There are secret whispers in the play room.
I pass the door on my way to the laundry and glimpse sideways glances, muffled giggles, hushed voices.
“Don’t come down here! You can’t see this!”
“I won’t look”
But in their excitement, they’re speaking a little too loudly. I catch a few snippets.
At bedtime, there are posters stuck up around the house and I’m told that tomorrow is ‘surprise day’. Under no circumstances am I to get out of bed and make breakfast in the morning, they will take care of that.
I go to bed eager for the morning so I can find out what ‘surprise day’ is.
“We’re giving you and Daddy a day off! Because you always look after us, so we thought you should have a day off. We’ll be cooking all the meals!”
Technically, this should never have happened. Or so I’ve been told! I’ve heard all sorts of things…
“Kids these days are so ungrateful because their parents aren’t strict enough”
“You have to make your kids say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ or they’ll never have any manners”
“Your style of parenting is what’s wrong with kids today”
I ignored them all.
I took a leap, and I landed right where I wanted to be.
Among genuine, unforced, unprompted, authentic, gratitude and contribution.
Do they have manners? Yes. They’re polite, and friendly, and kind.
Do they always say an automatic ‘please’ or ‘thank you’? No. Often, but not always. And neither do I. They are young and they are still learning what society expects. And it turns out society expects robotic meaningless ‘manners’. They’ll learn that adults expect them to repeat certain words to make them feel respected. I don’t doubt it. There are many people willing to teach them.
But I am not one of them.
What is of much more importance to me right now is genuine gratefulness. Genuine contribution and helpfulness. Genuine empathy. Genuine respect. And they have bucketloads of that.
How did we get here? By showing them the same respect.
We encouraged gratefulness by being grateful. “Thank you for helping me, I really appreciate it”
We encouraged helpfulness by helping them, without conditions.
We encouraged empathy by being empathetic to them.
We encouraged politeness, by being polite.
To me, there is no other way.
Technically, you can force manners. You can require automatic pleasantries by using rewards and punishments until they comply. Your kids will eventually say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ without prompting. But what good is that if they don’t feel genuinely grateful? Who wants forced appreciation?
I want my children to understand the expectations of society, and I will always model good manners for them. But it will never be forced. Forcing manners totally undermines the values you are trying to teach. Manners should always be intrinsically motivated.
Often we’re so focused on what a ‘good’ child is, that we don’t see the amazing little people in front of us. We can notice every missed ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ and try to force it, or we can pay attention to the many moments of genuine thankfulness offered up to us.
The hugs, the kisses, the whispered ‘I love you’, the freshly picked weeds from the grass, the paintings, the handwritten notes, the tiny hand in yours, the offer of a bite of their sandwich, the help folding the washing.
The ‘surprise days’ just for you.
Notice the wonderful ways they show us they’re grateful every day. Model good manners for them, and trust that they will learn all they need to from our example. No force needed.
I’ll take authentic gratefulness and appreciation over a forced ‘thank you’ any day.