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This Business Of Parenting is Tough

I just got off the phone with my Mom. She thinks I’m making a mistake, and I know she’s right.

I really hate not being a good enough parent. I hate it when I make mistakes, and I make them. Most of our mistakes are with our daughter, because she came first.

My Mom thinks we’re too tough on Jane with her table manners. She thinks we’re begging for an eating disorder. I want to say she’s wrong, I want to think that we’ve made all the right decisions in parenting, but if I’m defensive I lose the opportunity to learn.

I’m open to learning before it’s too late.

I love my daughter. She’s striking in her beauty. She looks you in the eye and she’s exactly who I would want to be were I a ten year old. Eating with her can quite an event. She sits on her feet, she eats at breakneck speed but first she pulls her food into tiny pieces. Summer camp did absolutely nothing to make mealtime lovelier. It’s hard for me. I want her to be a lady. I want my children to be welcome in anyone’s home.

My Mom thinks I’m too tough on Jane. She thinks I’m going to give her an eating disorder if we don’t lay off. I got my table manners from my father and his parents. They’re German, there’s one way, it’s the right way and there really wasn’t much in the way of debate. We also had a German Nanny who I loved, but she terrified us. I’m just doing what I know.

So table manners matter to me. Maybe too much? Maybe when I’m trying to help my daughter, I’m hurting her.

This is why we have many generations. My Mom can help me be a better mother before any real damage is done.

30 thoughts on “This Business Of Parenting is Tough”

  1. You are not telling her that she should eat more or less, you are just telling her that she needs to have manners at the table? That’s not bad parenting. How old is she again?

  2. Jessica, I disagree with your mother, no disrespect intended.

    Your mom is coming at this from a grandmother’s point of view, which is way skewed and not necessarily in the bests interests of your daughter.

    You were originally spot on with your methods before your mom made you question your own judgement. Do you really want your daughter to eat like this when she visits friends’ homes or is at a restaurant? I don’t believe you do. She needs guidance in this area right now as to how young ladies should behave at the table. It has nothing to do with what she is eating, but how she is behaving.

    How does her father weigh in on this? Does he support your prior actions?

  3. The table is a wonderful learning place. I make my choices one step at a time as it seems my kids are ever changing. V is in this place where he starts to eat while standing. B wants to discuss the world while the rest of us are ready for the 3rd course. Baby steps. You can only ask so much of an already awesome kid.

  4. You and hubby are wonderful parents. I have watched for nearly 11 years and I believe this is the first time I’ve felt the need to suggest something. I’m in awe of your openness to hear my suggestion. That says so much about you.

    Your kids are so blessed to have both of you as parents…and I am so lucky to have you as a daughter. I learn from you, as well.

  5. I told my mom once that I wasn’t sure I wanted to have kids, because I knew I’d never be as a great a mom as she was. She told me that was stupid, she didn’t start out as great a mom as her mom was either. We live and learn.

    As for your girl’s manners, unless you are refusing her food or something, I don’t see why expecting good manners would be an issue.

  6. Maybe she’s eating that way to piss you off? Ignore it and it will correct itself. My parents eat like cavepeople so off course my brother and I learned to use a knife and fork better than the French and Germans combined.

  7. Is food flying? Would a dog choose her chair to sit under because he’d be assured of a meal? Does she get invited to eat in other people’s homes?

    Perhaps the answer is to step out of the mom role for a meal and evaluate the situation as though you were a stranger in a public place. A stranger who is not Jessica, by the way.

    Or, if she were someone else’s daughter – what advice would you offer?

    Table manners are important. Being dogged for them will probably not give a child an eating disorder. Excessive preoccupation can trigger control battles and then it comes down to picking and choosing because not every battle needs to be fought. Many issues work themselves out as kids age.

  8. First of all Jessica, I don’t think you’re a bad parent just because you make some mistakes. We all make mistakes. From reading your blog, I’ve gathered that you are a pretty damn good mother.

    I agree with Annie on this one; however, there is nothing wrong with teaching your child manners at the table. I would never have been allowed to sit on my feet at the dinner table and my mother was constantly telling me to slow down. (Unfortunately, I still inhale my food if I don’t pay attention.)

  9. FWIW, I have had similar discussions with my children about their eating. However, I know that when my children are at a friend’s home they are on their best behavior and their manners improve.

    Perhaps your daughter does the same thing.

  10. I think table manners are very important. It is a constant battle at our table to get one of my 4 lovely kids to sit facing the table, chew with her mouth closed, and not talk with food in her mouth. She is 13, and we keep telling her it is all about good manners, and safety. I hope one day she will learn. I think what you are doing is right, and doubt that it will cause an eating disorder. I however have been wrong before.

