Excuse Me Ma’am, What Manners?

posted in: Motherhood, Parenting, What's Your Word 43 comments
Today’s word is brought to you by the amazing Nina Badzin, a published writer, aspiring novelist and mother.  She’s also quite the twitter guru and shares her secrets on her blog and with all who follow her @NinaBadzin.  She’s funny and feisty wherever she goes and I love that Nina shares her opinions and opens genuine discussions.  Please welcome Nina as she discusses MANNERS, a topic that gets a lot of attention in my house.

Manners: Nina Style

Is encouraging our kids to become “little ladies and gentleman” an outdated concept or something not pushed enough by parents today? Given the way I used to mock my mother when I was a teenager, she won’t believe I think parents should teach manners often and as early as possible.

In the dating world my mom remembered, boys came inside the house and spoke to the parents before every single date. They opened doors, paid for an evening out, and generally called girls on the phone and not the other way around. By the time I was interested in boys (I was in high school and college from 1991-1999), it was common for girls/women to insist on splitting the check and even for some women to genuinely feel “offended” by the notion of having a door held open for her.

I’ll never forget how my mom grimaced at the idea of her daughters calling boys. I can only imagine what she thinks of the way young people communicate through texts and Facebook today and the general lack of “ladylike behavior” (as she would call it) that young women use when presenting themselves to the public. Of course she had rules for gentlemen as well. When a guy would pick me up for a date, even if it was a boyfriend I’d dated for over a year, she insisted he come to the door. One time when a date honked the horn and waited for me in the driveway, she guarded the door and wouldn’t let me out until he figured out to pick me up inside. It took him a long time to realize what he had to do, which begs the question: What were his parents teaching him about how to treat a lady? Or what were they not teaching him?

Now that I’m a parent, I appreciate my mom’s “old-fashioned” values. The crux of the issue is that good manners are not passed on to the next generation via osmosis.

One example of manners gone astray: Over the years I’ve had numerous children in and out of my house for play dates. Some kids say please, thank you, and no thank you. Some not only skip those basic manners, but literally stomp into my kitchen and demand a snack or even say, “What do you guys have?” I’ve seen some kids open and close my refrigerator repeatedly like a teenager might (my oldest is not even seven nor are his friends).

Believe me, I’m not judging the parents. Despite the constant discussions my husband and I have with the kids (even the 2-year-old) about good manners, I’ve seen my four-year-old walk into the pantry at a friend’s house and start looking through the shelves. Our almost-seven-year-old has never seen a napkin he intends to use and constantly interrupts adults. Nevertheless, I don’t think the fight for good manners is either hopeless or pointless. As they get older, we hope our kids will hear our message that certain behaviors are rude and unbecoming. We use the terms “lady” and “gentlemen” with our kids all the time. I find myself saying potentially “old-fashioned” statements like “ladies first” or “a gentlemen opens the door for his sisters.”

I’d love to hear other parents’ feelings on kids’ manners today. Do kids seem ruder because parents are not pushing manners enough? Do the expectations or lack of expectations at schools contribute to the problem? Do you think I’m crazy to consider the state of manners a “problem” in the first place? Looking forward to the discussion!

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Brittany
I'm Brittany. I believe that simple is best and that smiling can make or break a day. I love being a woman, a wife and a mother. I like to make pretty things and making things with big tools. I am a huge fan of good design. I love to travel. Hugs make me happy. I share my life, experiences, tips and tutorials in the hope that this community can find a whole lot of awesome together.
Brittany
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42 comments… add one

  • May 23, 2011 Brittany

    Nina I am all kinds of old-school on he manners thing. It bothers me when my kids tear through my own cupboards!

    We tell other kids that come over our basic rules, including our language rules. In our house, we do not say Oh my G-d, for instance.

    I am not ready for the dating scene at all, but I see no way for a child of mine to leave the house with someone I have not met. I expect a visit to the door and a little convo.

    We also use words like lady and gentleman. And not to make myself sound ancient, but I have no problem when I ask something of a child and I hear, Yes ma’am. Makes my old heart warm.

    Thank you so much for the discussion!

    Reply
  • May 23, 2011 angela

    My husband and I are trying to instill manners in our children, but it’s hard to tell if it’s helping yet. Abbey does say please and thank you, but the rest of it is sporadic at best. (She’s just three, so she has time.)

