I remember talking with my tablemates at Horn Creek Camp (good old PYA!) about what table manners they had been taught growing up. A few funny things came to my attention, like the fact that some kids heard that you could reach across the table as long as one of your feet was on the ground. I knew that one was, uh, so. not. true.
Fast forward to yesterday when I reached for a cookie sheet and spied plastic IKEA placemats purchased last year. I’ve never used them with Livia, but just glimpsing them made me ask this question on Facebook:
I’m curious about my generation & younger… Are you all teaching your kids table manners—from how to eat/talk appropriately at the table to how to set a table? Were you explicitly taught these things as a kid? Have you ever been in a situation where you really didn’t know how to conduct yourself at a dinner?
I felt an immediate need to write a disclaimer like, “PARENTS OF LITTLE CHILDREN, I AM NOT JUDGING YOU.” But I held back because there was no judgement intended in my fairly straightforward question. It’s okay to ask questions—truly we don’t need to hold each others’ hands, right? But now I’m going to say it for real. Sweet parents of small children, you are not judged. I know you’re working so hard to feed your kid three square meals and a million snacks a day. I know you’re tired. Stop reading now if you’d like.
My mom probably deserves 100% of the credit for teaching us Lawton kids table manners. I’m sure dad reinforced her teaching and certainly wanted us to be polite and respectful at the table, but all the lessons taught came from mom. (This is the part where I write that my childhood memories are a giant blur. I remember very random things, mostly feelings—but my brothers tend to remember more specifics so they are free to add to the conversation here.) We ate at the dinner table almost exclusively. My mom and dad fed us healthy food and we didn’t always like it. Okay, so we were kind of terrible. I’m sure dinnertime wasn’t always pleasant when you served kids who didn’t like spaghetti. But we were sure as heck taught table manners. Mouths closed. Ask to be excused before leaving. No reaching, but ask for dishes to be passed. We knew where the silverware all went and how to set the table. The more fancy stuff came later, but because we had good training as smaller children, fine dining never really seemed daunting.
I am not as good a teacher as my mom.
We don’t always eat at the dinner table. There are only three of us and we have a LOT of together time. I don’t always make my child set the table because, let’s face it, it’s faster if I do it. I have more training to do—my 12 year old is not quite ready for the world yet (imagine that). But I want her to be ready when she leaves our home. I want her to feel comfortable eating appropriately on a date as well as in her boss’s home someday. I’d like her to wait for the hostess to sit before diving into any meal or dessert. I want her to know how to signal to the wait staff that she has finished her meal, and I’d like for her to establish her own dinner times with confidence in a home of her own someday.
In the bigger picture, I see table etiquette as a small part of my job as a mom. There are a million things I’m trying to instill in my daughter and I’m praying much of it sticks.