I’m not an “old school”, traditional mum in most ways.
When I say that, I’m not trying to impress you with, “I’m not a regular mum, I’m a cool mum,” (even though that’s exactly what I am). But what I mean is, I let some things that I know are important to other parents slide.
I swear too much, and let my eleven-year-old son do the same, at home. I co-parent, not with his actual father, but with Stan (yes, I mean the streaming service). My kid’s diet is nutritionally balanced by Uber Eats. I let him watch stuff like Breaking Bad (it’s educational, right? I’m a pragmatic parent).
It’s not that I’m necessarily proud of these things; it’s that I’m not ashamed of them. Not in the slightest. I see it like this: I make concessions and pick my battles. As all mums know, that’s the key to making it out of this parenting gig with your sanity (somewhat) intact.
But there’s one area where I won’t compromise my standards: manners. Proper, bona fide, old school manners. Not BS etiquette like no elbows on the table. But manners in terms of how my kid treats other people. Basically, it’s important to me that he doesn’t turn out to be an a**hole.
I know a lot of people won’t agree with me about this. I know some parents who, for example, don’t believe in forcing manners on their kids – such as asking them to tell someone they’re sorry, even if they’re not, or even if they don’t fully understand why.
But I call BS on that, too. Because apologising is about respect for someone else’s feelings, and it’s something that’s very difficult to learn as an adult. I can’t stand people who aren’t comfortable enough with themselves to say “I f*cked up, I’m sorry”, or “I didn’t mean to f*ck up, I’m sorry.”
The adults I know who can’t take responsibility, who don’t think they’re ever wrong – they’re the worst and unhappiest people I know. I don’t want that for my kid. So here are the manners I’ve felt are really important to teach him:
1. Say sorry.
Even when you’re not. If you care about the person, apologise when you’ve messed up, no matter how much you feel it’s their fault, too. Think of it this way: do you need to be right, or do you want to be happy?
2. Say thank you.
So many kids I know won’t say thank you. It’s disrespectful to the person who’s given them something or has done something for them. But also, learning to say thank you is about gratitude – being grateful for what’s happened. And that’s one of the keys to happiness and satisfaction.
3. Say hello.
Be welcoming; it sets the tone for the interaction.
4. Knock on closed doors.
I was in a hotel restaurant the other day, and there was a wedding being held in the same venue. A large group of tween girls were hanging out in the bathroom, doing their make up and chatting. I went into a stall, and soon enough one them tried aggressively to open the locked door.
“Why is this door locked?!”, she exclaimed angrily.
Um, perhaps because there are people in the world other than you?
5. Wait your turn.
You’re no more important than anyone else.
6. Hold doors open.
This is just a basic sign that you don’t think you’re the only person in the world. You’d hate it if someone slammed a door in your face, so don’t do it to someone else.
7. Wait to enter an elevator.
It’s annoying to be accosted by people trying to push themselves into a lift when you’re trying to get out. See manner #5.
8. Mind your devices.
Use earphones, or an appropriate noise level. Don’t have long and loud phone conversations in public places. No one wants to hear it.
9. Look after the adults around you.
Offer to help them. Let them take your seat. It’s called courtesy.
10. Say “excuse me.”
Not as an apology for your general presence, but when you are interrupting someone, or their personal space.
11. Don’t be unkind.
There’s enough cruelty, unkindness, and judgement in the world. Don’t ruin someone else’s day by crapping on them.
Being “polite and kind” might seem like an old school value to a lot of parents, but it can only end well for the kids.
Which is why when my kid asks me, “Mum, can I please watch Sex and the City,” I reward him for his politeness, and respect in asking me, by saying yes.
Relax, I’m just joking.
But I do apologise if I gave you a fright.
What are your non-negotiable rules for your kids? Tell us in the comment section below.