Monday, December 16, 2013

The Power of Etiquette

My wife's family is pretty formal. They dress up for Thanksgiving dinner and Christmas dinner at home. In fact, if you are in an outfit for most of Christmas and dinnertime rolls around, you better have a second outfit lined up for later. My family was always more casual. We woke up on Christmas and rushed downstairs and spent most of the day in pajamas.

My in-laws tradition is getting up, getting dressed, and taking care of breakfast before presents even happen.  Of course, it is hard to contain the children's excitement so we allow the early morning opening of the stockings to tide them over but shifting to the way things are done in another family can take time.

This was an adjustment for me and despite my kicking and screaming, as they have been trying to break me of my uncouthness, I have given in.  While my family's way was considered how we did something, my wife's family's traditions are more about how they conduct business.

There is a schedule on the fridge for holidays spent together. Heck, there was even a spreadsheet breaking down where we needed to be during our wedding weekend. Let me get this straight though, I am not complaining. In fact, this sort of structure has kept things from miserably failing.

One of the greatest gifts we have received from them as a wedding present is Emily Post's Guide to Etiquette and Manners. It is pretty amazing to read about the proper way to do things and if there is one book that we abide by that sits on a shelf of classic books, it is this one.

Teaching our kids how to properly address a letter to someone is an art form that is being dropped with the use of email and these informal avenues of communication. You know what I can't stand? I hate when people close a letter with Best,

Best what? Best wishes? Best Buy? I don't understand best. Whatever happened to Sincerely? Now that seems truly sincere! Cheers and Ciao? No. I hate them. Cheers just makes me want to drink and Ciao makes me want to make a sandwich.

Teaching our kids manners has naturally been part of how we have raised them. We started early with Please and Thank you and when time outs occur, we speak to our kids about it being unacceptable behavior. How do I know that is is working? I heard my two year old tell my six year old that something was "Un-sept-able" while they were playing.

Properly setting the table is another skill we have tried to pass on. One of our six year old daughter's responsibilities for earning rewards is setting the table for dinner. And while she sometimes gets the positions of the forks and knives reversed, she is learning early how to do it the right way.

I wish I had paid more attention to that when I was younger. I grew up with three brothers and while I am sure there was silverware, I don't remember it so much because I was guarding my plate with my arms. My point is, it is never too early to show them how it is done because it will serve them better in the future.

I still have trouble calling my parent's friends anything other than Mr. or Mrs. Last Name and I know that for some people having kids call them Mr. Chris is perfectly fine but I don't like it. Some of our friends say that it makes them feel old but I think it is necessary. If anything, they are learning what their last names are as I did with all of our neighbors when I was a kid. Ask my kid who their neighbors are and they will tell you Mr. White, not Mr. Walter.

We have seen the payoff with teacher's conferences saying "Your son is just so polite" or "He really seeks out the best in everyone" I can see it in the way my younger daughters love to hold the door open for others. Just the simple "Thank You" from a child can make all the difference, especially when you hear it from them directly and not because their parents are telling them to do so.

In the age of everything digital, even e-vites, isn't it just nice to get a handwritten note from someone expressing how appreciative they are that you thought of them? My grandmother used to love to get stationary every year and even until she was in her 90's she still would hand write letters to family members about everything on her mind.

You can be sure that after Christmas, our children's thank you notes will be flowing. My wife often has hers done before Christmas dinner is even on the table, a race my relatives admire to see once they race home, whose thank you notes will arrive first.

Most parents teach their kids manners but is etiquette that important any more? It all starts with modelling the behavior we want to pass along to our children.  What are you passing on to your children and how has that affected how they are growing up?

Why are we so lax with the formalities when we are teaching them how to be the best person they can be in this world? We should be trying to elevate our children into the future by teaching them the best of the past. Maybe I should start addressing my thank you note envelopes now.

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