Whenever Athina, my daughter sees a bottle of water, she goes nuts. If she doesn’t get a sip out of the content she has a meltdown so bad, that not even a live Broadway performance could distract her. I can’t say I wonder how she got so obsessed with the bottles. Baby see, baby do. Mommy never use no glass, why should baby do?
The first time she asked to drink water from my bottle, I thought it was cute. It was first when we had company over for dinner and I was about to serve water (not from the same bottle), I realized she’s too young to discern between what is appropriate to do when we have company and what is not and that copying what she sees others doing, will be her behavioral education for the next few years.
She’d copied my behavior many times before, by dancing, clapping, high-fiving, or imitating animal sounds, but it was only when she copied my bad manners, reality struck me along with the terrifying thought, that we are her role models, we are supposed to set an example for her, we are supposed to teach her how to have good manners.
Why am I finding this thought terrifying? Because I can’t eat dinner with my legs on the floor. Preferably both of them, but at least one of them have to be on the chair and the only way for me to eat properly without internally complaining about how uncomfortable this is, is in the adequately distracting surroundings of a restaurant.
I also can’t use a knife properly. I somehow made it through life completely oblivious of that fact, until my husband pointed it out a couple of years ago, something that resulted in an “aha” moment for me. I finally had an explanation for my messy eating, yet the shame remained. The more formal the dinner, the smaller the quantity of food I consume (though I suspect that, that might also have something to do with fancy restaurants).
I eat snacks straight out of the fridge, often while standing in front of the fridge with the door open, I hop out of the dining sofa because I can’t be bothered to push the table away, I may or may not, occasionally, put an almost empty food container back in the fridge (rarely, hardly ever really), I don’t do formalities like invitations by post or thank you cards, I forget to say “send my regards to…” and I think I should stop here to not embarrass myself any further.
So, which manners will I teach my daughter?
After some deep soul searching, some self-discovery and with the help of a wonderful tool called common sense, I managed to put together the following list of good manners, that I would like and intend to pass on to her:
1 Respect others. Beginning with the basics. Growing up, I was always told to respect the elderly and I never understood, why the youth wasn’t worthy of the same respect that was reserved for the elderly. I say Athina, respect everyone, regardless of their age, their social and financial status, their religious beliefs, their ethnicity, or their sexual orientation.
2 In fact, be kind to all creatures! I sometimes feel bad for not being a vegetarian and I then I tell myself that providing my body with the nutrients it needs if I was, would be quite difficult, but I still can’t grasp how some people find it in them to unnecessarily torture or hurt other creatures (cockroaches and spiders of a certain size that get up in my business, are exempted from the above view, but they too deserve a quick and painless end).
3 Talking about others’ business, respect others people’s’ privacy and personal space. Everyone needs privacy and everyone needs to have their personal space respected, some more than others. Some might be more introvert, some might be going through things they don’t want to share, some might have a headache and need a time out and some, might need to adjust their underwear. In any case, be there for others if you want to, but don’t impose.
4 Agree to disagree. If only this world was filled with people who share our views! Wouldn’t that be wonderful? We would then all run on a meadow together, singing “my favorite things”! I’m afraid reality is somewhat disappointing in that regard, you will hear things you don’t like and that’s ok. You don’t have to insist that everyone agrees with you and you don’t have to agree with everyone to coexist. As long as you agree with the ones closest to you, about the things that are important to you, you’ll be fine.
5 And now a somewhat more complex one. Don’t demand that people give you what they don’t have, what they don’t want, or what they’re not ready, or can’t give you, may that be attention, admiration, understanding, acceptance, advice, or even things that you’re not clear over yourself that you’re asking for. This concerns respecting yourself, as much as it concerns respecting others.
If my daughter can have these manners, even if she’s not an expert on etiquette, I will consider her well behaved. I don’t expect her to have all of the above by tomorrow either, I’m still working on a couple of them myself, but if she can have it as her goal to be deeply kind, I will consider my job well done.
For now – wrote I and drank out of my water bottle – we’re working on her not taking other children’s yogurt at the kindergarten. Baby steps… For everyone…
First posted at elenirigajohansen.com on April 17th, 2019
Published by Eleni Riga-Johansen