    I was a teacher for a while, and I do think that there is a lack of manners and respect that seems to be the norm rather than the exception lately.
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    • May 23, 2011 Brittany

      I agree. I think a lot of it has to do with this sense of entitlement I keep hearing so much about :) . I am terrified that no matter what I do it will be hard to combat the lak of manners when school starts for my 3 little ones. It all starts at home but I think that open conversations with our kids’ teachers and other parents can help to make sure that our educators know that basic manners are still very important!

      Reply
    • May 23, 2011 Nina

      I think you never quite now what they’re picking up (through example and lack of example) so it’s never too early to start!
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  • May 23, 2011 Nina

    Glad I’m not alone! And sometimes my son says “yes M’am” in a sort of mocking way, and I tell him, “that’s right.”
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  • May 23, 2011 Jennifer K

    Totally agree with you! It is really important to set a good example (which my husband and I try to do) and instill good manners at an early age. We have many kids that come over, pull every book off the book shelf and their parents just say – oh, thats so cute! No, its not cute – never too early to starting “showing and telling” the kids the right way to behave.

    Reply
    • May 23, 2011 Brittany

      That gets me too. There are lots of things that are cute but making a huge mess is not usually one of them. With the book example, I love that my kids and others love all the books we have. But…even for the baby (who we help) we talk about how important it is to show respect for the things we have and for people’s homes. We can take books out but they need to be put away. Of course, if my baby picks up Plato and sits in a pile of philosophy books, I will take a pic before we do the clean up.

      Reply
  • May 23, 2011 Natalie

    Just found your blog and LOVE it! This is such a great post, and I completely agree with you. I plan on teaching my little boys the classic manners…I think it’s the right thing to do! These days there are too many little brats with no manners b/c we just have stopped teaching kids that these days!
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    • May 23, 2011 Brittany

      Thank you!

      That is too funny. My 4 year old asked me what “Brat” meant the other day when she got home from pre-school. After making sure she heard it from a child and not a grownup, I explained what it meant and that she should never call someone that name :) She knows what manners are, but it is sometimes still a struggle for her to use them.

      Reply
  • May 23, 2011 Natalie

    I just found your blog and love it! I completely agree with this post 100%. Somewhere teaching manners got lost…don’t know what happened but a lot of little brats could use some good ole fashioned manners. I am going to teach my little boys manners for sure! Great post!
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  • May 23, 2011 julie gardner

    This may sound silly, but I think a large contributor to the decline in manners (besides a general shift toward “being friends with” instead of “being parents to” children) is the decrease in family dinnertime.

    In a home where sports, music, art and other extra-curricular activities take over the afternoon/evening hours, parents resort to tag-team eating; running through a fast-food place or feeding kids at different times so that the entire family sits down together rarely during the week. If ever.

    This is not, of course, due to a lack of love. Most families leading busy/hectic lives do so out of a desire to give their kids EVERYTHING…we run ourselves ragged trying to fit it all in so they don’t miss any opportunities.

    Too bad they are missing what I had when I was growing up: 45 minutes every single day where we sat around a table (from infancy) and my parents modeled good manners, grammar, behavior. Not just rules for mealtime, but expectations for ALL THE TIME. It was expected of us.

    I am really grateful my sister and I had that growing up. I try as often as I can to serve dinner to our entire family (or if my husband is working late, at least to the kids and to me) at the same time. In the dining room. Napkins in lap. Polite conversation.

    I fail miserably. Often. But I’m trying. We’re all trying, right? Well. Maybe no everyone…
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    • May 23, 2011 Nina

      This is such a good point, Julie! As a society we’ve kind of sacrificed certain elements of family life to keep up with everyone else, haven’t we? I think we only sit down as family two nights a week, and my kids are really young. Sad. :(
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    • May 23, 2011 Tanya

      Love this! I too think family dinners are super important. Not just in manners but keeping a family connected.

      Reply
    • May 23, 2011 Stephanie

      I strongly feel the same way and yet struggle with trying to get everyone to sit down at the same time and not inhale their food. Plugging away at it though.

