“Are we at that place in our friendship when you can just come over and I don’t have to clean my house?”
This was the text that my friend Crystal had sent me one morning when I was rushing around my house to get my kids ready to go over to her house for an afternoon playdate.
I think my actual response was “LOL!” but in my head I was so relieved that her house gets just as trashed as mine.
My kids are old enough to do chores, but I do not make them. It isn’t because I also love to wear my threadbare yoga pants while letting the laundry pile up on the couch — because who doesn’t love that? (Kidding.) It’s because I put a much higher premium on my kids having manners than forcing them to do chores.
My oldest, who’s in first grade, is pretty terrible at remembering to clear his own dishes from the dinner table and needs constant reminders. But he’s a champ when it comes to keeping his bedroom floor clean and his dirty laundry piled in his laundry basket as opposed to on the floor by his bed. He does this out of having good manners and not because I spun a chore chart wheel on the fridge and demanded some housework out of him. He knows that if I’m doing his laundry then the least he can do is keep it in one place for me to grab.
In this world of snark-filled reactions and being overly offended by absolutely anything, I want my kids to stand out by having manners — I’m talking about good, old fashioned, time honored manners that demonstrate to the world that my kids have class and tact. I want them to think before they speak, think before they act, always consider outcomes of situations and measure their intent with compassion to keep them from being … well … jerks.
The chores can wait.
When my children speak, they’re encouraged to use proper language, to articulate their ideas well, and to use phrases like “yes, please” and “no, thank you” and “pardon me.” When they’re at the dinner table, they’re encouraged to use basic table manners and to engage in dinner conversation. Even if that can mean talking about who would win an epic battle — a wooly mammoth or a saber-toothed tiger?
When they’re in public, they’re encouraged to behave with appropriate body language and voice levels. I’m not a Tiger mom, but I’m not raising heathens, either, which means no running through Target or throwing a fit when I refuse to buy them candy or toys.
We spend so much time working on how to behave that demanding my kids to do chores just feels like one extra thing to nag them about. My husband and I lead by example with the language we use, how we treat each other and our kids, and the rules we lay down for how they’re expected to behave in nearly any situation. While I want my kids to be obedient and do things like the dishes or sweep the floors, to me having them express gratitude to the neighbors for inviting us over to swim in their pool or writing a thank you note to friends for inviting them to a birthday party is more important, because those gestures show good character.
My house gets messy, cluttery, and even straight-up dirty (what house filled with kids doesn’t?). But it’s occupied by a family that believes in being kind, and that old-fashioned manners mean something more than just holding a door open for someone; they show integrity and discipline.
By the time my kids reach adulthood, I want them to have reputations of good character that precede them. They can be leading examples in their own families and communities of what a simple “thank you” can mean. It isn’t just something we say, but rather, it’s an acknowledgement of effort and thought.
So, when my friend Crystal texts me and wonders when we can get together next, I never have to worry about how clean my house is (although I do drag the vacuum out and at least get the dishes done). Because the point of her visit is not to inspect my house, but for our kids to hang out — and I see those as opportunities for my kids to practice their manners on friends.