by Valerie Grieve.
I was talking to a friend the other day. She despaired that her son was not listening to her, not hearing a word she said, and she worried about his future.
Teens are the kings and queens of a few things–drama, melodrama, attitude, procrastination, and not listening (and you can likely add to this list). I want to offer a word of hope. Sometimes you do get through, even if they don’t show it.
My eldest son Andrew quickly figured out when he was about 9 a way to “get me.” All kids seem to find that one button to push that they know will upset us. I know my Dad’s was proper English. To get him going, all I had to do was use slang. “I called her, but she ain’t home.” He would be off on a rant at that, “Don’t speak like a peasant! People will judge you by the way you speak.” I would often play the “ain’t” card if I was peeved with Dad for saying no to something I wanted, or just because I wanted to watch the vein at his temple throb. Even so, I speak well today and do not use slang much. I swear very mildly, and very rarely, and some words are just not in my vocabulary. If “ain’t” got me a lecture or punishment, I think Dad might have killed me or died of a stroke on the spot if I had ever dropped the F bomb.
Andy figured out a few of my buttons and installed a new one here and there as he moved into his teens. One point of conflict between us was table manners. He pushed the limits on that relentlessly. One day I told him if I ever wrote a book about him, it would be entitled, “Take your feet off the table and get your hands out of your soup.”
Our friend Marty, the best man at our wedding, only made things worse when he visited. He teased me and became Andy’s hero by doing things at the table, like launching peas with his spoon. I had my revenge on him when he was hung over. I made clam chowder for lunch, and asked him if he could see the little clam eyes looking up at him. He bolted from the table.
Time passes, kids grow up and move out. At a family gathering, my youngest son John was fooling around at the table and started chewing with his mouth open, one of Andy’s old tricks. I opened my mouth to scold him for it, but was sharply cut off by Andy. “That is so gross! Close your mouth when you chew. You are not a cow! Have a little consideration for the rest of us.” I looked at Andy, startled to hear my words come out of his mouth. He looked at me and smiled, realizing himself what had just happened. “I guess you were listening after all!” I said.
Even if the kids do not act on the important advice you give them, it is so important that you not give up. Hang in there. You may not see the impact today, tomorrow, or even next year. Your words are like seeds. They take root and are remembered, and the important things bear repeating so they do not get lost. One day, when the kid is no longer a kid, he may find those words again and use them.
Take heart. It took only 20 years for Andy to decide that good table manners were important to him.