To Barbie or not to Barbie:

that is the question, which has gripped many a post-feminist modern mother of young daughters for years and years. In the anti-Barbie camp are the arguments of ‘they are cheap, tacky, and the clothing is appalling,’ or the ever popular ‘they objectify women and focus on appearances rather than intellect and achievements.’ Both unassailably true, although we have yet to see an inanimate doll that espouses intellectual growth. Naturally, those savvy subversive doll marketers are well aware of these points of view and have been working tirelessly to bring us the Lilly Pulitzerand Juicy Couture Barbies in recent years. However, since we have still not seen Investment Banking and Nobel Prize winning Barbie, many have argued the intellectual Barbie gap remained. Until now. Soon the well mannered modern mother will be able to procure at considerable expense four Barbie dolls with brains, unparalleled Machiavellian tendencies and fabulous style. That’s right, the Mad Men Barbies are due out this July. And so, well mannered daughters will no longer have to suffer with brainless tacky barbies. Going forward these lovely young ladies will be able to play with smart, dastardly, adulterous, flawlessly dressed 60's Madison Avenue and Suburban Housewife Barbies. Progress is wonderful.

Public Speaking

In public places, one may sometimes encounter a variety of mother who audibly narrates her young child’s activities, in a sing-song, faux-pre-school teacher manner. At the grocery store, “Yes, Aidan, that’s broccoli! You love broccoli.” Waiting at the doctor’s office, “Baby?! You see the baby? Yes, that baby has a pacifier like you, but yours is only for nigh, nigh.” Crossing the street, she may look both ways in an exaggerated manner. In a public restroom, she may burst into a “hand-washing song.” On the playground, she may be seen hovering beside her child, tissue at the ready. Wherever she is, her continuous voluble narration is unstoppable. The outside observer might wonder if this steady stream of commentary allows this mother to make it through a mind-numbingly dull day. Or, perhaps, she believes that this semi-instructive patter will benefit her child more if delivered in loud saccharine tones. Or, she may believe her monologue will demonstrate her skill as a mother. Maybe she has not yet realized that the world is indifferent to what she says to her child in the grocery store and that no one doubts that she is, indeed, the person best qualified to raise her child. Even without the sing-song drivel.

Going, Going, Gone!

Should the conversation begin to lag when you are talking to the mother of school-age children one of the surest ways to avoid an awkward pause is to bring up school auctions. A polite inquiry such as “Does your child’s school have an auction?” is usually good for upwards of 20 minutes. In this time she will regale you with tales of the time she chaired/contributed to/attended the XYZ school auction and the horror or hysteria that ensued. It is hard to pinpoint what exactly makes school auctions so fraught with peril but it undoubtedly has something to do with the combination of alcohol, competition, money and ego. While we cannot, in good conscience, suggest the well mannered modern mother avoid these gatherings entirely – after all they are for a great cause – she might want to follow these basic guidelines. Pre-auction: if volunteering, show up when you said you would and do what you agreed to (see Committees). It is also best not to voice your opposition or displeasure too loudly or you might end up chairing the event next year. Additionally, have a strategy worked out with your spouse/date of how much you want to donate that night. A “safe word” to stop your spouse or yourself in the heat of the bidding frenzy is also recommended. During the auction: keep your wits about you and alternate between the hard stuff and a glass of seltzer to insure lucidity. Eat something. Socialize, don’t crowd the bidding tables. Remember, to the victor goes the spoils. While you may feel good about it at the moment, do you really want those two weeks in Hilton Head or the taco party for 30? Keep it friendly, this is for a good cause. If you win wonderful. If not, just think, the school gets more and you get to keep yours. So really, in a way, you did win. Post-auction: get in touch with the kind people who donated whatever it is you purchased as quickly as possible to agree on delivery. Never complain or imply you overpaid. Do not gossip - it is gauche to discuss who spent how much or who outbid his own bid three times. Finally, the well mannered modern mother knows that while these events may be like a Prom with gasoline, alcohol and money thrown in, the best thing she can do is remain polite and adult about it all. And thus avoid incriminating photos of herself on facebook the next morning.

If its Organic, it must be Healthy!

The modern mother can buy any variety of organic packaged food for her children: organic toaster pastries, organic freezer waffles, organic cheese puffs, organic chocolate graham bears. The list goes on. The organic label might make a mother feel better about feeding her children fruit snacks instead of fruit, but of course she is fooling herself. If the first ingredient is “organic cane sugar” or “organic evaporated cane juice,” chances are it is, well, mostly sugar. If it looks like a Rice Crispy treat, and tastes like a Rice Crispy treat, well… you get the point. We’re not saying “don’t buy organic,” since buying organic supports organic agriculture and leads to lower pesticide use, among other things. But let's be honest with ourselves: processed food is still processed food and organic soy lecithin is not any healthier for our children than regular soy lecithin. There are times when the convenience of a packaged snack can't be denied, but the well mannered mother knows that just because her cellophane-wrapped treat is USDA certified organic doesn't mean its superior.

