DEAR MISS MANNERS: Sometimes I feel that I am fighting a losing battle while trying to raise my two sons, aged 2 and 3. My husband and I feel it is important to raise our children to be polite and respectful.
I am amazed at how difficult this can be! How do we deal with people who swear in front of our children? I cannot count how many times this has happened, in places such as Disneyland and at the playground.
Just today, I was in the restroom with my boys, washing their hands, when the grandmotherly woman at the sink next to us used profanity due to a lack of paper towels.
My children are at the age where they repeat everything they hear, so this is especially concerning.
How, also, do we deal with people who take exception to the way we're teaching our children to address adults? We were both raised that children address adults as Mr., Mrs., or Ms. ______. I am constantly dealing with people who, in front of my children, demand that my children call them by their first names because "it makes them feel old" to be addressed that way.
I have been politely responding, "I'm sorry, but that's the way we're choosing to raise our children."
Should we defer to their wishes or hold firm to our belief?
GENTLE READER: You should let go of your belief that you can bring up adult strangers. Or anyone else except your own children, a formidable enough task, as you have discovered.
That you wish that your children could grow up in a more civilized world is something with which Miss Manners sympathizes. Never mind the children -- she'd like to live there herself.
But your job is to prepare them for the real world, old foul-mouthed ladies and all.
Fortunately, you have some years now in which you and your husband are the main influences in their lives. You can inscribe your own standards so that they will always measure behavior by them, whether or not they choose to obey them once they are out of sight or on their own.
Young children are thrilled to know that it is not just they, but grown-ups, who sometimes misbehave. You must say nothing when the offender is present -- you don't want your children thinking that they can scold strangers -- but afterwards, you can say, "That poor lady doesn't know how to talk properly -- she said a very bad word."
You must also teach them to treat foolish adults, as well as sensible ones, with respect. When an adult gives a child permission to use his or her first name, it overrides the general rule you are quite properly teaching them.
Ideally, an adult would suggest this as a flattering way of recognizing that a young friend has become an adult. Miss Manners is aware, however, that the silly claim you cite is more often the case.
But everything provides the alert parent with material for child-rearing. When your children are older, this should provoke a discussion of how sad it is to be ashamed of reaching what is supposed to be emotional, as well as physical, maturity.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: When you go to a restaurant and the server will say "Hello, I'm Sally and I will be your server..." I always feel I'm being rude if I don't introduce my wife and myself.
When I do, the server seems surprised. What is the correct response?
GENTLE READER: "The lady will have a martini, please, and I would like a diet cola."
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