      I also feel that with most families financial need to have two working parents things are so rushed in our lives it is hard to find the energy to pass along the finer points of things. Not just please and thank you but all the extras. No one’s fault really, just how life is now. I know lots of times I am just to tired to push a point, any point, home to my kids.
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    • May 24, 2011 ChiMomWriter

      I agree with the lack of dinnertime ritual. It gives concrete time, not only as a family together, but also where everyone is planted in one spot and those details like please, thank you, taking turns, and remembering to ask about another person’s day are the focus. My husband is never home for meals, and with me popping up and down at the table throughout, I can feel how lacking that time for connection really is!
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  • May 23, 2011 Violetsouffle

    I honestly do not think teaching children to say please/thank you/ yes ma’am& no ma’am is anything but teaching them a habit. It’s not the words thy make good manners, and I feel disgusted when I see peoplepushing children to parrot Back these words in the name of “good manners.” Good and bad behaviors are environmental, not just words.

    Reply
    • May 23, 2011 Brittany

      I think that teaching manners is a very good start to teaching the behaviors we want our kids to have. I don’t think it is parroting when kids learn to treat others with respect. The words may start as being repeated back but the behavior follows. Excuse me is said before a child simply pushes past someone at a store. It’s not just the words, it’s the lesson. I don’t think Nina was at all saying that the words are the most important thing, but that kids often these days do not exhibit manners in terms of their vocabulary or their behavior.

      So, no, I do not feel disgusted by a parent reminding their child to say please or thank you and I hope that the words are being backed up by actions.

      Reply
      • May 23, 2011 Violetsouffle

        I would much rather teach my child that pushing people may hurt them than to teach her to say “excuse me” before she pushes pastsomeone at the grocery store. Just doesn’t make sense to emphasize verbal “politeness” when there are always ways to teach her to be kind (empathy) and to treat others accordingly. She would pick up on “yes ma’am” if it was something I used. Since I don’t have any reason to say “yes ma’am” to people, my child doesn’t see it and I am 100% Ok with that. Being kind& gentle& not pushing people isn’t really manners, so much as it is teaching her not to abuse others.

        Reply
        • May 23, 2011 Nina

          I agree with MommyWord’s response. I’m sort of confused about why it has to be one or the other. Of course we MUST teach kids empathy, kindness, and a deep sense of responsibility to help others. Like manners, we teach this through what we tell them as well as how we act. But it is our job to explicitly instruct our children about what is proper in the basic and the deeper sense. There is a place for simple good manners in the world and they don’t learn it just by observing the world, especially when so many in the world are rude.

          How would the boyfriend, in my example, know to pick up a girl at the door and not honk rudely in the driveway if his parents didn’t teach him? Parents do have a place in this equation. And though it may start with “parroting” for a two-year-old, that’s just the beginning.
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        • May 23, 2011 Brittany

          Perhaps I should clarify. I did not mean push someone out of the way. We are just 4 wide and when we leave the grocery store usually we all have to say excuse me so we can walk out :)

          I must be really old fashioned because I still find myself saying yes ma’am.

          Reply
    • May 23, 2011 Julia

      I agree with you, Violetsouffle, teaching children to say please/thank you/yes ma’m IS teaching them a habit — a GOOD habit. We’ve done this with our kids–never rudely, always with the utmost respect–because I also agree that good manners are environmental! As my kids have gotten older, I’m happy to say that they are extremely successful, happy, and well-loved in their own right (AND polite and also *perfectly* comfortable stating their opinions!). I think Nina is right on — the world would be a better place if we were all a little more polite and that should start at home. And if that’s old fashioned, then count me old fashioned and polite, too!

