10 parenting etiquette dilemmas, solved
Sidestep sticky kid-related situations with tips from the pros.
Tue, Sep 13, 2011 at 12:21 PM
As parents, it's our job to teach our kids good manners. But when you come across rude, etiquette-challenged adults, you have to wonder if moms and dads are practicing what they preach. Whether it's a mother who asks you if you're "trying for a girl" or a father who never RSVPs to your kid's birthday parties, it's not uncommon to encounter a parent who could stand to learn a few things about common courtesy. So how should you handle these tricky situations? We asked a couple modern-manners and parenting experts for help with 10 common etiquette dilemmas. Read on for their advice.
1. Your mother or mother-in-law always criticizes your approach to parenting.
Constantly hearing "You shouldn't..." and "Why are you doing that?" when it comes to raising your kids can quickly make you feel attacked — and like you're doing a bad job as a parent. But before you attack right back, take a deep breath, says Jodi R. R. Smith, president of Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting. Try to see your child's grandmother in the best possible light; like most grandparents, she probably just wants to feel needed and involved, and likely isn't up-to-date on modern parenting techniques. That said, you're within your rights to nip criticism in the bud. The easy response: "Say, 'Thank you so much; I appreciate your input,' then do what you think is best," says Smith. If it continues, or you can't rise above it, try: "I'm sure you don't intend it this way, but some of your parenting advice sounds like you're saying I'm a bad mother." Then, be quiet and listen to what she has to say. It could be that she does just want to be more involved. Or, she may want to learn more about how parenting has changed over the past 20 or so years.
2. Your child's pal tends to act up while he's at your house.
If it's your home, your house rules apply. According to Smith, "You can certainly say, 'Teddy, we don't hit in our house.'" If the bad behavior continues, you can try a brief time out, but not before you've exhausted your powers of distraction: "Hey, kids, let's take out two trucks so we don't fight over the one train!" The issue is different if the child's mom is also there. Even well-meaning and otherwise in-control moms sometimes let the reins slip a little when they're at someone else's house. Says Smith, "You can say to her, 'I think your Teddy just whacked my James with a block. You want to take this one, or should I?" A conspiratorial, we-are-in-the-same-boat tone will make her feel less defensive. And if she doesn't get the message? Limit play dates for a while.
3. Your friend feeds her family only organic foods, and you think she's judging you if you serve "regular" snacks.
Is she really judging you? Before you jump to that conclusion, be sure you're not perceiving rudeness that's not there. For example, her organic snacks may bring to the surface issues of your own, especially if you're feeling conflicted about the food choices you make, says Meagan Francis, author of "The Happiest Mom." So take a second to ask yourself: Did your friend simply pull out her organic spelt crackers, or did she take it a step further and try to explain her family's all-organic stance? If it's the latter, says Francis, she's still not necessarily being rude and you could take the opportunity to talk about family food choices — always a hot topic among moms. "But if the other mom literally sniffed, or made a comment like, 'We don't eat those!' you should say something without snapping back with a judgment of your own." So instead of, "Well, aren't you an organic snob these days!" you might say, "I get that some foods are healthier than others. We do our best," and then leave it alone. Though, Francis adds, "If she continues to be truly insulting, maybe it's time to reevaluate the friendship, or how often you spend time with her." Why hang out with people who intentionally snub or blatantly judge you?
4. You heard from your child that another kid at school — whose parent you know — is bullying him.
Tread carefully here. "Don't presume that you really know what happened based on what your son told you," says Smith, "and don't assume the other kid's parent knows anything, either." It's not that your child is making things up, but he could be exaggerating, leaving information out or misremembering. So while you should take any report of bullying seriously, try not to jump to conclusions that would prompt you to pick up the phone and blast the other parent. Call her, but don't launch right into the bully story, suggests Smith. To open the door to the conversation, try something like, "Susie, it is so great to catch up! How is Billy adjusting to fourth grade? It's such a big change from last year." Once you're talking, gently mention what your child said: "Johnny says that Billy got into a tussle yesterday on the playground. Did you hear anything about it?" Listening is the most important thing you can do. Is the other mother truly dumbfounded or defensive? That will give you clues as to how to proceed. But don't let being polite stop you from investigating further, especially if you feel it's warranted. "Manners matter, but safety comes first: If your child is the victim of bullying, contact his school and keep a record of dates, what happened and how the school handled the situation," says Smith.
