Friday 23 September 2022
Shouldn’t that be me?
Now let me be clear, I am in no way suggesting that no-one else can ever challenge my offsprings’ behaviour. Take school for example; without questions I would back staff to intervene to promote values of manners, kindness and respect. Nor do I expect socially unacceptable behaviour, such pushing to the front of a bus queue to be ignored. In this event, I would applaud the driver for sending any of my charges straight back to the end of the line. No, I am concerned with one scenario only, that being when I am actually there … even in my own home! Surely, oh surely; that is my domain?
I certainly thought so, a kind of unwritten rule of inter-parental respect, and, hence, on 12 August when I hear the topic raised by journalist Nina Warhurst on radio 5, I am quickly cheering her on.
“In my opinion” she posits, “if a parent is present then it is no-one else’s job to tell a kid off“
“Spot on Nina” I contribute on Twitter. The nation, however, is more divided. Endless contributors call, text and tweet-in to assert their right to, (surely the only word for this is) ‘interfere‘ if they spot a minor out-and-about with their family who dares to drop a P and Q or, heaven forbid, leaves an elbow resting on a table! The self-appointed etiquette police are passionate, casting themselves as the gallant guardians of British values and the very fabric of our society.
So I am aware that not everyone is with me on this issue however, here is why this single mum would, politely, like you to ‘butt out‘ if you’re in my home or see me with my family and think you can improve our behaviour or manners.
My family unit is close knit one. I’m likely to be biased but I really do find my children remarkable, resourceful … and very kind. And I love this. I am also not afraid to admit that in our world these values are often prized far more highly than etiquette. When for example I arrive home exhausted to find that one of the trio has made tea and tidied the house as a treat, my heart overflows. And do you know what, if someone then eats with their elbows on the table I am absolutely going to ignore it . Because I want to recognise and value the kindness and not mar the moment with relatively trivial nonsense. On the memorable day, back in 2017, when I forgot to leave work to collect Smallboy from the year 7 pantomime and he set off home alone, in the December dark and rain, his young sisters had to set out to find him. We were all so overjoyed to finally see his tiny, bedraggled figure heading up the hill, that we did celebrate by eating in the lounge with our feet on the coffee table and … even phones out! My kids are a well behaved and acceptably well-mannered lot but every now and again the moment is not about manners.
Additionally, I would just never dream of commenting on other children’s manners either whether their parents are present or not. Let’s take a trip down memory lane to parties and sleepovers. I have not been afraid to set a standards on ‘going to sleep’ and have been known to burst into the room, at 3am, demanding that sleepover rebels (usually led my one of my own brood) ‘cut the noise and get off to sleep‘. And of course, I have stepped in when there is a threat to safety; on the occasion, for example, I awoke to the horror of an 8-year old Smallboy and his sleep-over friends, jumping from successively higher steps on the staircase into the hall, I stopped it on the spot! But table manners and standards of politeness … no, not ever!
‘Why not?‘ I hear you cry. For me, the better question would be ‘Why? Most of the time, I wouldn’t have even noticed, I always saw a child and friend, not a checklist of dos and don’ts. Even if I did, I have no idea why a young person might not be saying ‘thank you‘ as I serve the party tea. They could be too terrified to speak to ‘someone else’s mum’. They might be taking their cues for behaviour from the party host and, if your children are like mine, when little they tended to show off quite a lot, whenever friends came to stay! But above all, it is simply not my place and it is not the time. Nobody has sent their children to my house for a lesson in etiquette; they have come to have fun!
And the notion, of not letting manners dominate and take the joy out of a situation is one I occasionally puzzle over when my trio visit their ‘down south’ family. For my in-laws are true devotees of the etiquette handbook – even elbows on the table at Maccies is frowned upon! Upon their return from a trip to Centre Parks with ex hub, I still recall a furious Prom dress daughter recounting the tale of her brother being made to sit down, write out and recite 10 table manners every morning before he was allowed to join in any holiday activities … which I found incredibly sad. Because he hadn’t packed his little suitcase and gone on the trip for lecture in 18th century decorum, he’d just wanted to spend some time with his dad. But hey, ex-hub’s domain and his values!
But they are not mine! I know that for many ‘manners maketh man‘ but it is ‘morals that maketh this mum’ and that’s a flag I am sticking with! So whilst I respect that not all agree, I am unshakeable in my belief that in my home or if I am present, I do know best because I know my children best. If someone is in my house, steeping in to ‘help out’ and correct my offspring’s manners or behaviour, however well intentioned, they need to hear that it does not feel supportive it feels presumptuous and judgemental.
When I do need help, because we always do on occasion, I will ask for it. Until then, ‘No thank you!’…