      Reply
  • My kids are all grown now, but we did try to instill manners into them. I want to say I was pleased the other day. I was coming out of a gas station and there was a young lady of about 13 or 14. She held the door for me. She went out of her way to do so. I think what really stuck out to me and where the difference came in was that she had on a martial arts uniform. Maybe her parents taught her as well, but I have a feeling the martial arts put some character into her as well.
    My daughter teaches her 6 kids manners as well. She teaches them to speak kindly to servers in restaurant and treat everyone with respect. And people notice.
    Bernice
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    • May 23, 2011 Nina

      Yes! My son did one semester of karate when he was about four and I remember a huge part of it was about “accountability.” They used the word often and made the kids work on certain tasks like cleaning up after themselves. I can imagine for teenagers the lessons are even more serious. I would love my kids to stay involved in activity like that. Great example! Thanks!
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  • May 23, 2011 Jenna

    You know the saying about the chicken and the egg? We should have high expectations of our kids in regard to manners, ie. Please, thank you and excuse me and the behaviors and words will come together. As a mom and a teacher, I am consistently amazed (and offended) by peers of my 2 year old as well as my 10 and 11 year old students who don’t ask politely for the items they need, nor appreciate the person who has stopped what they are doing to assist them . It is the job of a parent to instill the morals and values you are talking about Violetsoufflet, but based on what you say, basic please and thank you should be on that list in addition to the fact that pushing could lead to injury. It all goes hand in hand. I don’t think “mam” is necessary, but high expectations are if we don’t want the world to soon be filled with even more “entitled” teenagers and adults who expect the world to come to them.

    Reply
  • May 23, 2011 Tanya

    I love this post. It rings true to me on the same level as your post on refering to adults as Mr. & Mrs. I have to agree with prior posters that manners may start with parroting but it grows into something more, true respect and awarness of others. Really isn’t that was manners are? Learning that the world doesn’t revolve around you and that you have to be concious of others? I can tell the difference when my one of my children (4 and 2) SAY please/thank you and MEAN please/thank you. I make a point to correct them when they are just saying it. Words are by no means enough.

    Great post once again! Although I don’t even want to START thinking about my girls dating #shudder.

    Reply
    • May 23, 2011 Brittany

      Dating…double shudder. And yes, I too can tell the difference. It makes me so proud when I know they start to understand why we say and do certain things!

      Reply
  • May 23, 2011 Mandee Polonsky

    I couldn’t agree more! I often wish I live in the south so I could teach my son to say “Yes Ma’am” without people thinking I’m crazy. I’ve been a stickler for please and thank-you, and no-thank you (hard for a 2.5 year old to master!) since he could speak. I actually taught him thank you in sign language before that! I will never be ok with people calling me “Mrs. P” -just not that formal, but when he’s out in the world, I really want his manners to stand out. Haven’t gotten to the playdate with snack demanders yet – but I’ll keep an eye out :) Thank you for sharing!

    Reply
  • May 23, 2011 florence fois

    Nina and Brittany … I think like my own two children, your generation is taking a much more traditional stance on motherhood, manners, and all levels of your children’s social education.

    I keep up with my kid’s friends and the kids from the youth center where I worked for almost twenty years through Facebook. It is wonderful to know that many of them, like my son (remember he was born when I was 10) at age 40 leans on the old-world traditions he only knew from his grandmother.

    Perhaps your generation can turn the tide on this lack of gentility and common sense. Thanks for a wonderful discussion.

    Brittany: Not to jump ahead, or push my “weight” or age around … but if you think you guys have changes now … wait a few years. My mother’s favorite expression comes to mind … small children, small problems … big children, big problems …
    Love this Mommy sorority :)

    Reply
    • May 23, 2011 Brittany

      Oh I know I’ve got a LOT coming. I so appreciate your perspective and have heard from my parents and their friends both sides. Some feel there is a trturn to a more traditional manners system while some feel like their kids have thrown it all to the wind. Um, I think you see where I stand :)

      Reply
  • May 23, 2011 Stephanie Alexander

    Hi Nina and Brittany! I love this topic! Nina, we are exactly the same age and I SO remember my mom talking about girls calling boys…scandal. Now, listening to my neighbors talk about “today’s teenagers” (Gag, I feel so old!) it sounds like we were extremely tame. On one hand, I totally respect these girls for taking the bull by the horns…on the other hand I do wonder it there’s something to be said for playing a bit hard to get!

    We also have the same issues with our three kids (8, 6 and 3 1/2). I wonder if we were all perfectly well mannered, or if we romanticize our childhood sloppiness? There’s a big revival in “finishing schools” for both boys are girls in the DC area. Kids go and learn manners, polite conversation, even dancing. Seems crazy…but I’m already considering it for my oldest. Will let you know how THAT goes!

