As the mother of two boys, I feel I have a duty to prepare my sons to take their places in society someday as informed citizens, productive employees...and really excellent dates. While teaching them about voting and completing chores may seem more important than, say, the art of small talk, I hope the mothers of daughters will appreciate my effort in the area of etiquette. Old-fashioned? Not all all! I'm a futurist when it comes to etiquette. I am thinking of you, future young women of America, as I instruct/harangue my male children daily.
You can take the boy out of the cave, but you can't always take the cave out of the boy. In my house, I focus on three areas of good manners that I hope will pay off when my sons are out in polite society, if there is any polite society left by the time they hit dating age.
Practicing Good Table Manners
We try to eat dinner together at an actual table as often as their sports schedules allow. This is the key to teaching table manners. Eating on the couch or in the back seat of a car does not reinforce some of the key tenets of table manners, like an upright posture, correct elbow position below the table top and the all-important asking for the butter instead of reaching for the butter. While at the actual table during dinner, I encourage conversation that does not revolve around cars, bodily functions or the classic male debate of Batman versus Superman.
Holding Open the Door
Yes, I know this particular affectation has been up for debate, with women taking up positions on both sides of the hold-open-the-door discussion. But my feeling is that it is better to teach my sons the gesture of door opening, then to have them never learn it at all. Let their empowered girlfriends set them straight someday. I want to make sure that somewhere in America, two men still remember how to hold open a door for a woman. So, they open my car door and the front door, and of course, they spend hours in front of an open refrigerator door.
Asking a Girl to Dance
And, the corollary, dancing when asked by a girl. I confess to making my sons go to dancing school because you never know when knowledge of the Lindy Hop is going to come in handy. A willingness to dance is the ultimate in date-catching good manners. In this day and age, when hanging in the corner with a sideways baseball hat on and a Bluetooth device in your ear has become standard operating procedure for young men, the guy willing to put himself out there on the dance floor is going to impress a lot of ladies. And their maiden aunts who are also at the wedding.
Teaching etiquette to our kids is a long-term investment. My reasoning is that if my sons are good dates, they will make good relationship matches and find meaningful work, leading to a long and fruitful life. I know, a lot to ask from etiquette. But my hope is that someday—at least a decade from now—my sons bring home smart, accomplished women who will factor into their futures. And these young women will gush, "It was the way he passed both the salt and the pepper that won my heart." Then I will know I have done my job.
What manners are you passing down to your kids—or is chivalry dead? Comment below.
Lian Dolan is a mother, wife, sister, friend, daughter, writer and talk show host. She writes and talks about her adventures in modern motherhood for her website, ChaosChronicles.com, and her weekly podcast, The Chaos Chronicles.
Published on May 12, 2010