  11. Table manners are huge for me, too — but maybe because I have boys I let them get away with more than I would if they were girls. I Really wish — REALLY — that the kids were better mannered, but I hate to harp on it at the table. My mother’s repeated table manners mantra was “What if you get invited to dinner at the White House? Is that how you would behave?” And it worked on me — not that there was ever a real threat of that occurring. But it has no effect on my kids at all. They tell me they’re sure the President wouldn’t care about their manners.

  12. Why all like to be casual in our eating sometimes, and others we need skills in more formal settings. There is no reason both styles can’t exist in your home. Just schedule the periodic “best manners” meals, that you can have your cake and eat with your hands, too.

  13. We all like to be casual in our eating sometimes, and at others we need skills in more formal settings. There is no reason both styles can’t exist in your home. Just schedule the periodic “best manners” meals, so that you can have your cake and eat with your hands, too.

  14. An eating disorder due to table manners being enforced is not something I would ever foresee. So many kids these days and young adults of my own age group (20s) do not have any table manners, and it is truly appalling. Ironically, it was my grandmother who was harsher about table manners than my mother was. If I sat on my feet or did anything of the sort she would have swatted me or at the very least verbally reprimanded me. My mother still regrets not sending me to etiquette classes like her parents did for both her and my uncle.

    As for eating disorders my sister had one, she was an anorexic and it had nothing to do with table manners or my parents being overbearing, cause they weren’t. They weren’t overbearing because their parents were and they didn’t want us to experience that. Anorexia and other eating disorders usually stem from far more traumatic experiences and other emotional issues than your parent’s expecting you to behave at the dinner table. I emphasize “usually” because there are always exceptions to such generalizations.

  15. I have to respectfully disagree. I can’t see how enforcing manners would contribute to an eating disorder. I mean, screaming at the child during dinner, might – but I seriously doubt that’s what you’re doing.
    As an aside, I insist on good table manners at my house too. I’m consistently shocked by how unimportant table manners seem to be to so many people.
    Maybe I’m just getting crotchety.

  16. Well, I must be doing it wrong too, then. But, not once have I ever thought enforcing proper table etiquette would give my daughters an eating disorder.

    Etiquette is important! Manners are important! Too many parents have a relaxed attitude about manners in general, and many families don’t even notice their kids’ table manners because they don’t eat together every night. That is sad!

    In my opinion, outlining expectations for our children is our job as parents, and that includes proper table manners: don’t chew with your mouth open, no elbows on the table, place the napkin on your lap, feet on the floor, sit up straight, use the proper utensils, ask to be excused, etc…

    That is all!

  17. While I don’t disagree with the other comments, I think the one that struck me the most is that she might just be rebelling to get the attention. I agree – they have to have manners – but instead of hassling her EVERY night (and possibly giving everyone indigestion :), maybe try a formal night once or twice a week? Go all out – put the candles on the table, some music, break out the good china, and have everyone dress up a bit. Before you do this, have a family meeting, go over the table manner rules once again (have them written down), and announce that anyone not showing proper manners will see some consequences!

  18. i did not have an eating disorder but i was a picky picky eater. if food touched other food i wouldn’t eat it. i do recall that my meal times with my family were stressful due to me being forced to eat and people being upset when i didn’t. i realize tis is about manners but maybe taking it down a notch on the manners and just be happy she is eating what you give her is a good idea for a while ??

  19. I’m trying not to ramble and have completely edited myself too many times already. What I personally feel is that kids should learn to behave appropriately for the meal and location. If it’s just family then I feel that comfort is a greater concern than posture. If we’re at a restaurant then respect for other diners and the staff is more a concern. If we’re at a friend’s house then respect for them and their home is the concern. If it’s Thanksgiving it’s how formal does your family feel like making it.

  20. Jessica,

    I feel that there is a time and a place. Of course you should have manners at the table, but what is the limit? Sitting on the feet at home, who cares. Relax and enjoy the meal and talk about the days events.

    Sitting on your feet out at a restaurant; no way.

    It’s all about time, place and environment.

    Hell, most people don’t have dinner as a family anymore.

  21. i try. i fail. i was raised to be a lady. i’m not that great at it. i am trying to raise my daughters as ladies and my sons as gentlemen. i’m not doing that great. but…their personalities. omg. i sit with them. i listen to them. and i can’t believe it. maybe i’m not doing so poorly after all. so what if they eat like small farm animals! they are awesome people!

