Minding Manners (bad ones, that is)

A few weeks ago I was at a friend’s house for dinner. As usual, it was a mix of kids and adults, even a new puppy. What wasn’t so usual was the conversation. I mean, let’s be honest, high-level intellectual and political conversation has gone the way of the adults-only dinner party. Sure, they happen once in a while, but for the most part, it’s pasta, pizza and potty training. But this dinner had some pretty interesting guests: one is a director of development at The Clinton Foundation, another is the founder of KIPP, the Knowledge Is Power Program, “a national network of free, open-enrollment, college-preparatory public schools in under-resourced communities throughout the United States,” our hosts are a former state department employee and a woman who is the chief knowledge officer at a non-profit that strives to improve the quality and retention of top quality teachers in the public school system nationwide. And me? Well, I’ve won the Nobel Peace Prize. Yeah, that was me. For outstanding achievement in drool wiping.

So I found myself in a truly interesting conversation. We talked about the election (of course), the Lehman Brothers situation, the amazing lack of respect for Country (first) McCain’s VP pick displays.  There wasn’t a Hannah Montana reference in sight. And then it happened: the invasion of the eight year olds.

Look, I love it when my kids go all Judy Garland and Mickey Rourke on me and “put on a show,” but these kids – my own included – just barged into the dining room and demanded our attention. And I don’t mean that figuratively. They quite literally said “Watch our show. Why aren’t you watching our show? Watch us. Watch us. Stop talking. Watch us watch us WATCH US.” They were SCREAMING. And we all stopped our conversation and watched them giggle hilariously while acting out some incomprehensible story involving a daisy and a chocolate bar. Three times in a row. When they wanted to do it a fourth time I stepped in

“Does anyone else here think that maybe we should let our kids know that they can’t always be the center of attention?”

You’d have thought I’d suggested bathing the children in lye.

Evidently, children are allowed to interrupt whenever they like. They are allowed to assume they are always the center of attention, that their needs supersede ours in every way.

Isn’t there something wrong with that picture?

I think somewhere along the way, our generation has let our kids’ needs obliterate our own.

I’ll concede, babies’ needs really do supersede everything else. They depend on us for survival. By the time kids are seven and ten, not so much. Of course we need to feed and clothe them, give them love and guidance, tend to them when they are sick. But does that mean we always always have to put their needs first?

I don’t think so. Not all needs are created equal, after all.( I need a vela shape treatment, but am I getting it? No.) Those kids at the party could have waited. They could have been told by other parents besides just me, that the grown-ups were having a conversation and they’d have to wait a few minutes.

There is something wrong with letting our kids think they can always get what they want when they want it – even if it’s just our attention. Anyone who has every sat through an endless business meeting will tell you: sometimes, life is not entertaining. Sometimes, you just have to wait to get to the things you like. We all make sacrifices for our kids, and one day, our kids will have to make sacrifices for theirs.

I think my kids need a little practice in the sacrificing department.

So from now on, if my eight year olds wake up at 6:30 on a Saturday morning, (which they always do, though I can barely drag them out of bed at 7:00 during the week. Coincidence? I don’t think so.) they are not allowed to wake us up. They are perfectly capable of getting up, turning on the TV, grabbing a yogurt out of the fridge, and letting us sleep until 8:00. They’re just going to wake us up and watch their Saturday morning surfeit of television and ignore us anyway.

I’m taking a stand. I’m not letting the inmates run the asylum. I’m tending to my own needs now and then. Does that make me selfish? Evil? A throw-back to the fifties? Well if it does….tough.  That’s what I need right now. So there.


  1. says

    Good for you! I understand the kids interrupting; I don’t get why the adults weren’t, at the very least, apologetic. You’re not a throwback and your demands seem reasonable. Some people ain’t got no home trainin!

    I’m envious–if your 8-year-olds won’t wake you on the weekends until 8 am–you are so lucky. My 9-year-old gets it. My 6-year-old? No way. I guess there’s hope. I’m hoping there’s hope. There must be hope: My 9-year-old used to wake me up at 5:30 am.

    I enjoyed the post, as always!

  2. says

    Amen! I’ve been preaching (and practicing!) this for YEARS, with my own children and the children I’ve taught in schools, and cared for in my home.

    If you waited until after the third repetition, I’d say you’d been the very model of patience… and I’ll also bet there was at least one other person at the dinner who felt the same way, but was afraid to speak up.

    What sort of adults will these children be, who don’t truly understand that other people have needs, that other people’s needs are as real and valid as their own — and that sometimes, other people’s needs even supercede their own? I think the medical term is “sociopath”. It’s a truly alarming thought. Yes, let’s please teach our children they are NOT the centre of the universe!

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