Monday, June 17th, 2013

I Was Wrong. Manners Do Matter.

I Was Wrong. Manners Do Matter via © shutterstock.

I have previously written about how I would rather my daughter only say thank you and please from the heart, rather than because of societal enforced politeness. Well, I lost that battle and I have to admit that I am rather pleased I did.


I am a thoroughly modern mother in that I read a wide range of parenting books. However, I also made the decision to return to the land of my birth, Kenya, so that she would be raised by a community.


I am telling this story Tarantino-style so let me start at the beginning.  Despite the modern predilection for independence and individuality, I am increasingly aware that our parenting actually starts many generations before our children are born.


My grandfather on my mother’s side was a Victorian missionary and Canon in the Anglican (Episcopalian) Church.  Tall, well spoken, always perfectly turned out, manners mattered and his were impeccable.


My parents continued in this tradition. We were raised with manners that to some may seem archaic now.  They were the perfect blend of African respectfulness and colonial sensibility. We stood up when people older than us entered the room, gave courteous hand shakes, used please, sorry and thank you and were continually reminded ways in which we could be more polite and thoughtful. Consequently when I was in school in the U.K. many of the adults I encountered remarked that they would like to meet my mother because it was clear that she had raised us so well.


As the free spirited, ultra-polite liberal I turned out to be (I offend everybody equally), I wanted to bring my daughter up with the love that I had experienced as a child, but wasn’t so sure about the whole manners thing.


If manners and politeness were a religion, I was decidedly agnostic.  On one hand, I missed the gentlemanly ways I had been brought up with—men who opened doors and stood up at the dinner table when you rise to go to the ladies room. Yet another part of me felt I could open my own doors, thank you very much!


Initially, I would respond positively whenever my daughter was polite and “did the right thing.” Once I even waited nearly an hour for her to apologise to someone when she knew she had done something wrong. Because I didn’t insist but waited patiently, I still believe that the apology was more genuine than if I had wrangled it out of her—the adult in question felt the same.  But overall, I didn’t enforce manners all that much.


Soon, though, it became clear to me, highlighted by the interventions of my community, that there are also quite a few situations where the growing child simply does not know the appropriate societal norms.  Children are intuitive, bright and master imitators, but they are also still learning and sometimes they need to be taught. I have discovered that some things, like manners, are a matter of habit and training and unless instilled early they may become a lifelong struggle.


(At this point I know I sound exactly like my mother).


Thankfully my daughter is being raised in a society that helps mothers train their children. I soon found myself repeating my mother’s words and getting her to practice phrases and “The Art of Being Polite and Kind.” “No” became “No, thank you.” “Can I” became “May I.” Politer still was “May I trouble you …”


As so often with children I had no idea whether or not the work that my community and I were doing was getting anywhere.  There still seemed to be so many occasions when she was being reminded what to say and do. Certainly when the two of us were alone, I did not insist on the same standards that I did when we were with others. Then quite unexpectedly the feedback started to trickle in.


An air hostess sought me out to say that when my daughter had gone to ask for a snack. “She was very polite and said please and thank you.” We were leaving a birthday party and an aunt of the birthday girl informed me my daughter had turned down the offer of sweets “very politely.” Despite myself, I beamed with pride. I really can’t take the credit for it though—my focus had been to raise a child with heart.  Thankfully the wisdom of my predecessors and community had shone through. Without them, I would have literally been throwing the baby out with the bath water.


I still do not know what type of adult my child will be, but hopefully one who brightens people’s days even a little because she took the time to appreciate them through her actions and words.

More Great Stuff You'll Love:

How I Moved to Thailand with my Family on Less than $1000

It's cheaper than you think to make that move abroad you always dreamed about

A Different World: No Longer Brown in White America

Is it racist to not want to raise your kids in white America?

10 Things Not to Say to Parents of Multilingual Children

Have you been guilty of any of these?


