, being that I’m in constant “training” mode with my own kids, I’m always using other people and situations as examples of how to act. I use good and bad examples, mind you, which could be a helpful tool if I knew when and how to use it and also if I didn’t take my “policing” too far. Like, if I notice a child being kind, I’ll mention it to Maddie while it’s fresh in her mind, “Maddie, look how nice that girl is being to her little brother.” and somehow tie it into her relationship with Jack. She’ll say, “Yeah Mom, what a nice girl!” Not bad. But all this backfires on me when I point out rude behavior. Maddie just repeats me, LOUDLY, an often while in eye contact with the offender. “Yeah Mom, that girl ignored me and that was rude!” POINTING FINGER. Yeah, Maddie, and that was rude to do everything you just did! Facepalm. I’ve learned to save those ‘negative’ teaching moments for when those people are out of earshot.

I try not to nag my kids constantly, don’t get me wrong, and they are pretty well behaved for the most part. Moral training is really one of the hardest things about parenting for me though, because of situations like I just described. And when your kids are the ones acting up, how do you know which things are acceptable to “let slide”? After all, you don’t want to be on their case constantly. And if you do let things slide, will your kids take it and run next time they have the opportunity? Then you have to discipline them when it’s basically your fault for not handling the situation last time. Blahhhh, it’s tough. It’s like science.

I said before that sometimes I can take things too far. Let me just explain what happened a few weeks ago in Target. I was in the dressing room and there was one other person in there with me. By her voice, I could tell that she was young, probably about 9, and she was just flat out SCREAMING at her dad. It still makes me cringe, thinking of how disrespectful she was being to him. He was waiting outside and was telling her to come out and get one more pair of pants to try on. She yelled no. He said yes. They went back and forth for about 10 minutes and it was just really uncomfortable. He was trying to be calm and patient with her, but she was WAY past reasoning with at that point. He finally bribed her into trying on the pants and as she was literally stomping back in the dressing room (like, it had to have hurt the bottom of her feet, it was so dramatic), I stepped out of my room and started talking to her. This is where I may have taken it too far… I said, “Hey! You know, you should be a little nicer to your Dad. He’s spending his money on you and it would be nice to thank him instead of screaming.” Ooooh man. Daggers. Shooting at my face. Possibly straight into my eyes and through my brain. I didn’t have a scolding tone and I did sort of smile at her, but I realized a few moments later that holy crap, she wasn’t MY kid! Was it out of line of me to say anything?

The girl would have probably beat me with a pinata bat if there was one handy. (Side note: these photos are from Maddie’s birthday party, which I will post about soon!)

I know this is getting long, but I just have to share one more important thing that happened to me. Last week, we had a particularly hard day while running errands. The kids and I were at this one store, and Maddie wanted to hold the pinata I just picked out for her upcoming party. I said it was too big and it needed to stay in the cart. Oddly and very out of character for her, she threw herself to the floor in protest. I picked her up and set her to the side of the aisle on the floor and said, “Since you are acting so crazy, this is your timeout now.” I had no other way to describe her actions to her, but CRAZY and I had no idea what else to do. It was bad, guys. After a few minutes, I asked her if she was ready to behave so we could finish shopping and she said, “NO! I WANT TO HOLD IT!” So back in timeout she went. Finally, she she stood up and was ready to be nice. I didn’t realize anyone was watching, but a lady approached me and said she had witnessed everything. Agghh, it’s so mortifying when your kids are being jerks in public. You just want to survive and get out the door without anyone saying something to you about it. I braced myself for what she was about to tell me or the advice she was about to give, but she just put her hand on my arm and kindly said, “You are doing a great job with your kids. You handled that well. Keep it up.” I almost started bawling right there, because after that horrible day and the stress of the tantrum and all the worries and insecurities I have about my parenting, I just needed to hear it. I’m not failing. I’m trying. Keep it up.

I know my own faults and my children’s, and though I may not be flawless in the way I handle every situation, I am trying. I hope that counts for something. I take my job as a mom seriously and I have a huge fear of raising disrespectful children. An even bigger fear though, is being too rigid and strict all the time. “Finding that balance” seems to be everyone’s default phrase of advice, but it really is the key to pretty much everything.