Social Discourse

From time to time the modern mother will need to talk to people who do not have, want or care about children. This may seem unfathomable to the average modern mother in these child-centric times. But really it's true. In fact, there is a whole section of society completely uninterested in children. In order to interface successfully with these people the well mannered modern mother should have a few topics of conversation in her repertoire unrelated to children and parenting. Popular adult topics of conversation include but are not limited to: political unrest in other countries, the slow food movement, the Stieg Larsson mystery, Google, Pandora, and anything from The Economist, The Atlantic or written by Malcolm Gladwell. While such discourse may seem anathema at first, with fortitude and perseverance the modern mother will soon discover (remember?) a world of topics and interests that have absolutely nothing to do with her offspring. Not only will this result in an increase of dinner party invitations but it may also help the well mannered modern mother and her children to remember that they are not the center of the world.

Oh, Please!

Every well mannered mother wants to teach her children to use the word “please.” And most know that one effective strategy is modeling the use of “please” when making polite requests of her child:
“Please help set the table, darling.”
“Please pass the butter.”

Yet, the well mannered mother also knows there are times when adding a “please” is neither effective or recommended:
“Please don’t hit Mommy in the face, sweetheart.”
“Please? Honey? Can you stop kicking the back of that very large man’s chair?”
“Please! Stop beating your brother to a bloody pulp.”

Hitting, kicking, and the kind of atrocious behaviors that land a family on a reality TV nanny show, all need to be addressed immediately. In these situations, she can be confident enough to skip the pleasantries and go for a direct command: “Stop it.” No raised voice necessary, no pleading, no extra words, because this is not a request, but an instruction. Think about it. Is continuing to hit his mother/ kick the seat/ beat his brother really an option for the child? Of course not, and the well mannered mother wants to make sure her child knows that.


The well mannered mother knows if she is invited to a social event she is expected to reciprocate. Never is this truer than with the dreaded play date. If some kind-hearted mother is willing to entertain her child for an afternoon the well mannered modern mother knows she has a social obligation to do the same.

Of course there are people who don’t care about that sort of thing…what comes around goes around…lalala… we are all one happy village…and all that. Wonderful for them. But for the well mannered mothers living in the real world where other people’s five and six-year-olds can be something of a burden, it’s nice to share the joy.

Clearly, once children have become good friends and families are acquainted a strict back and forth protocol is not necessary. But for the initial play dates or if the modern mother has called someone because she is in a jam she really must extend an invitation to the other child. If the child is unavailable and a subsequent invitation is also refused, the well mannered modern mother can be comfortable in the knowledge that her social obligation has been dispatched.

Sometimes your child might be invited to a house where you do not know the family or are uncomfortable with the caregiver situation. In that case it is perfectly all right to invite that child to your house. You are then under no obligation to send your child to their house. But be aware that over time most people will figure out you think they are crazy and may stop sending their child to your house. Then again, if they really are as crazy as you think, perhaps that is all for the best.

Things can get tricky for the well mannered working mother especially if she begins to feel that her child is always going over to a friend’s house. In this case, she might want to invite the friend on a weekend outing or have the friend and her parents for an early family dinner as a way of getting to know the other family.

Mostly this well mannered author longs for the days when children could head out the back door, wander around the neighborhood unattended, play kick-the-can in the street until it was too dark to see and not have to worry about having their every movement choreographed by their parents.

Free Thinking

The business of bringing up children is filled with stuff: plastic playhouses, turtle shaped sand boxes, swing sets, soccer cleats, large plastic ride on toys, skateboards, bicycles, scooters, and more. So when it comes time to clean out the basement or garage, a well mannered mother may want to squeeze her eyes closed, clap her hands to her head and run, run away. Or haul it all out to the curb and hope the garbage truck will take it away. But landfills don’t need another plastic rocking horse, children’s easel, or bicycle to rust away in the stew of broken plastic party favors and other debris. Surely, there is a child somewhere who could use it. And, aren’t there enough sand boxes, booster seats, and pairs of youth sized in-line skates on this earth already? Wouldn’t it be best to find someone who could use your family’s outgrown gear? Wouldn’t it be better to use your neighbor’s gently used hand-me-down instead of rushing out to buy the newest baby swing? Not only does everyone save money, but we send a message to the retailers and creators of cheap plastic kids’ stuff: “Enough already! The world has enough of your junk. We’ll just pass it around amongst ourselves now, thanks.” No one should ever have to buy any of it new again. Never, ever. Of course there are exceptions, like car seats, and things do wear out over time, but for everything else, go for the vintage, the tried-and-true, the hand-me-down. The well mannered mother who enjoys shopping can think of it this way: if she can find a serviceable second-hand sand box, the children won’t know the difference, and she’ll have some extra cash to buy some truly fabulous foundation wear or irresistible bauble.

It can take a little extra time and determination to find new homes for some items, so we counsel you to stay strong and we offer these suggestions: Offer it to a friend with younger children. Find a local consignment shop or Play it Again Sports. Try ebay, Craig’s List, or freecycle. Donate to Goodwill, Vietnam Veterans of America, Big Brother Big Sister, Sports Gifts, or Cradles to Crayons. If all else fails, leave it on the curb with a sign that says “Free!” and make somebody’s day.
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