You get what you pay for

There is a lot of internet discussion about kids having no manners, offspring who display a complete lack of civility towards adults in general and their own families in particular. I hear a lot of squawking from families how “they didn’t learn this from us!” which I find amusing. They learned it somewhere, so I’m guessing home is exactly where they learned it.

The way you treat your children, each other and the rest of the world is going to be exactly how your offspring will treat you.

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When we were younger and on predictable schedules, our extended family had nightly (or nearly so) family meals. As we’ve all gotten older, I got tireder. I stopped being able or willing to cook for a crowd every night and figured there was no reason I should. I’ve been cooking family style for more than 40 years. I’ve served my time (yes, it’s punny). These days, I try to keep life and meals simple. Garry and I eat differently than the kids. My son hates fish, mushrooms and other stuff that Garry and I love. My granddaughter won’t eat anything with even a hint of hot spice. My daughter-in-law won’t eat steak. Bottom line? It’s easier and more fun to cook things Garry and I like. Nowadays, making us happy is my priority. The younger generations are welcome to do the same for themselves. It doesn’t exclude communal family occasions, but it shifts the responsibility for making it happen from me to them. Fair? I think so.

My husband and I eat together, mostly in front of the TV, because the tray tables are cozier than the big dining table. When the whole family sits down together about once a week, it’s pleasant but everyone is off in a different direction as soon as the last bite is chewed. It’s not so terrible. Everyone has their own schedule, especially “the baby” who at 16, is a young woman and wants to do her own thing. It would be odd if it were otherwise. I was much the same and I think I turned out alright.

Despite no longer dining together, we are reasonably nice to each other. We have our beefs, but “please”, “thank you”, “excuse me” and similar expressions are normal parts of conversation. Our ability to get along isn’t tied to the dinner table. If it were, we’d be in serious trouble.

Not having family dinners has not turned us into barbarians nor did having them make us civilized.

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I keep reading posts deploring the loss of family dinners. It’s apparently the clearest sign of the end of society, of civilization itself. I don’t agree. Society’s disintegration is a lot more complicated than that.

All over the Internet you hear it. The younger generation has no manners! Hot flash! The older generation is incredibly rude too. As far as I can see, out in the big wide world, parents talk to each other and their children without so much as a pretence of civility. They order the kids around like drill sergeants or ignore them except to complain about them. They threaten them with dire punishment, shout at them until they are hoarse. The kids don’t hear them and eventually ignore them. The shouting combined with toothless threats becomes background noise. This is true with kids and pets. If you always yell at the dog, the dog ignores you too.

And of course there are all those posts promoting spanking as the ultimate solution. Spanking teaches only one lesson: whoever is biggest and strongest wins.  What could possibly go wrong with that?

Eventually, all offspring rebel. It’s normal, natural, inevitable and healthy. They should rebel. However, if their entire upbringing consisted of being alternately yelled at, nagged, bullied and threatened, interspersed with an occasional hug, they aren’t going to rebel then come back. They’re gone. Mom and Dad figured a bit of hugging and an occasional “I love you” would fix everything and make it all better. They were wrong.

Kids become teenagers, so now their folks want civil behavior and (drumroll) respect, but it’s a bit late. Their children don’t respect them and don’t see any reason they should. Respect isn’t something you can demand. It was and remains something you earn. You can make them fear you, but not respect you. Why would anyone expect respect if they’ve never shown any?

“My kids never talk to me.” This classic is right up there with “I don’t get no respect.”

What are they supposed to talk about? If you have some interests in common with the young adults your kids have become, it would help. Most parents are only interested in what their kids are doing so they can stop them from doing it — something of which the kids are well aware. Their folks have no interest in their world. If they aren’t outright scornful of it, they are completely disinterested and ignorant . You don’t have to love everything the younger generation does, but it doesn’t hurt to know something about it and what it means. It is a very different world than the one in which you or I grew up. No need to be proud of ignorance.

They tell the entire world how much they don’t like their kids’ movies, music, games, personal habits and relationships. They announce with enthusiasm via Facebook, the modern intra-family bulletin board, how clueless the kids are.

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The kids may be clueless but so are their parents. To coin a phrase, the apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree. I doubt most of them have made any effort to understand the world their kids live in. Why are they surprised the disinterest is reciprocal?

Kids learn by experience. They treat others as they have been treated. You can’t expect respect from kids who have never experienced it, nor good manners from youngsters whose parents wouldn’t know manners from a tree stump. Your children are unlikely to make an effort to understand you when you have never tried to understand them.

If you think you don’t need no stinkin’ manners when you talk to your children, husband, friends and strangers, your children probably agree. Why should they be nicer than you were to them?

Raising kids is the ultimate example of “you get what you pay for.” Or less.