I’ve had an epiphany about asking my children to say ‘Please’ and ‘Thankyou‘: I don’t have to prove to other people that I have manners.
Last summer we were visiting my mother with our children, aged six years, four years, two years and one month. My mother’s sister dropped by to meet the baby and she brought a gift for him and for each of my daughters. The gifts were exactly to their liking.
My four year old, who is an exuberant kind of girl, shouted ‘Thankyou, thankyou, thankyou!’ But my six year old, who is a quiet, reserved kind of girl, said nothing to my aunt and brought her gift over to me, her eyes shining bright and a huge smile on her face. She whispered, “Look Mommy! It’s so beautiful!”
I should have known something was amiss because my mother started asking, “What are the magic words?”
“Mom,” I said, confused. “My kids don’t know that expression. What are you talking about?”
Then I heard my aunt: What do you say? Don’t you have any manners? She shouted at my Partner-Guy: Don’t you teach your children to have manners?
All the joy went out of my daughter. She was humiliated. She had shown how much she loved her little gift from my aunt, but my aunt could only scold her for not saying ‘thankyou’. Then, we were all shocked when my aunt stood up and left the house, offended that we would were not going to MAKE our daughter say ‘thankyou.’ As if I could MAKE the words come out of her somehow!
My mother had sort of an ‘I told you so’ attitude about what had happened. She had previously warned me that other people would not understand our parenting choices and she had tried to step in with the ‘magic words’ talk.
I felt confused about what had happened. Was I supposed to apologize to my aunt to preserve my relationship with her? Or should I tell her that her actions had offended me?
In the end, I did nothing. But I did send a thankyou card regarding the lovely baby gift she had given me.
At Christmas this year my mother gave my daughters beautiful dresses. Again my 6-year-old did not say thankyou, but while we were eating our turkey dinner she looked across the table with a huge smile and her face all aglow and said to my mother, “I love my new dress.” Before we left for home my mother whispered to me that my daughter’s authentic joy about her lovely dress was her favourite part of Christmas.
Aaaaah, I thought. You do get it.
Isn’t an authentic expression of gratitude far more delightful and satisfying than a coerced ‘thankyou’?
I think so. It took me while, but I have learned how to give my children a chance to express themselves authentically rather than in a contrived or coerced notion of what is proper. I use what is conventionally described as ‘manners,’ and I trust that my children will learn to do the same when they are ready.
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