I hate having to make my daughter say please and thank you. There, I have said it—does that make me a bad mother? I am also well aware that she will be judged on how she presents herself in public. Most societies place a high value on manners and politeness whether the person is sincere or not, so I find myself repeating the words that no doubt drove me crazy as I was growing up: “What do you say?”, “What’s the magic word?” and so on.
To add to the mix, I am raising her with primarily two cultures: Kenyan and British. There are times when what is considered polite does not exactly overlap. In Kenya, you say sorry to someone if you see them tripping up, dropping something they are carrying or undergoing any misfortune even if you were not the cause of the problem. In the U.K., ‘sorry’ is usually an apology for something that you have direct influence over. The overlap of cultures also manifests in the words and phrases we use for things, even outside of manners. If I play a song that she likes, we use the U.K./ Caribbean slang phrase “rewind selecta” if she wants the song played again.
There is more than one tribe in Kenya that does not have the word for ‘thank you’ in its language. ‘Thank you’ is considered implicit in your acceptance of the gift or kindness. ‘Thank you’ in the U.K. is standard for any consideration given to you by another party.
I am most concerned with my daughter’s sincerity and authenticity. I always try to get her to consider other’s feelings. In Kenya because children belong to the community many people also do this for me, which I think is wonderful. (I note that this would not always be acceptable in the U.K.). I feel that her consideration for others is naturally becoming a part of her character. For example, when she has outgrown clothes her first question is who will we give them to?
She has also just turned four years old and like anyone, has moments when she is not thoughtful or caring. However instead of just forcing her to override these feelings, I try to find a safe way in which she can express how she really feels so hopefully she will not lose what many cultures acknowledge as the ‘natural honesty’ of children. So much communication in the adult world is fraught with the fact that we can say one thing and mean another. How refreshing it is when we meet people who actually state how they feel and mean what they say.
If I am being totally candid, I know at least some of the reason that I work on my daughter’s P’s and Q’s (as they are called in the U.K.) is because I also care how it reflects on my parenting. Children being children, I was reminded of my own feelings on being genuine when a friend bought my daughter a treat when she was about three.
So, there we were, treat presented to her and in a public place with my friend looking at my daughter expectantly. My daughter, on the other hand, was already all consumed by the treat and had almost forgotten either of us were there. Like countless other times, I found myself crouching down towards her and uttering the words, “What do you say?” The reply was instant. “Rewind selecta,” she exclaimed with a huge grin on her face.