5. A neighborhood kid comes by often and unannounced, overstays his welcome and eats you out of house and home.
The best course of action here, says Francis, is to embrace your role as the grown-up of the house. Any kid can knock on your door, but if it's not a good time, you're within your rights to say, "Oh, sorry, Kevin, but the kids can't play right now." And if a young visitor is treating your refrigerator as his own, you can and should firmly tell him the kitchen's closed. You can also say, "We're very happy to have you here when we have lunch, but in our house, we don't have constant snacks between meals, OK?" You only need to call the other parents if the child doesn't comply, says Francis. However, you should call if you don't know the child that well (his folks might be wondering where little Kevin wandered off to). Another call-worthy situation is if you're just not an open-door type of family. Say something like, "We're pretty busy with homework and family time right after school. Let's try to set up a date to get the kids together in the future."
6. Your child asks to accept a play date with another kid — but you're not crazy about her or her parents.
You don't need a hundred reasons to decline a play date. How you finesse it depends on your child's preferences. If she's not interested in getting together, but the friend's mother calls, be straightforward, polite and add in a clue that you're not looking for a rain check, says Smith. For example: "Thank you so much, but we have other plans that afternoon. We look forward to seeing you at soccer, though." If your child still wants to pal around with this kid, brainstorm structured activities rather than at-home play dates, like going to the movies or visiting a museum, so that there's a firm end time. Adds Smith, "If it's the other parent whose company you don't enjoy, arrange times for the children to play without the parent. Try, 'Lisa, why don't you drop Sara here and then take some time for yourself? That way you can get your errands done!'"
7. You're tired of fielding questions about your family composition, whether you have an only child or all girls.
Nosy people somehow feel entitled to wonder aloud about only children ("Isn't she lonely?"), larger families ("Didn't anyone ever teach you about birth control?!") or gender ("Wow, all boys, huh?"). Though it comes across as rude, in all likelihood they're not trying to offend you. Instead, it's curiosity combined with a lack of a filter that might otherwise keep their lips zipped. "I have five children, four boys followed by a girl, so I know all about this," says Francis. "In those situations, I usually assume positive intent, and brush it off." But if the questioners get really in-your-face or personal, "Look back at them with a puzzled expression, or say, 'I'm sorry, what did you say?' If they were just trying to be funny, they usually apologize or change the subject. If they were purposely being rude and repeat the question, they look like even bigger fools," she adds. A final thought: In most cases, these are perfect strangers commenting. So who says you have to answer at all? Walk away.
8. Several parents failed to RSVP to your child's birthday party — or, on the day of the party, they showed up with extra siblings in tow.
It's a fact of birthday-hosting: Some people just don't understand the need to respond in a timely manner. And if the party's at your home, they tend to be even looser about the rules. You are never going to change people's habits, so if you must have a firm number — like for a party at an outside venue — you may have to call or email them as a follow up. (You may find that, although some non-responders have poor RSVP manners, some may have never received or ended up losing the invite.) As for parents who show up without RSVPing? Smith suggests hinting at the inconvenience by saying, "We are so glad Henry could come after all! I wish I'd known. We'll set another place for him." (If you're at home, plan ahead for this possibility with extra food, goody bags, etc.) At a venue you've rented out or reserved for the occasion, you may be facing a small fee for the extra headcount, and you'll probably have to eat that cost. To deal with the non-invited siblings, Smith suggests saying: "Oh, I wish we had room for Henry's baby brother, but what we're doing here isn't really appropriate for three-year-olds. I can keep an eye on Henry; come back at 3 p.m. to pick him up."
9. You and your child look very different from each other — either because you and your spouse are of different ethnicities or your child is adopted — and people always assume you're the nanny.
There is a level of rudeness that no one should have to politely talk herself out of. Says Smith, "Smile without saying a thing, and move away from that person." If you continue to get these comments, you may have to address your child's reaction as he grows aware of them. Have a conversation with him, in an age-appropriate way, with the goal of empowering him with a response, says Smith. Examples of your child's replies could include: "I grew in my mommy's heart, not in her belly" (in the case of adopted children); or "My mommy is white and my daddy is black and I am a human rainbow!" or "Mommy says we might have different skin, but we have the same smile."
10. Your child has been invited on a trip with her friend's family, and you don't know who is covering her expenses.
If you're not sure of something as important — and potentially thorny — as financial issues, "Being open and honest is the best way to go," says Smith. For all you know, the cost of your child's stay is negligible and the other parents are assuming they'll pay it (perhaps their child is an only, and bringing your child feels like a small price to pay in order to give her a companion). Or it could very well be that they're expecting you to pick up all or part of your child's tab. Your best bet: "Pick up the phone and call the other parents. Be sure you thank them first for their kind invite, then just ask, 'What costs should we cover for Tara?'" If they decline to take money from you, send your child with her own spending money, have her write a thank-you card afterwards and offer the family a small gift.
This article originally appeared on WomansDay.com and is republished here with permission.
Related links on Woman's Day: