The Mom I Don’t Want to Be

I yelled.

About a fork.

At the dinner table.

It wasn’t the fork exactly, behind my ire, but the lack of one being used to scoop a rather messy tangle of pasta from plate to mouth.

My intention was a pointed, “hey, buddy, use your fork” sort of motherly nudge.

But instead it came out  loud and aggravated.

It surprised us all.

I hated myself. For yelling. For spoiling dinner.

It wasn’t me, exactly, who did it. It was my lesser self. The worn out version of me who has spent more than a dozen years preaching table manners each night.

More than a dozen years:

Use your fork

Use your knife

Don’t pick food off your sister’s plate

Your dress is not a napkin

My dress is not your napkin

It’s dangerous to lick your knife

Don’t pick the crusty bits off the top of the macaroni and cheese, the enchiladas, the fish pie.

Is there a caveman living with us?

Close your mouth when you chew

Stop talking with food in your mouth

Don’t burp at the table

Yes, I do think it was on purpose

Don’t put the dog on the table

Don’t feed the dog at the table

Put your napkin on your lap

Take your napkin off the table

Take your elbows off the table

Don’t lie down during dinner

Use your table manners

Use your table manners

Use your table manners

The dinner table is sacred ground. It’s where so much of the good stuff happens. The one time we are all together. And we tarnish it sometimes, with all this business of table manners — their not measuring up to my standards, my calling them on their every wrong move.

In my heart I am certain that they will grow up knowing how to behave at a dinner table. I know it just as I knew when my oldest wasn’t sleeping through the night by six months that one day she would. And I knew when my middle daughter wasn’t reading in kindergarten that one day she would. And when my youngest cried every time I dropped her off at preschool, that one day she wouldn’t.

Yes, they will have good table manners. Apparently they already do…just at other people’s houses.

So for now, I’m trying to banish that me with the aggravated tone, the yeller, the cop, the preacher. I’m retiring as manners police. I’m not exactly sure how and I’m not giving up on mannerly children. But I’d like to take a gentler tack, and maybe give the kids some room to live up to my expectations.

I’m open to advice.

Comments

06.10.2013 at 4:31 AM #

Anne Mullen

As annoying as it is to them and to you, that harping will produce polite children and then adults. You and everyone who meets them will appreciate that harping. It’s never easy, but the end result is really good.

06.10.2013 at 4:31 AM #

katiemorford

Thanks for the two cents, Anne…it’s meaningful from someone whose children AND grandchildren have nice manners.

06.10.2013 at 4:38 AM #

[email protected]

Ahhhhh, yes…the voice of reason!! Thank you, Katie, for this great reminder!! It is hard to see the big picture sometimes when it comes to parenting. And when our kids don’t exhibit good table manners (or eat their broccoli or whatever), it can feel like a personal failure…which (I think) is why we tend to get emotional about it (i..e, “I’ve said it 1,000 times! Why aren’t they STILL not listening?!?). But I totally agree: It’s better to have the table be relaxed and enjoyable, even if it means letting the little stuff go.

06.10.2013 at 4:38 AM #

katiemorford

Hard to see the big picture about so very many things with kids!

06.10.2013 at 7:07 AM #

Sally Kuzemchak

“Don’t lie down during dinner”. So funny and so true! I recently had to say “Don’t lie on the floor” to my 5 year old at a restaurant. I agree that I hate feeling like a nag with my kids, but I’m terrified my boys will grow up to be those men who still don’t chew with their mouth closed or put their napkin on their laps. I read a tip somewhere that’s supposed to combat nagging–to boil it down to one work like “napkin” instead of “use your napkin”. When I remember, I try to do that. Anyway, nice post and I can definitely relate!

06.10.2013 at 7:07 AM #

katiemorford

Like that tip….a simple “fork” is all that’s required.

06.10.2013 at 7:25 AM #

Leslie

I hate those days when I feel like I’ve failed, when I’ve yelled or been mean accidentally. On the other hand, I think those moments of losing our cool show our kids that this [email protected]!# (whether it be table manners or following directions or whatever sets us off) really matters to us — and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. And I, for one, loved reading this post because sometimes the beautiful meals and the creative treats presented on charming parchment paper and tied with twine and the uber healthy lunch box photos can be intimidating so it’s reassuring to know that it’s not all perfection at the Morford home! 🙂

06.10.2013 at 7:25 AM #

katiemorford

Thanks Leslie…yes we are very real over here, even if it is tied up in rustic twine sometimes!

06.10.2013 at 7:31 AM #

Corey

Apologize and move on. “I’m so sorry. What I really wanted to say was: please use your fork and not your hands. I’m tired and I lost my patience and that was not okay.” You can even rise from the table to give the child a hug and ask forgiveness. It will be a great example to your kids. It also “un”-spoils dinner.

06.10.2013 at 7:31 AM #

katiemorford

Great ideas…and you’re right, an apology and a hug can often “unspoil” anything.