(And to my friends, whose children I have taken it upon myself to ‘correct’, again, I AM SORRY and I love you!)

18 thoughts on “The Manners Police: The Good, the Bad and the Awkward

  1. You are such a good mom, and if I haven’t said it enough before, I’ll say it one more time with spirit: You are an AWESOME mom. Every time we go out with your kids, I marvel at how awesome you are with them. They are seriously the best and it’s all because you guys do such a great job raising them. <3 (teach me your ways!)

  2. I don’t have kids… and for the record, I don’t think I’ve commented on your blog before. But, I wanted to share this: My mom calls me the hall monitor. I really struggle to *not* speak up when I see or hear someone treating someone else disrespectfully. I heard a teenager being extremely disrespectful to her mom at the grocery store one day. And I knew I shouldn’t say something to her. But I couldn’t help doing *something*. I muttered under my breath – “Wow, show some respect” as I walked by. I didn’t look back to see the response. Eeek.

    Good for you for making an effort to teach your children to be considerate and well mannered people. I think that’s something that is sorely lacking among kids today. (Wow, that made me feel old…. I’m 27.)

  3. This was a good post. Regarding the girl in Target, if I were her dad I would have appreciated what you said, in that case. I’m guessing it didn’t seem like you were being judgmental about someone else’s parenting. In fact, as a (relatively) young, fashionable woman yourself, you were probably more of a “role model” figure to the girl than an authority figure, and that can be even more powerful. Even if she shot daggers at you, I bet she’ll think about what you said. It may not change her behavior immediately, but I think it’ll stick with her. Anyway, that’s what I think. Keep up the good work.

  4. I think your doing a great job, I also havnt commented before. I feel there is a time and a place to say something to other peoples kids. I think that in target for you was fine. I bet the dad was happy, and she probably didn’t care, but still sometimes they need to hear it.

    My mom used to do the same to me by pointing out good and bad behaviors, is usually went something like “if you ever embarrass me like that/ or act like that blah blah blah”(I’d get something that I loved or wanted to do taken away)
    As a fellow parent myself to 3 boys 13 (step) 5, and 9 months I do the saaaaaame thing. I point it all out. Even in front of the bad behavior. However it is a fine line :) keep it up!

  5. First of all, nope not out of line with that little girl at Target. As a parent, I appreciate it when someone else is on my side when one of my kids are being impossible :) I seriously teared up when reading what that lady said to you after Maddie’s public timeouts. I’ve had people say stuff like that to me before and I know how much it means to me so when I see a parent having a rough time with a child, I try to be sure to give them some encouraging words. I remember telling a couple that their 2 young boys were well-behaved and that they were great parents at a restaurant one time. One of the boys was having a hard time sitting still, but compared to a lot of kids I see, he was a perfect angel! I could tell that the parents were getting frustrated and embarrassed about their son’s behavior, but when I stopped and talked to them before leaving, the mom looked like she was going to cry (in a good way!) and the dad looked relieved. Stuff like that just gives you the strength to keep going as a parent!

  6. I’ve never commented before either. Seems like a trend going on in the comments right now.
    My kids are 6, 4, and almost 2. I love the story about what the lady said to you after Maddie’s tantrum. I think it is so important to praise others for the good they are doing. It’s so easy to get insecure.

  7. I send my own Maddie “to the stairs” whenever there are some handy and needed (usually only when we are visiting family thankfully but I wouldn’t hesitate in the store in an emergency). We have to be consistent right? Luckily she is pretty well tempered in public and no one believes what a little sh!t she can be at home hahaha. Keep up the good work mama, we’re all just trying to not mess our kids up too much and it sounds like you are doing a good job on your own, and some other kids that need a little extra Mrs. Priss manner advice ;).

  8. This is a great post. I have these same feelings all. the. time. And also struggle with finding that balance. You’re an awesome mom :)

  9. The time-out situation and “good job Mom” happened to me once too. I almost cried too. It was such a relief after that day of dealing with horrible behavior!

