DEAR ABBY: I have acquired two teenage stepsons. They are good young men, mature, responsible, active in community service and good in school and sports.
My challenge is their table manners. They were never taught any! They use their utensils like shop tools, lifting food using fork and knife together to transfer huge bites from plate to mouth. They use a bread knife to cut a pancake as if it were a tough steak. They slouch over the table to get their faces as near the plate as possible, while leaning on the table with one or both elbows. They don't know where to place cutlery when setting the table, and have their napkins in their lap only if a restaurant server discreetly places it there.
Their mother shows no concern about their uncouth manners. I'm worried that when they eventually go out into the world, they'll be perceived as having no class when they are actually nice young men. Their ignorance of table manners could cost them relationships, jobs and promotions. What to do? -- SAN ANTONIO STEPDAD
DEAR STEPDAD: Your wife may have felt she was teaching her sons more important lessons than table manners; things like character and responsibility. However, you have a point. People do make negative judgments about people who have poor table manners -- and it could be detrimental to them in the future.
That's why you should discuss this with their mother, if you haven't already, and enlist her help in talking to the boys in a nonconfrontational way and explaining your concern. In the interest of your relationship with them, this must not seem like you are critical of them, nor should it turn into an adversarial situation or it could have a negative impact on your marriage. If it is to succeed, there must be cooperation from everyone.