  22. I have to say that teaching manners in no way will make her have an eating disorder you are being a mom and teaching her is what you do and to be courteous and thoughtful of others is not a bad thing. THERE IS ABSOLUTLEY NOTHING WRONG WITH MANNERS. More parents should be teaching there kids more of them these days and this is a topic I can rant about for ever… So take heart it may not show that its sinking in but when she is asked to have dinner at a friends thats when it comes out. When you are not around you know…

  23. Hi! Let me come at this with a new set of eyes and experience. First, you are doing exactly what all moms and dads do, question your parenting. Nothing wrong with that. Along the way you will likely modify things too. Nothing wrong with that.
    So, my kids, age 27 and 18 are night and day. My oldest, also a girl, was prissy, never rocked the boat, and grew up as rebellious as they come. Not until the last year or so of high school, but she did. My thoughts on that later.
    My son, well, he was born w/ special health needs. He has brittle bones and also had a cleft palate when he was born. I learned some things because of him.
    I was like you and most parents of first borns. I wanted everything to be just so, or my classification of it. I worried did she have the right clothes, were her grades good, was she making enough friends, the right friends, would people like her, was she a contributor in the world? Could she eventually stand on her own 2 feet? I was very exacting. Wanting nothing but the best for my little girl, and wanting her to be accepted in all the right circles with all the right people. How short sighted of me.
    Then my son came and nothing was typical. He couldn’t speak, he wasn’t potty trained at 2, he had small motor issues and large motor issues. And along the way my goal became something quite different than what it had been with my daughter. I decided I needed to take a long hard look at what truly mattered, I mean the real stuff, certainly explain the value in good manners, the value in fitting in, but also allow for individuality. Wanna know what happened? He blossomed! He had so many friends. All the parents loved him. He was the life of the party. And here’s the kicker. I couldn’t use traditional discipline, ie *gasp SWATS, I had to find alternatives, and it wasn’t always successful but that little boy who spent so much of his life in casts, who I had to use leashes on because he was always darting out in harms way, who escaped from us in church for 2 minutes until we heard the Pastor stop mid sermon and request one of us come up and get our errant son which created a raucous uproar in the church from laughing, well he inspired people. He grew up in spite of our lack of road map, in spite of getting it right. He is a wonderful young man and I bet your daughter is spectacular herself.
    What matters in the end? Have you told her why she might want to at least know what the rules are? And once you’ve told her do you think you can force her to behave in this world where rules are made by people and individuality prevails in spite of our best efforts? Give her the knowledge and let her take the consequences. Sometimes life has to be learned through trial and error and chances are she will grow up anyway, and have decent social skills. At this point her behavior is likely just rebellious anyway. Lighten up. There are far more important things than this. Lighten up on yourself too. You’re doing GREAT! You asked the question!!!

  24. My husband has been riding our son about table manners for years, so much so that sometimes its just an automatic “look” from dad without provocation. I always worry that my husband is being too hard (which is his tendency) and remind him to pick his battles wisely. I’d hate to see their relationship marred by him being overly critical. It would be a sad repeat of his own relationship with his father.

  25. Well, I’m confused. Are you talking about basic table manners? Or are you saying that you consider tearing food into small pieces bad table manners?

    As a person whose eating disorder was firmly rooted in my soil by about age 7 (by my Mother) and continued through adulthood, I have a lot of thoughts on this subject, but I think you’re missing some details for me to really understand the issue here.

    Tearing food into tiny pieces is a classic practice of anorexic behavior – and when I was in-patient for my own recovery, this practice was RAMPANT at the table. It is also a behavior that is learned by young girls from their peers.

    So, I guess my point is…is to look a bit beyond the manners thing and assess first whether or not there is more going on w/ food issues than just what you described here. Can’t stress that enough. I’m 41 and still struggle w/ food and it’s a horrible struggle.

  26. It’s not like you are locking the food up in the pantry because you say she is fat…that will cause an eating disorder. That happened to a friend of mine. Her mom was always on a diet and then projected her own issues on her daughter. She would lock the food in the pantry and lock up the fridge. When my friend got older, she started hiding food in her room and binging and today she weighs about 400 lbs. It’s quite sad, but totally related to what happened to her as a kid.

  27. Two things come to mind: one is, my thought is always, no matter how they behave at home, if you get good reports on their manners and/or behavior at other people’s homes or elsewhere, then you’re doing a good job (Whew! – usually true, for me, thank goodness!)

    Second, when my DD was abt your Jane’s age, her teacher organized an after school etiquette class. For about four weeks, the girls (I don’t think any boys participated, sigh!) got little lessons on table manners and other etiquette, then their final class was “high tea” at a local cafe where they got to show off what they’d learned. She, and they all, LOVED it! Perhaps something to think about for Jane and her friends?

    You’re doing fine! Keep up :-)

  28. I agree with Ann – tearing food into small pieces is classic anorexic behaviour…

    I think that if every meal time is a battle ground then what’s the point? Instead of making meal times a bonding family time they then turn into misery. Kids are small for such a short time. I’m not saying not to have standards but I am saying ‘pick your battles so life isn’t miserable’.

    Have picnic nights where you eat on a rug on the floor and have one formal night a week where everyone is on their best mealtime behaviour – take a step back and lighten up.

    You don’t need to repeat your father’s family’s discipline techniques – they would’ve been borne out of some very very tough years during the wars etc in Europe. Understandable but perhaps not as relevant to your family now.

    All the best. Parenting is about second guessing ourselves all the time.

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