How can I teach my kids good manners in the face of adversity?
Each week, Miss Manners answers questions exclusivelyfrom the MSN audience on all of your etiquette dilemmas.(Have an issue you want help with? Send in a question today.) Read on for this week's hot topics:
DEAR MISS MANNERS,
I want to teach my children good manners and to be respectful, but when other parents don’t and their children have the effective manners of having been raised in a barn, I feel like I’m in a losing battle. I don’t want my kids to take on unsavory behavioral habits. How can I teach my kids that even though some kids act poorly and get away with it, that it really isn’t okay?
"As a parent, you must already be familiar with Everybody Else’s Mother —that mysterious parent whom your children cite to prove that you are the only one who does not allow her child to stay out half the night, eat whatever he wants, use her credit cards, and so on.
Surely your response to that is, “Sorry, but that is not the way we do things.”
What is needed here is the positive side of that, a prideful declaration that they must behave well because no matter what others do, the family maintains high standards. For both arguments, Miss Manners is fond of adding an expression of sympathy for the children, as having not been born into less fastidious families."
DEAR MISS MANNERS,
My husband’s daughter and her husband have four young girls. I have never been particularly close to them – understandably so since I was the reason my husband left his first wife when his daughter was very small.
However, over the years I have made sure to remember every single birthday and, as the girls arrived, make an effort to find out exactly what they need or want for birthdays or Christmas, do the shopping, wrapping and shipping. There is no doubt in my mind that none of this would get done if I didn’t do it – my husband is too busy with his job and also has come to expect this from me.
Over the past couple of years, we have received little if any thanks. Most recently, when thanks are offered, they are directed solely to my husband. This past Christmas, because they are abroad, they requested gift cards and we sent several very generous ones. The son-in-law emailed my husband, thanking only him. I have not even seen the email.
Last night, I told my husband that I am through – if he wants his daughter and family to be remembered on special occasions, then he will have to take the responsibility. Am I being petty and unreasonable?
"You are being unrealistic. Did you really think that being the family shopper would endear you to those with a lifelong grudge against you?
It is kind of you to select thoughtful presents for your husband’s children, but the kindness is really to him, in saving him the trouble and making him look good. Perhaps if the presents fall off in quantity or quality (although, how hard is it to send a gift card?) his children will notice. But Miss Manners would not count on that endearing them to you."
Judith Martin's latest book is No Vulgar Hotel: The Desire and Pursuit of Venice. She is also the author of Miss Manners' Guide toExcruciatingly Correct Behavior (Freshly Updated). She and her husband, a scientist and playwright, live in Washington, D.C. They have two perfect children, of course.
While I agree that LW2 can't expect familial fondness just from gift-giving, I'm furious at the situation.
Her husband is the one who cheated and broke up his first family. That was HIS choice. Why are the women cross with each other, and even worse, why is his first family friendly with HIM but cross with LW2? I hate that the man who made the choice is forgiven, and everyone is friendly with him, and the women get the hostility. Place the blame where it belongs.
To the second wife: First, your complaint is to your husband who is accepting all of the credit. He should be pointing out to his daughter and grandchildren that he is not doing the buying and that the thanks belong to wife # 2 who has for many years been trying to find family harmony and forgiveness. He should have forwarded the email to you.
Second the daughter and her family need to get over it and forgive the past. While it is extremely sad that the first marriage disolved, the daughter should accept that her parents relationship was somehow flawed and her father found happiness in another relationship that seems to have lasted for years/decades. The grandkids should be taught to say thank you to the stepgrandmother and not be dragged into a feud they are too young to understand or judge. Or they should refuse the gifts.
As to the second wife- Karmas a Bitch.
If LW2 did not spend time with the daughter and then with her children as they were growing up, they have no relationship with her and probably very little with LW's husband. Yes, they assume that he should be thanked for the gifts, because they assume that he asked LW to buy and ship them.
That is the only Daddy that little girl had. As things fell, she did not get to have a relationship with that Daddy. The daughter probably sees the gifts as guilt payments for the pain of having the fundamental core of a child's life, her family, broken up and the loss of her father. The responsibility for that loss lies with both the father and the second wife. He should not have cheated on his first wife, but the second woman did not break it off as soon as she learned he was married. Then, apparently, LW and the husband let the situation prevent him from having much of a relationship with his child.
In case the current economy hasn't highlighted this, competition for jobs and resources is fierce. I'm sure parents want to do what they can to give their kids advantages in life - which includes having better manners than other job candidates. Parents aren't doing their children any favors by declaring, "Them fancy manners don't mean nothing." They are dooming their children to a life of second class. And for what? Good manners are FREE!
The more you give someone, the less grateful they are. (Some might say, the more they hate you for it.) LW2, remember that. Your husband's previous family is never going to warm up to you and in fact, will probably always hate you. Stop being a martyr.
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