Where do manners fit into modern parenting?

I’ve been wading through Jane Austen’s ‘Mansfield Park’.

I think I’m a bit of a literary philistine really; these long classics don’t do a lot for me. The great long convoluting paragraphs nearly had me tossing it across the room with boredom. Good job it’s summer for it may only be the fact of enjoying some long weekend reads in the garden that kept me at it.

But Oh the frustrations at the reserves and inhibiting manners. Sometimes I wanted to slap Fanny Price for being so correct and ‘proper’!

However, I may be a rebel occasionally (not really), but I do see a point to some moderation of behaviour. Not for the sake of polite convention, in an old fashioned sense. But for the sake of consideration of others.

I think this is a point that some parents don’t get about manners. Manners are not about unquestioning convention or suppressing the kids. They are about consideration.

It’s not about old fashioned habits that don’t really matter like not putting your elbows on the table. And nothing to do with the frustrating conventions I’ve just read about that were so restrictive.

Manners are just little considerations for others. Like perhaps not speaking with your mouth full so you avoid spitting food at others! And you don’t speak when others are speaking generally (unlike the example of folks shouting at each other on Jeremy Kyle), because you’re giving others the consideration of listening to them first.

The point is that you understand and respect the circumstances you’re in.

For example; there were some little ones tearing up and down and round and round in an outdoor cafe the other day, in a space not made for tearing round despite being outside. It was full of other people, unsteady elderly and staff carrying full trays of crockery and hot food. The parents obviously thought this was okay, despite the fact that it was disruptive, inappropriate to the circumstances – there was a massive park space all around for running in – and lacked consideration and respect for others.

And that’s where manners come in – that’s what they are: Consideration and respect for others.

But manners have bad press in some circles. Some believe they are oppression and inhibit a child’s self expression.

We all want to express ourselves. However, we all want to be liked too. Acting out of respect and consideration for others has to be in balance with our desire for self expression.

It’s not like we’re imposing the kind of restrictive behaviour of Jane Austen’s time! We’re just making simple, considerate, useful rules (for want of a better word) for living – and loving – together.

If we want the privilege of enjoying company, good friends and relationships, then we need to act in ways that not only expresses respect for them, but earns respect from them too. Manners are lifeskills; little considerations and empathy for others that help us to achieve that. They’re a two way dialogue of living together.

You might think it’s important not to restrict any kind of self expression like running round in cafes or picking your nose in public. But don’t expect your kids to be liked or admired for it. They need some guidelines on what’s appropriate, so they can observe how others behave and see how they fit into it. Or how will they learn?

A little guidance and explanations of what manners do for us, until they make their own choices, is all that’s needed without resorting to anything as authoritarian as the Austen era.

We all choose our rules, obviously. But that’s always going to be within the climate of wanting to enjoy a warm respectful community, surely.

What you give out you get back.

We enjoy a much more liberal period than I’ve been reading about thank goodness. But consideration for others will always play some part in our living together however modern we are.

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