06.10.2013 at 8:19 AM #

Renee

I agree that it is hard sometimes to keep one’s patience when repeating the same things over and over. But I agree with other posters–and you!– that manners are important and will help our children traverse their socials worlds away from our own tables. I really like the suggestions for one-word prompts and apologies. I have often just invoked the simple “Really?” at times. Oh, and I’d like to add to your list, No knees above the table. Keep on keeping on, Katie!

06.10.2013 at 8:19 AM #

katiemorford

Thanks Renee! I’m keeping on…

06.10.2013 at 9:34 AM #

Nora N

Oh gosh I’ve gone down that road. i’m pretty sure that, for the past 3 years, I’ve been telling my step son ” Don’t chew with your mouth open”
Sometimes i say it nicely, other times I snap. I feel bad after but all i can think is I’ve been telling you for Years now! When will you learn?!
But then I remember my own dad telling me “chew with your mouth close, stand up straight, don’t do this don’t do that” and it stuck..eventually, but it stuck. So I have to keep reminding myself that it took me years to learn, and it will take him years also. It’s just so irritating to repeat the same thing over and over and over again… =) stay strong!

06.10.2013 at 9:34 AM #

katiemorford

I suppose we all can relate. Thanks for chiming in.

06.10.2013 at 4:10 PM #

Pamela

Oh Katie— what a great blog today! I laughed out loud because it was all too familiar!
You are a super duper mom and your girls have and will have perfect manners because of your insistence!

06.10.2013 at 7:34 PM #

Amy

I swear you lifted this from my house except you forgot the part where I threaten to send them to a week of finishing school this summer. Thank goodness they only needed to be told once about texting at the table.

06.10.2013 at 7:34 PM #

katiemorford

Too funny…is there such a thing as finishing school? I may just need to investigate.

06.11.2013 at 12:13 PM #

Kate

If you think about it in the reverse—the parent who doesn’t say anything to their kids when they are being rude, gross, annoying, etc.—seems a much worse fate.

06.11.2013 at 12:13 PM #

Anne Mullen

That last comment about not saying anything being worse is so true, and the window of opportunity closes to produce those polite people that everyone likes having around. Keep harping on the manners when they’re young.

06.11.2013 at 12:13 PM #

katiemorford

Agreed.

06.11.2013 at 1:33 PM #

Kim Brady

With two LO’s under 4 at the table this journey is just beginning I fear 🙂 I recently noticed that there was not always a “please” included but I did hear “thank you” following a request granted- when given the room to respond without my prompting- so I listened to myself and what did I hear? Like most things I hope that our example of lovely manners (and kindness, empathy, patience…) speaks louder than I could ever shout. Thanks for keeping it real, Katie.

06.12.2013 at 7:15 PM #

Danielle

I think that having a family dinner is so wonderful in this busy world! With regards to manners, keep modelling the correct behaviour as you are, and they will know what to do!

Not sure how old your kids are but maybe on some nights you can have them serve you, restaurant style, so they see what it’s like to be in your shoes 🙂

06.12.2013 at 7:15 PM #

katiemorford

Love that playful approach. Will do.

06.14.2013 at 6:22 PM #

Kate

As someone who was harped at every single night as a child, I am now grateful for that lesson. I do not have to even think about my table manners when out in public generally, nor do I have to worry that I will disgrace myself if I am ever to dine at a fancy, important function. Better still, I am aware that these rules exist, and won’t shame myself accidentally through sheer ignorance. I had table manners down by around age ten, and knew all the different cutlery and glasses and which should be used for what.

In contrast, my parents used a different approach with my sister when she came along thirteen years later. At nearly 14, she still chews with her mouth open, and has myriad other slip-ups, because she wasn’t given those constant reminders.

There are certainly different ways of delivering the reminders, and I would encourage the gentle kind over the yelling, but until it becomes habit the constant reminders are best, in my view.

06.14.2013 at 6:22 PM #

katiemorford

Thanks for sharing that….consistency over time does pay off, I suppose.

06.17.2013 at 2:26 PM #

Penny Caporale

How funny and I so needed to hear this as a mother of two boys. Thank you so much for posting. This sounds so much like me. I think my favorite one is “your dress is not a napkin.” I find myself saying that all the time (shirt in place of dress) except I follow it with “those stains are hard to get out.” My son recently spent the night at a friend’s house and the mother commented on how mannerly he was during dinner. I about fell over. Your hard work will pay off.

06.19.2013 at 7:09 PM #

Sarah

This is so great. My mom’s big rules were: “no singing at the dinner table,” and “no movie quotes at the dinner table…” My brother and I went through a serious reciting movie lines moment in 6th and 8th grades. I think there are worse things one could do, but as a mom now, I get it. You just spent an hour (or more) preparing a nice meal–is it too much to ask to just have polite conversation? Apparently it was. Our next phase was speaking only in spanish to each other (which we were learning in jr. high), so that we could communicate without my parents understanding. But like all phases, that one ended too and I hope we are both moderately polite adults after it all. Knowing your girls, they will be, too.

06.19.2013 at 7:09 PM #

Anne Mullen

I’m so impressed with the annoying things Sara did at the dinner table. Definitely a cut above picking one’s nose or food fights.

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