    Oh and I tell my kids they are acting crazy all. the. time. I used to kind of have a complex about it because there are actually crazy people in my family, but sometimes there is just no other way to describe the behavior.

    Sometimes I read these things that are all about the importance of mothering and the importance of our jobs and how much impact it has on our children and I start freaking out about doing a horrible job and thinking about all my screw ups and then pressure, pressure, pressure. It’s enough to drive ME insane. I think there’s a lot of grace and mercy despite all of our hang ups.

    You’re doing a good job!

  10. It sounds like you’re doing a great job with your kids :) And I often wished strangers would talk to my kids if they misbehave and they won’t listen to their parents :)

  11. I have to come out of the closet with this one and confess that I, too, read etiquette books for fun. Mine are almost all vintage ones from the sixties/fifties where it was impolite for men to remove their hats in the presence of a lady.

    If it were my daughter that was behaving in such a petulant matter, I don’t think I would be angry that someone stepped in. More times than I care to admit, I have had strangers talk to my son when he’s been scream-crying about something he’s done to himself, and yes, while it’s mortifying, it’s usually something that stops the behaviour.

    You are being a good mother. Imagine if you’d just let her continue being all crazy! ;)

  12. You are an aweseome mom. Just the fact that you worry about how your kids are acting, and how that comes across when you correct them, shows how wonderful you are. So many parents just don’t care, or are literally too tired to deal with their kids.

    I’ve never had a problem parenting bad behavior in other kids. Especially at the park! Man, so many parents just space out once the kids run to the equipment (I confess, I’ve done it too), and totally ignore what’s going on. I don’t hover around my kids, but I do keep an eye on what’s happening, and if I see some kid bullying or pushing or just being a jerk, I have no problem going over and taking care of that shiz. I’ve had parents come up to me all ticked off for talking to their kid, but you know what? I’ve just told them that if they want to let their kid run wild and be mean to other kids, take them home and call a cousin, the park ain’t that place!

    And that store thing? I’ve walked away from an overloaded grocery cart in line due to my kids’ behavior. Granted, it’s a last resort, but I’ve got to follow through, or they will walk all over me. I refuse to subject other people to my own bratty children. 95% of the time they are great, it’s just that other 5% they insist on showing off to the world that bugs me!

  13. You were totally right to talk to the girl. If she was acting that way in public, the public has a right to act back. Great job!

  14. You care about making sure your children understand respect, and that makes you a good mom. It’s so sad how many either just don’t care or don’t have that understanding themselves.

    One thing I’ve found that helps, especially at the age Maddie’s getting to be herself, is explaining the how’s and whys of manners. My own two, at six and four, remember lessons on manners when I give them good and bad examples based on how someone’s behavior towards them made them feel. Then I ask them how their behavior in any given situation might make someone else feel.

    That last bit seems to have the added bonus of chipping away at the selfcenteredness inherent in the toddler and preschooler stage of development. Plus, most kids are inherently empathetic when given the chance, so turning their attention to the fact their actions can make someone else feel bad at an early age is a great deturent to bullying behavior. Or that’s what I’ve noticed with my own girls at any rate.

    Keep up the good work!

  15. The girl in the dressing room may not have appreciated your advice, but I’m sure the dad did. Sometimes it just helps having a third-party say something to the child to break the cycle in that moment!

  16. You’re doing a great job with the kids! Anyone who knows your babies know that they’re sweet and polite to other people. I’m so proud of the job you’re doing with them! XO

  17. i also teared up when i read what that lady said to you, just like you, i have had moments like this with my 15 month old. i was once at the grocery store and the same thing happened but being that my baby was only 12 months at the moments i just stopped the cart and told her no no time out and she screamed for like fime minutes then the sweetest lady came up to me and said i was doing a good job…as i was leaving the store completely stressed out she handed me a bottle of white wine with a bow on it and said i deserved it for being such a good mom…lol…i still crack up when i think about it….i cant believe it but it was sweet of her…i must say it was good wine and much needed support. her and i are friends now =)

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