My adolescent son has the table manners of a wild animal. He frequently uses his hands instead of utensils, chews with his mouth open and smears ketchup all over the tablecloth. I’m getting concerned. How do I teach him appropriate etiquette?
Dear Mrs. Manners,
I assume that you are using a fork and knife and modeling ideal table manners. Therefore your son knows how he’s supposed to eat. He just can’t be bothered. He’s hungry (almost all the time!) and getting the food into his system as quickly as possible is his top priority.
I’m willing to bet that your son’s personal hygiene also needs some work. His toothbrush is probably used sporadically and while you may be able to get him off the computer long enough to take a shower, you can’t force the use of soap.
Have no fear. This is a common teenage phase which will soon be replaced by complete and utter obsession with his looks. All of the sudden he will shower non-stop and spend hours in front of the mirror, fixing his hair and admiring his physique. Then you will long for the days of smeared ketchup.
But do not despair. This too is a phase and he will reach adulthood with the skills to use his utensils properly, moderate and appropriate attention to hygiene and a (slightly) diminished focus on his appearance. It’s just waiting patiently until he gets there that’s difficult.
Daughter’s Unhappy Marriage
My daughter is very frustrated in her marriage because she’s the primary bread winner for the family. Her husband just flits from job to job, unable to find his place. He is, however, terrific with the kids and frequently watches them while she works. But I see her frustration growing. It’s painful to me to observe this from the sidelines. I like her husband and would like their marriage to succeed. What do you suggest I do?
Dear Concerned Mom,
What do you imagine you could do? This is completely out of your control. This is your daughter’s choice and hers alone. Your job is to be supportive of her, whatever path she takes.
While you can certainly encourage her to be less critical of her husband and to focus on his positive qualities, you can’t really enter into her situation. You don’t know their innermost struggles, the intimate details of their marriage.
Hopefully you have already taught your daughter the value and importance of commitment. Hopefully she knows that professional help can be a legitimate and sometimes necessary option. Hopefully she recognizes, based on her own upbringing, that money isn’t everything, that actually your yearly income is determined by the Almighty. Hopefully she understands that she can help her husband best by being supportive instead of critical.
But as far as doing something? Your options are pretty limited. The best (and most effective) thing you can do is pray.
Let Go of the Dream
My oldest two daughters are married with families of their own. Unfortunately my girls don’t get along with each other. At every family gather they fight like cats and dogs, ruining everyone’s good time and leaving my husband and me miserable. We know they need to stop but we don’t know how to make them. What do you suggest?
Dear Mom of Dueling Daughters,
Like I told the previous letter writer, it is no longer your job, nor is it within your ability to stop them. The best advice is sometimes not philosophical or spiritual but practical: Don’t invite them over at the same time.
I know that spoils your fantasy. I know it’s your dream to have your whole family together. But sometimes we need to grow up and adopt a more realistic perspective and strategy.
Since you can’t force your children to get along, let alone be close, and since their constant quarreling spoils it for everyone else, you need to find a new plan.
Alternate Sundays or Shabbats or holidays or whatever your schedule of family gatherings is. Not only will you remove the tension from the environment but you may discover that once you let go of the dream, of the unrealistic expectations, you will find a new and different pleasure in being able to spend more quality time with each of your daughters and their families.
No one’s life is a Norman Rockwell painting or a Hallmark card – choose your fantasy.
Making peace with your reality and making the best of your situation are the signs of a mature adult and the key to more pleasant experiences in the future.