Family Manners


I suspect that my mom and maternal grandmother were up in Heaven laughing on New Year’s Day when I set off the fire alarms with Grandma’s cornbread dressing. I had set the pan containing the perfectly baked cornbread dressing on top of the stove before turning on the wrong burner when preparing another dish for our New Year’s Dinner. My husband noticed the smoke seconds before the alarms sounded.

What’s a special meal without some sort of culinary disaster? Actually, I maintain that if you scraped off the thin layer of carbon, it tasted pretty good.

Our little family tradition is to break out the Spode Christmas Tree China and have a special New Year’s Dinner. Grandma and Papa often drive up from Rockford, weather permitting, and we feast on turkey breast, salad, mashed potatoes and other goodies. There is always a dessert. This year’s was the strawberry shortcake as described at the end of Cook-A-Doodle Doo, a delightful illustrated storybook our daughter received for Christmas. Our daughter helped bake the cake, sifting the flour and applying the whipped cream and strawberries.

This dinner is important for several reasons. It’s family time. It’s a family tradition for the three of us. It’s a chance for us to teach our daughter some more formal table manners. Please and thank you are important. Good manners are indispensable in life, and there is only one way our daughter will learn to put a napkin in her lap when she sits down to eat—we have to teach her.

It was a pleasant day, we ate, told stories, played games and had temper tantrums. Oh, yeah, the temper tantrum.

Our daughter’s way of dealing with people leaving when she doesn’t want them to (like Grandma and Papa going home) is to act ugly and refuse to say “goodbye” to them or give them hugs. Her conduct when Grandma and Papa left this New Year’s Day was particularly poor.

I know she was tired. I know she was over stimulated. She could still be polite. I don’t care who you are or how bad your day is, you can always be polite.

After Grandma and Papa left, she got a good talking to from Daddy, apparently, because she came down the stairs, in tears, to me. I read her the riot act as well. I explained that Grandma and Papa had driven a long way to visit her, had spent their afternoon playing with her, and for her not to say goodbye or give them hugs when they left was extremely rude and that I was disappointed in her. That is not how you treat other people, especially the people who love you. And she owed me an apology for the way she acted. And she owed Daddy and apology (they are his parents), and she owed Grandma and Papa and apology.

After all was said and done, Daddy and I got our apologies, and our daughter seemed to have some understanding of what she was apologizing for. We forgave her, and games of fish ball and Daddy-chase-me ensued.

Later, when talking to my husband, I had my usual pangs of second guessing that accompany any act of discipline when my daughter seems to take the discipline hard. Were we too hard on her? Are we expecting too much? Is she really old enough to understand what was wrong with the way she acted?

In the end, I decided we did the right thing by calling her, seriously, on her behavior. No one is too old or too young for good manners. They will always serve her well. And if treating others will love, kindness and respect is the only thing she learns from me, then I will have done my job.

Here’s to a well mannered 2011.

© 2011 Michele Arduengo. All rights reserved.

3 thoughts on “Family Manners

  1. Love your story–it is never too early or too late to teach our ‘children’ manners…my kids are now fully grown and are respectful, polite adults BECAUSE of what my husband and I taught them as little ones…keep up the good work, Michelle!

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