If you’re a mom of boys, you are no doubt familiar with the gross humor—usually involving bodily functions—that so often fascinate and delight our little bundles of blue. It seems that part of the boy-mom job description is coming to terms with the ‘Yuck Factor’ and steering our children toward commonly held standards of civility. In this article, boy-mom Michele Morin discusses how we can cultivate an appreciation of good manners in our children from an early age in a way that is positive, and even fun, for all involved.
A tall platform at the Colorado Springs Zoo gives patrons a once-in-a-lifetime, eyeball-to-eyeball experience with giraffes, the gentle giants of the animal kingdom. Not quite 2 years old, my little grandson fed lettuce leaves to his new tame and very attentive friends.
“Look at those big brown eyes!” I crowed. “Big, beautiful eyes like yours!”
“Long purple tongue!” he roared back with a husky laugh, absolutely delighted with the monstrous deep violet mouthful of muscle the giraffe was using to seize the lettuce leaves from his extended hand.
Adjusting my Lens
Once I had adjusted my own lens to his perspective, his response made perfect sense to me. Having raised four little boys, I’m sure I’ve heard every bathroom joke, dodged ten thousand Nerf bullets, removed countless dead worms from little jeans’ pockets, and spent hours of my life hushing potty talk and teaching good manners at the dining room table.
Those adorable little bundles wrapped in blue who come home from the hospital smelling like baby shampoo don’t take long to become obsessed with gross humor, bodily functions, and things that make most adult females cringe. It seems that part of the boy-mom job description is coming to terms with the ‘Yuck Factor’ and steering our little darlings toward commonly held standards of civility.
How do we do this? We do this by cultivating an appreciation for good manners and by making them aware that their potty mouth is offensive to us and to others. We remind them consistently that their bodily functions are simply not as fascinating to everyone else on the planet. And we do it every single day.
IT TAKES A VILLAGE
Our potato soup was hot and creamy, and the cheese I had sprinkled on top of mine melted and stretched in a web between my bowl and spoon. My friend Karen and I were unphased by long pauses or even interruptions to our conversation, because we were chewing on more than just our thick slices of French bread. We were two boy moms ruminating on the “Why?” behind boy energy and boy behavior.
How is it possible that we love them like crazy even on the days when it seems as if they woke up in the morning with the goal of destroying our house?
“I don’t know what I’d do without my husband’s input,” Karen sighed. “He sets the tone and is determined not to let things slide.”
I agreed, remembering my husband’s firm, “We don’t talk that way in our house.”
There’s no substitute for a wholehearted co-parent in this business of civilizing the little barbarians God has entrusted to our care. However, single mothers can find solidarity with their fellow boy-moms who are also willing to set and then enforce rules of conduct, polite behavior patterns, and good manners so that the same expectations apply across the board no matter who’s hosting
SETTING THE STANDARD FOR GOOD MANNERS
There’s no question that some behaviors and speech should be off limits. It’s up to you to draw that line for your own family:
Are the rules stricter at the dinner table?
Is it ever acceptable to share bathroom humor or to laugh at the way gas escapes from either end of someone’s body?
What exactly crosses the line between funny and disgusting?
Whatever rules or standards seem good to you, make sure you and your husband are on the same page. Then, be consistent and find a way to enforce penalties for infractions.
Whether it’s paying a fine, losing a privilege, sitting in time-out, or creating a written apology, try to make the punishment fit the crime. And be sure to pick your battles carefully so that enforcement is worth the effort!
Let common courtesy and mutual respect be the rule of law. The Golden Rule prescribes a way of eating at the table, sitting in the family room, or even riding in the minivan: “Whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them” (Matthew 7:12).
It’s pretty simple. “If you don’t like the way those mashed potatoes look in your brother’s open mouth, chew with your mouth closed. If you don’t want someone punching you on the arm or jumping on your back when you’re not expecting it, stay in your own space, too!”
POSITIVE PRACTICE FOR GOOD MANNERS
It’s rough when baseball games keep the family on the bleachers until dark, but family meals around the table are indispensable for modeling and teaching good manners.
It takes a bit of effort to set the table, but kids will only learn to use their utensils properly and skillfully if they are given the opportunity to practice in a safe zone. Movie nights with pizza in the family room are a special memory for my family, but the routine of gathering around the table and learning to pass the peas, put the napkin in your lap, and sit respectfully until everyone else has finished was our daily classroom for Civilization 101.
My friend Karen has identified Valentine’s Day as the perfect oppotunity for teaching good manners in a fun context. Everyone dresses up as if they were going to a fancy restaurant, but then enjoy a special meal at home. Dad, the suave ‘maître d’, throws a dish towel over his arm and serves sparkling cider as the family dines together in peaceful elegance, putting into practice the good manners they’ve (hopefully) absorbed at the family dinner table.
Even our sons’ reading material can have a huge influence on their language and their concept of what constitutes ‘appropriate’ behavior.
Offset a steady diet of “Captain Underpants” and “Dog Man” with books that feature family togetherness, strong female protagonists, respectful behavior toward adults, and a healthy work ethic. Expose them to a kinder, gentler world through their imagination and offer the incentive of a half hour later bedtime if the half hour is spent reading a book you have recommended.
MAKING GOOD MANNERS A LOT OF FUN
I was thrilled when my oldest granddaughter was old enough to come to Bam’s house for a tea party! I dusted off my Auntie Dawn’s pink rose bud tea set, and we sat outside at the picnic table listening to the birds and engaging in quiet conversation. Apparently her big brother heard rave reviews of the experience when she went home, because the next time I saw him, the first words out of his mouth were, “Bam, when are ‘we’ going to have a tea party?”
Needless to say, tea parties are now a co-ed experience at my house, and I lament having missed the opportunity to sip tea from delicate porcelain cups and eat dainty sweets with my sons. My grandkids and I sip instead of slurp, practice conversational skills, and politely pass the plate of goodies to others first. Everyone gets a turn to pour the tea from the lovely rosebud teapot, because I cool the tea with milk and use only very well-worn and washable tablecloths on tea party day.
Passing a pitcher with the handle turned toward the recipient is also a fun relay game to play when friends come to visit. Simply form two lines and hand a full (unbreakable) pitcher to the first person in each line. At the signal, players turn the pitcher’s handle toward the next person in line and pass it on without spilling. Winning team is the fastest AND the most careful, judged by the water level still in the pitcher at the end.
When all has been said and done, when the giraffe’s tongue really is big and purple, when the third glass of spilled milk is being mopped up from the table, when the horrible third-grade-level bathroom joke really is (a little bit) funny, and the flames from the paper napkin that somehow made contact with the Advent candle have been doused, we have to just chill out and have a good laugh with our kids.
Provided that we don’t take ourselves too seriously and lose sight of the end game (which is always the glory of God, right?), memories of your kids’ dining room faux pas and your efforts to civilize and teach good manners to your children will become a better memory every year.
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