    Reply
    • May 23, 2011 Brittany

      Wow I remember going to a ballroom dancing and manners thing in 5th or 6th grade. I had totally forgotten that! I was in MA at the time. I had heard these were cming back in fashion in NY and DC. Definitely let us know!

      Reply
  • May 23, 2011 April Queen

    I definitely agree that kids don’t have manners like they should. I think manners have become relaxed to a lot of adults and that is passed onto the kids. It is funny to me how it starts with calling teachers by their first names even if a Miss or Mrs. is put in front of it. I am 40 and when I was in school, there is NO way you would call a teacher by the first name. Table manners is what drives me crazy. My kids are always busy and we don’t always eat at the same time. They are 17, 15, and 12. I try to teach them how to behave at the table, but when we go out to eat it seems nobody uses manners anymore. Some things are okay and we are guilty of them too like forgetting to RSVP (so many things like knowing how to answer a phone are forgotten, but when did it become so important to RSVP to a kid’s party???), not always going to the front door, forgetting ma’am and sir, but there are some things like a guy just being a gentleman that I can’t let go. My daughter went to the prom and her date was AWFUL. His parents are really nice, well educated people but this boy didn’t get any of it right! Things are different and girls are more independent, but some things boil down to respect. That is when manners are important. Some things are not common and considered old fashioned, but there is nothing old fashioned about respect. (I was worried about her getting cold in her dress. It was long, but had a halter top. But, me and my sister were like, “It’s okay, he will give her his jacket.” NOPE! He walked out of the prom, HOLDING his jacket, while she was freezing. I still feel so sorry for her!)
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    • May 23, 2011 Brittany

      From a gal who is always cold…unforgiveable :) I totally agree that there is nothing old fashioned abut respect. Great way to put it!

      Reply
  • May 23, 2011 Jack

    I had a girlfriend who used to fight with me about who walked closest to the curb. She hated when I did it- thought it was condescending, offensive and so disrespectful that it caused chaos.

    I remember one time when we were visiting my parents my mother had a fit because I didn’t walk closer to the curb. It was just great, she read me the riot act. Of course if I had pushed the issue my girlfriend would have lost her mind so I chose not to fight that particular battle.
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    • May 23, 2011 Brittany

      I love that my husband walks closest to the curb. It always reminds me of my grandpa who always did the same and taught my brother that particular sweet gesture. Picking battles is a whole other issue. Mom or girlfriend – you had a tough choice. But if one might be your future wife, well, I guess you go with that.

      Reply
  • May 23, 2011 Nina

    Oh Jack–those are the same women I was mentioning who were offended by a door being held open for them or having someone treat for dinner. I know I sound terribly “old-fashioned” but your instinct to walk by the curb in the first place was spot on. You’re a gentleman at heart!
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  • May 23, 2011 Hallie

    This is one of big pet peeves. I have had kids come over for sleep overs, scream at the top of their lungs and jump on my furniture. I about flipped a lid. First and last time that child came to my house. My children were looking at me with disgust and astonishment. THAT made me feel good. I know kids are going to be kids but I manners are manners. Either you have them or you don’t. I think social skills in our children are becoming worse and worse and I feel the onus falls back on the parents. Their job to teach their children and they are letting manners slide horribly.

    Maybe together we can get the pendulum to start swinging the other way. GO MANNERS! :)

    Reply
  • Love this post! Yes indeed, manners are something that seem to go by the wayside (along with taking responsibility for one’s actions, grades and more!).

    I refuse to accept lousy manners from my kids’ friends, and have been known to verbally discipline kids both in front of their parents (if they disrespect their parents in front of me) or not (if they’re rude in my home).

    Someone has to teach them…..
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  • May 24, 2011 liz

    I think it falls on the parents, mostly because it’s manners are taught from a young age. And I think it’s a lot of what we say and do in our lives, and not what we knowingly, directly teach them. They are quiet observers, these kids.
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  • May 24, 2011 Judy Balloff

    Well…here is the mother of 4 and grandmother of six. Wonderful to see all the posts on manners, kindness, family dinnertime. There can be a stiltedness to manners if they are not tied to something like “why” we use them. I always go back to that famous Winston Churchill quote….”Manners are little morals”
    There is a good reason to keep teaching them.
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