I recently had a precious friend ask why we should teach our children manners from a Biblical perspective (not that she is against manners… she is actually quite courteous;). Here is my answer:
Actually, I have been considering this topic for some time. Just 2 nights ago I had 3 of my 6 children with me at the store. The oldest child I had with me, Boy2, is 8 years old. I also had boy 3 and Girl 3 in a stroller. I purchased a large, plastic shelf for the garage. As I was loading the van… (did I mention it was dark outside and it was not particularity well lit)… I began to give instructions, “Boy2, keep the stroller from rolling down the parking lot. Boy3, go ahead and get in. Help me get sis buckled.” As I’m seeking to load, I realize 2… 3… 4 men have passed me and are continuing to walk by with no concern or perhaps no awareness of my situation. I have 3 somewhat small children and a huge shelf I’m trying to load. I couldn’t help but wonder, what happened to the gentlemen… where did they go?
Let me go ahead and tell you… my father was an Army man. My mom spent many months and years without dad around due to his service to our country. I saw her do non-typical “girlie” duties around the house. She could lift boxes and carry them. She could repair toilets and use a drill. Strangely, she couldn’t pump gas and was mortified by blood… but that is a different blog for a different day. I learned to be “tough” and to hold my own (I’m not talking about the mentality promoted by women’s libbers). That is not my point. We SHOULD teach our girls to be functional and competent. My point is that if there is a boy or man around he should be a gentleman to open your door, to bend down for you if you dropped your books, to offer a hand while walking down steps… for pumping your gas :)… My husband is a gentleman. I want my boys to be gentlemen. Why? Isn’t that antiquated, old-fashioned and such? Yes, I suppose it is old-fashioned but I also believe it is Biblical for boys to be gentlemen and for girls to be ladylike.
What does 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 have to say? Paul tells us, “Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.”
How does this apply to manners? I have no idea what the future holds for my children. One may be a CEO of a major cooperation, I may raise a minister’s wife… a greeter at the local retail store… a missionary. Whatever situation my children are placed in today or in the years to come they need to be able to function in a manner that would honor their Creator. That could be around the dinner table (where snake-eye soup is served) or eating dinner at the your pastor’s home. They need to be able to act in a proper manner. They need to know which fork to use (sometimes I still forget, to be honest) and they need to know not to burp out loud. They may be invited to a state-wide ministry event or they may be invited over to play at a friends house. They need to know how to greet a new face and that they should offer to help clean their messes before leaving. They need to know not to complain about the snack offered but that it is ok to ask for a glass of water if they are thirsty. Yes Ma’am, no thankyou, No Sir… Yes, please, excuse me… these should be part of my child’s vocabulary.
I want my child to be welcomed into your home… not dreaded. Come on, we all know “those” kids. The child who tries to shimmy up your Great Aunt Ruth’s antique grandfather clock. All the while the mother is saying, “Oh… little Annie just loooooves to climb.” This is a disservice to the child. I truly believe I am doing no one a favor by allowing my child(ren) to be unruly and ill mannered… particularly the child. If we are all honest, no one wants to have this child hang out for the afternoon. Unfortunately these children often grow up to be the same type adult. This is where it gets really wild…. I recently had someone tell me this story (details will be altered to protect the identity of the somewhat innocent): Big, fancy lunch. Important people. 17 forks. 5 spoons. linen tablecloths, napkins and silver. 2 entrees to choose from. We’ll call the somewhat innocent person Fred. While sitting around the fancy table with the fancy people, Fred was asked what he would like to have for his lunch… Crab Fru-Fru and Sweet Pea Pasta or Ham Delicioso. Fred told the server that he would like Ham Delicioso. When his meal was being served the server asked Fred if he would like a side of Sweet Pea Pasta since his Ham Delicioso was not served with pasta. Fred says to his neighbor something like this, “I don’t like sweet peas… so I’ll just get crab with my ham”… HELLO FRED! You “don’t like” your fancy, free pasta so you’ll take TWO servings of meat! Fred did not listen to the manner’s speech. What do you think those people thought about Fred? Should that ultimately affect their opinion of Fred… no. Is Fred an all around great guy… probably. Is Fred somewhat clueless on manners… my opinion? You guess 🙂
When do we start teaching manners? Today! Train your children early on. Set the example. You can’t wait until Sweet Suzie is 7 and expect her to have her “act together” at you’re employer’s Christmas party. She will cause an awful ruckus when you pull her out from under the table during desert. You have to start when Suzie is tiny… training. We have a 3 year old. Manners and courtesy do not come naturally to her. I have to train her to be polite… (some days are challenging and some are nearly impossible). Here’s an example of a discussion that happens at least 10 times a day at my house.
