Monday, August 4, 2008

Teach your children well

It may be my first day and all, but there are a handful of things I do already know.
Recently, I've overheard parents saying things like "we want our children to be comfortable in our home and know what's ours is theirs" while their children run rampant and wreak havoc on the house. I've also seen parents breathe a sigh of relief on a patio or private room in a resturant while letting their kids have run of the place because "they aren't bothering other diners." All these parents are operating on the assumption that we teach our children manners to make life better for us as parents and that truly loving parents don't give restrictions because it is selfish to do otherwise. These assumptions are wildly incorrect, and I just can't help but say something I've been taught my whole life in response.
People pay parenting coaches a lot of money to get gems like these and I'm offering them up for free. You can thank me later, when you're less mad at me.
Here it comes, everyone!
We teach our children manners for them, not for us.
Children who are not given limits in their own home do not grow up less stifled, they grow up to be jerks. Children who do not respect their homes and know that there are certain things that can not be touched will go into others' homes with the same philosophy that everything is theirs for the taking. You may not own anything expensive or breakable, but maybe Grandma does, and if your kids treat her house the same as yours, I predict that invitations to return will be few and far-between.
I can remember many a friend who was not allowed back to our house because they would not respect the rules. I did not grow up in a "babyproof" home. A safe one, yes, but not the plastic-dish, rubberized-edge, baby-gated fortress so many kids today have. My parents tried to keep certain rooms nice and cleaned up and I was not allowed to mess with them. Period. When company came over and I toddled into the room, sometimes they were surprised to learn a kid even lived there. Had they gone to my bedroom or familiy room, they would have seen an explosion of toys on the floor and all the messes of childhood, but the living room area was off-limits. We didn't have money, it wasn't like I was in danger of breaking our Ming vase, but it was important to my parents to teach me to respect certain things. It's a lesson I never forgot, and I never got in trouble at other people's houses for breaking things because of that. I innately knew not to touch without being asked if it wasn't mine. Did my parents enjoy keeping things from me just for the sake of doing it? No. They did it because they wanted me to be the kind of kid who had friends, who got invited to things, who was respectful. If you are thinking to yourself that maybe I was just a good kid and easy to teach, you may be right, but you haven't met my sister. She was the get-into-things type worse than either my brother or me, but that just meant it took more work and was even more important to teach her.
The lessons remain intact and worth teaching years later, children with manners become teenagers with friends. I'm terrified of the work required to teach all this to my daughter and know it will be hard, but I also know that, like potty training, it is worth the work. So, even if they're cheap and you really don't care if it is broken, keep a few things off-limits for your kids and teach them what it means to respect them. A couple things might be broken in the teaching process by the payoff is beyond tenfold. Your parents' antique grandfather clock would thank you if it could talk, and you'll be grateful when it turns out your friends are no longer "way too busy" to hang out with your family. Surprise visits will no longer be met with deep sighs and a hurried trip around the room to hide everything of value from your little cuties.
Oh, and next time you're all alone on that resturant patio, take the time to teach your children that its still a resturant and how to behave. I promise you'll be way less embarrassed the next time you go out, and the patio is not available. Besides, wouldn't you rather your kids learned the punishment for a public tantrum before it becomes too public for your taste?

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