How many of us have relatives that will visit our homes, or invite us to theirs, who have entirely outdated expectations of your child? Or expectations that are not shared by you? Chances are there is that one relative that will entirely disapprove of your son’s long hair, or your girls black fingernail polish, piercings, choice of clothing, or the music which is seeping out of their bedroom doorway.
Before you worry about bridging the gap between your “real kids” and the “Stepford” children who are supposed to show up at the holiday dinner, consider a conversation with your kids ahead of time about who will be there, and what you expect of your children during this time. It is not about the clothes or their hair, or their choice in music. At a certain age your child is going to begin expressing themselves, and as long as they are not hurting anyone, this is what most parents want for their kids!
Self-expression is healthy as long as it comes with a level of civility. Having respect for each other can make all the difference for people from another generation, or even among a single family unit. Aunt Ethel and Uncle Fred are being their authentic selves, and your kids deserve to be their authentic selves too, without having to feel like they are being judged or disapproved of.
Where am I going with this? Manners! Yes, simple manners. No matter what a child may choose to wear or listen to, if they are polite, they can win over almost anyone. This is a great starting place for peace at the table – Just think of all the misunderstandings that occur when people simply do not have manners!
The conversation with your child, no matter what age, could begin with a brief overview of who will be at the table, and providing a little refresher course on manners. Why? Well because some of the biggest arguments at the table occur over little things that can be avoided, and escalate until your teenager is storming out the door, or your 6-year old is under the table because Aunt Ethel is giving them her “evil eye”.
Sure, when we are home as a family, maybe our kids are allowed to reach across the table to help themselves to an extra helping of potatoes. But for the holidays, certain traditions are important to people from a generation where “reaching” was considered totally unacceptable. One of my kid’s favorite stories when they were little was “Berenstain Bears Forget Their Manners”. In it, Mrs. Berenstain becomes completely overwhelmed with how rude her family has become, and insists on implementing good manners under her watchful and instructive eye. As a result the kids begin over-acting their politeness … opening doors for each other and saying things like “Oh no, after YOU”, with great sweeping gestures.
But eventually the manners just come naturally, because it all boils down to habits (good and bad) that are created over time. Tell your children you love them and ask them to humor you with a brush up on manners before the big holiday dinner – Then use these next few weeks to practice! Put your napkin in your lap, do not begin eating until everyone is seated, no elbows on the table, chew with your mouth closed, ask to pass whatever is on the table that is not within their reach. If your kids need to leave the table, request they ask to be excused. Oh and NO cell phones at the dinner table. It is all pretty simple stuff. You can do practice runs as a family and the kids can have fun calling out the adults when they slip up!
If your children can demonstrate this level of civility; Aunt Ethel and Uncle Fred will surely have nothing to gripe about. And if they do? Then wink at your kids, thank them for being so good and ignore the cranky pants at the table. You did your part by preparing your kids, and your kids did their part by demonstrating good manners as a way of respecting everyone, including you. That is all we can ask for. Maybe peace at the table could help lead to Peace on Earth … We have to start somewhere. Let the feast begin!