JC Niala is a mother, writer and creative who enjoys exploring the differences that thankfully still exist between various cultures around the world. She was born in Kenya and grew up in Kenya, Cote d'Ivoire and the UK. She has worked and lived on three continents and has visited at least one new country every year since she was 12 years old. Her favorite travel companions are her mother and daughter whose stories and interest in others bring her to engage with the world in ways she would have never imagined. She is the author of Beyond Motherhood: A guide to being a great working mother while living your dream.

Leave us a comment!

  1. CommentsDC   |  Friday, 25 December 2015 at 9:33 am

    I think if I were being taught the customs of courtesy in a new culture (which is pretty much what all kids are doing when they learn manners), I wouldn’t want to be left completely on my own to figure it out and self-monitor. But I would want people to have patience with me while I did learn, and not expect me to get it consistently right until I’d had some time and a lot of practice. I actually go through this whenever I join a new discussion thread or online community: watch and learn and try not to step on anyone’s toes while hoping that, if I do, someone will know how to break it to me without being condescending or angry.

  2. CommentsSimon   |  Monday, 26 December 2016 at 9:55 pm

    I have met a lot of people with good manners but still are very inconsiderate of others, I’d rather someone be considerate than just use manners. I want people to actually care about me, not just give the impression they do, I treat others the way i’d like to be treated and that has taken me further than acting polite. It is much more important in life to be sincere, rather than trying to divert danger.

Get weekly updates right in your inbox so you don't miss out!

A Children's Book for Raising Global Citizens

Every life is a story. It’s easier to understand someone when you know their story.

Why I Travel 13 Hours Alone with My Kids Every Chance I Get

Travelling with children, while definitely more of a mission, contradicts the old saying that “life is about the journey, not the destination.”

A Diverse Book for Preschoolers in Celebration of Multicultural Children's Book Day

A book that honestly and simply celebrates the every day diversity that children experience.

Why My African Feminist Mother Gave Me the Identity of My Father's Tribe

She gave me an identity so different from her own.

2 Children’s Books about Jamaica

Explore Jamaica with your child.

Costa Rica with Kids: Two Weeks of Family Travel

Two weeks of Pura Vida in a country with so much to offer families.

Should I Worry about My Child's Accent in Her Foreign Language?

See why Dr. Gupta takes offense to this question and where children learn accents from

How to raise trilingual kids when exposure to Dad's language is limited

My kids only get 1-2 hours of the minority language per day-help!
[…] in their homes even if the US is an anomaly. Here are two articles on co-sleeping (click here and here) and one “Dear Abby” (click […...
From The West’s Strange Relationship to Babies and Sleep
Hi...I am an Asian who was adopted and raised by Caucasian American missionaries in South America. I have two kids-my daughter is 16 and my son is 11. When I had my first baby I too was indoctrinate...
From The West’s Strange Relationship to Babies and Sleep
This Karina, the Karina from the article. I'm now 13. It took this article was written 3 years ago and barely coming across it right now. I was originally trying to look for my folkloric pictures fo...
From How This Single Working Mom Raised a Trilingual Kid
Nice recipe, thank for shari...
From Vaisakhi Recipe: Sarson Ka Sag
I've been in Germany Ten years now, Lived in Frankfurt and Stuttgart, specifically Leonberg. In Frankfurt I was shocked by how unfriendly the People were, how aggressive their Drivers, but in Leonbe...
From Are Germans Really Rude?
At DreamAfrica, we are a streaming app for animations and films from around the world. We celebrate cultural representation in digital media and invite you to download and share our DreamAfrica appp...
From What We Are Not About
Imagine those people who work at your typical IT Department, yeah those weirdos with low EQ, no manners, no social skills; indeed those who kiss the bosses' ass when it's convenient, but get offend...
From Are Germans Really Rude?
I contacted the editor of this magazine (Stephanie) and she told me she'd inform Jan about this article. I have since changed my mind about going to Germany because of Merkel's policies, and this i...
From Are Germans Really Rude?

More from Our Bloggers