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Moms Behaving Badly: Etiquette for Parents

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Ronda Kaysen:Elise Mac Adam is an etiquette expert for a new generation. Her 2008 book "Something New"was a wedding-etiquette guide for those of us who didn't grow up knowing that there are rules as to where people should sit at a wedding banquet. Now she's back with a new book, "See Dick Bite Jane: A Think and Do Book for Parenting Predicaments Big and Small."

mom yelling

The book was written for all those brides who have since become moms -- and have found themselves navigating the treacherous waters of playdates and potty mouths.

Momlogic sat down with Mac Adam to get her take on why parenting involves so many etiquette land mines -- and find out how we can survive the unfamiliar terrain.

momlogic: Your first book was about wedding etiquette for the modern bride. How does this second one fit in with that idea? Is it a book for the modern mom?

Elise Mac Adam: As I was working on the proposal for this book, it seemed like a very, very natural extension of the wedding-etiquette book. The difference -- the big difference -- between the two books is that with wedding etiquette, there's traditional etiquette and there's etiquette for contemporary people who never thought they needed it. But having kids has put me into this entirely new world. I'm in a new universe with a child, and it's making everything familiar [seem] strange. My friends are treating me differently, my parents are treating me differently. And it's something that's constantly changing. Your circumstances are constantly shifting.

ml: Your book isn't about children behaving badly, it's about naughtygrownups. Why the focus on adults?

EMA: There are a lot of books out there about kids' manners. And that's great stuff, but since I'm not a child psychologist, that wasn't going to be my focus. But I do have a lot of experience talking about ways to improve horrible social situations.

ml: What is it about having kids that creates sticky situations?

EMA: Children force you to interact with people you otherwise may not interact with, like other families and teachers. Also, children are uncontrollable. So you have this unpredictable little person, and that person is affecting you in the way you deal with the world. They make you function differently in restaurants, on the street and with other people, so your behavior is different as well.

ml: What is it about parenthood and pregnancy that makes people think they have the right to comment on your actions, when in any other situation, they wouldn't?

EMA: We're in a moment in time where people feel entitled to comment on your children. Maybe it's because children are more out and about, or maybe people just feel the need to be less cloistered with their children. Children's issues are on the forefront, and there's a general attitude that says that you can comment on them and their behavior.

ml: Comments from strangers about how I raise my kids drive me nuts. Do they bug you, too?

EMA: I really can't stand it when complete strangers comment on my parenting. Maybe there is a place for helpful advice, but it isn't in the form of blatant criticism that people level all the time. It's very hard when you have your very basic choices questioned by strangers. All of a sudden, you went from [being] a person who was basically unremarkable to being a person who everybody has an opinion about -- and that's very hard to accept.

ml: Motherhood has thrown me into intimate situations with strangers. How do you deal with the awkwardness of dealing with people you don't know?

EMA: You're dealing with people in a much more intimate way. Once your child starts interacting with another child, you become aware of the difference between your family and other families. But I think it is a good thing, because it can teach you ways to handle your kids that you haven't thought about that can work to your advantage.

ml: Moms tend to complain a lot about in-laws and grandparents butting in. How do you finesse that?

EMA: First of all, you really do have to stick to your guns. It's not going to make you feel better about anything if you feel that you've allowed your family to walk all over you. There are points of compromise, but there is no problem in saying, "I know you think it's OK not to have a car seat in the car because you never used one with your kids, but I need to have one."

But the same thing goes the other way. A mother was telling me about how she has chosen not to vaccinate her children. She was saying that her family was concerned. I think it's fine for a family to say, "We are worried about this," but they have to understand that her mind is not going to be changed by people yelling at her or flapping studies at her.

ml: What is the worst comment you've ever gotten as a mother?

EMA: The one that has haunted me for years was one of the first ones I got. My first child was about 6 or 7 months old. I was having trouble getting onto any sort of schedule. A friend of mine with a child about the same age wanted to get our kids together. But when I told her I'd been very busy, she replied, "I've been really busy too, but I have not been too busy to be a good mother to my child."

ml: Ouch! How did you respond to that one?

EMA: I just went back to the original situation. I never really addressed that with her. In that situation, the best response would be to say, "I don't think that our children at this age not having seen each other is an indication of my parenting at all. If you would like the children to get together, we should make a plan."

ml: What do you think are the hardest things for parents to navigate in the world of appropriate parenting?

EMA: It's very, very hard for people not to pass judgment. It's really hard not to say something about behavior you don't like in other parents. But only in extreme situations should you really get involved, because you can almost always have something backfire on you. Since it's very hard to really know another person's situation, you might be wading into waters that are much more difficult than you could know.

ml: Do you have any final tips for parents?

EMA: Most problems are finite. Something may really, really bother you, but there's a good chance it won't matter in the grand scheme of things. Your child might not even notice. You may notice, but your child might not.

And there's nothing wrong with making a mistake. It's totally fine to apologize. Parents feel like they have to dig in their heels and they can't be wrong. It's more than reasonable to say, "I've made a mistake and I'm sorry." Then you can go about fixing it.

next: Don't Drink the Water!
10 comments so far | Post a comment now
KS November 6, 2010, 3:24 PM

I think the friend was suggesting that you do make a plan. That was the whole point of her comment. She was asking for a plan. You still can’t see that?

Also, if parents want to let their children get sick and die, that’s okay - fewer people in school with the others. This is a good thing, not bad.

Also, in public places like restaurants, people feel that it’s okay to comment on your children because you, perhaps, are not controlling them. Going out to eat is expensive. Often it’s a special occasion - birthday, anniversary, etc - nobody needs badly behaved people who shout out, cry, or throw up on things at whim in their presence at such a time. Keep your children at home until you can control them. Simples.

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