She rudely asks for a cup of milk.
Me: “Do you mean, ‘May I have some milk please'”
Me: “I don’t understand yelling (whining, et). Can you say, ‘Mom, milk please?”
(this could go back and forth for a while depending on how spicy she feels this particular day)
Her: (in a soft, almost indecipherable voice) “Milk, please”
Me: “OH THAT IS SO MUCH NICER… THANK YOU FOR BEING SO COURTEOUS!!! Here is your milk (then I cue her)… ‘Thank you mom?????'”
Her: “thank you”
Me: “Oh, thank you for being so kind… I’m proud of you!”
Here’s the catch: DO NOT give in! If you let her know she has to ask nicely… she HAS to ask nicely.
I still have to cue my older kids sometimes… a lot if the truth be told. I had to explain AGAIN why I want them to use good manners around our dinner table just the other day. You never know when those moments will pop up. I don’t want to be the one sweating when faced with a “manners or bust” opportunity. I’ll share another personal story. We had just recently moved to the seminary. Our family was singing (yes, so far we’re all singers/musicians… the jury is still out on the baby) for a faculty/staff and spouse dinner event. A perfect storm for 4 kids (3 of which are boys)… hors d’oeuvres, gracious greetings, ladies in lovely attire, seafood buffet line (and yes the plates were breakable and heavy), chocolate pie… all BEFORE we were to sing. There was no time to coach for all the unknowns. We had to shoot from the hip. I now know these ladies and find it funny but at the time I was nervous Nelly. I am meeting new people all the while trying to keep my little ducklings near and quiet (with smiles on of course). I realize I’ve lost our oldest son who I believe was 12 at the time. I find him and to my horror he was standing with the President’s wife, her mother, the President’s mother and a former President’s wife. I nearly had a panic attack. WHAT WAS HE DOING and more importantly HOW CAN I GET HIM AWAY! haha! Again, I know these ladies now and they are most gracious and loving. They are very understanding… but you know how we mothers can be! I walk over trying to look calm and before I can excuse him he accepts the invitation to help serve the two mothers hors d’oeuvres. Do you know what? He was a pro. He was gentlemanly, he smiled, used his well rehearsed manners and didn’t spill crab dip all in their laps. He had been trained. SUCCESS! I will say the rest of the night went very well… Boy2 did have some smeared something on his pant leg… but I’m pretty sure no one noticed.
The examples above both relate to having good manners and etiquette in fancy situations. I encourage you to not neglect the less-than- fancy situations. What about relating to the homeless man on the street corner. Can your child be courteous there? That is Biblical. Do we teach our children today not to gawk at the man, woman or child with physical abnormalities…. to save their questions for when you’re back in the car? “Well, they’re children.. they’re just curious”… Yes, they are. But we need to teach them to put people’s feelings above their curiosity… and in most situations, it’s not appropriate to ask questions and stare. Do we teach our children to defend those who are laughed at… to defend those who are smaller, younger? What about those who don’t dress well, or the kid who always smells bad? Then there is that lady who always dresses immodestly and while we don’t agree, others belittle her. We need… we MUST teach our children by example to be champions for these men, women and children. Matthew 25 tells us that we should love, care for and serve these people because what we do for the least of these we do for Christ Himself.
The reward comes when someone complements you on your well behaved children (and please pass on words of encouragement to mothers when you catch their children being good… it’s a blessing!) It’s a reminder to me that I want them to conduct themselves well outside our home and that I need to realize that home is… well… just home… and that’s ok. Home is a place you can let your hair down. My kids are just kids. They can be rude, defiant, belligerent and crude. They can also be thoughtful, kind and patient. Instilling manners and common courtesies only serve them well.
As Christian mothers, we need to teach our children manners. I want to raise warrior-gentlemen and warrior-princesses for the kingdom. Will you join me in this battle? You do realize it is a battle… the world is against it. I believe teaching our children manners honors the Lord. If our children can relate to all men they have a better chance of wining a soul to Christ.