Stop the Draft!

We have written before about the most polite way in which a well mannered modern mother can decline a volunteer opportunity.  However, in that post we mistakenly assumed that "no meant no."  But it has recently been brought to our attention that there is a certain volunteer elite (let us call her the alpha mother) completely impervious to rejection.  Our source tells us that after she, a well mannered mother, politely but firmly told the alpha mother she could not help with a project;  manila files arrived in her mailbox and an email of her acceptance was sent to the wider community.   Nervy, we know.  And sneaky too.

So, now what?  Lest we forget, being well mannered does not mean being a push-over and anyone who mistakes a polite demeanor for a timid or compliant nature had better look out.  This is the point at which the mannerly mother must demonstrate the iron hand beneath the velvet glove, and not put up with such artifice.  We recommend an email responding to the alpha's email to the wider audience politely pointing out her mistake. (i.e. Dear Madame X, I am terribly sorry that you mistook my refusal to chair the Sunny Hill Spring Dance in the attached email of September 8th, as an affirmation...)   We all know sometimes it takes a village to keep things running smoothly and if a school-wide event such as a fair is taking place every parent should, if possible, help out.  But remember you are no one's Girl Friday.

It is the psychology of this behavior that is most interesting.  Does the alpha mother assume that because we or our children belong to a certain community, we are obligated to give back how and when she wants us too?  Or does she feel manipulated into a role and so assumes she has the right to manipulate other people in the same way?  Or maybe she has simply found that  ignoring people's protests is the most effective way to get them to do what she wants.   Yes, well, as Peggy Olson recently said to Don Draper's weepy secretary "Your problem is not my problem." So, while it may take a village,  the alpha mother's problems are not your problems and your life and your time are your own to manage as you see fit.

Design by Anne Taintor

Who Buys the Carrots in this Family?

* image from

Upon hearing about the baby carrot industry’s plan to package and market baby carrots like junk food, to give carrots attitude, and make them cool, the modern mother might think something like, “Does the world really need carrots with hip packaging? Can’t we all just eat food? And most importantly, could the rustling of a brightly colored snack wrapper possibly fool anyone, even a child, into thinking carrots taste just like “Spicy BBQ” Bugles

When this modern mother (for the purposes of blogging research, of course) goes to the Baby Carrots marketing website and finds her children drawn in like moths to a flame, swarming to see the source of its enticingly generic rock soundtrack, she may find herself surprised at the marketing campaign's effectiveness. She might be thinking, "idiotic," but her children find it riveting. 

 *Image from, Xtreme Xrunch Kart

And she might realize then and there that she objects to the obnoxious marketing of actual junk food (not carrots) as much as its lack of nutritional content. The baby carrot campaign may be a bit funny as parody, but mostly the outrageous dudes, sexy women, and extreme sports are just cheesyeven if the product is not. 

When she asks her children “Does it make you want to eat baby carrots?” they mumble “Yeah…uh...totally” without removing their eyes from the screen. And so, this modern mother might shrug and even mutter, “whatever,” just like the dudes in commercials.  After all, she buys the carrots in the house and she knows which ones she will choose. 

Don't Do Anything!

Like the philosophical argument that sometimes not making a decision is in fact a decision in itself;  is it possible (we are asking here) that at times the best thing a well mannered mother can do is nothing at all?  Certainly there will be times when a mother does not care for her young child's choice of smarty mouthed friend.  Or think that her child is not spending his free time is a worthwhile way.  Or wish that he had thought longer and differently about a certain homework answer.  In these and practically any other situation a modern mother has the ability to 'do something' to change these things.  She can attempt to 'manage' the friendship by making her child unavailable or pointing out the flaws in his choice of companions  (N.B. often the stamp of parental disapproval is all a child need to find someone truly cool).  She can enroll him in more activities so his free time is not "wasted" in her opinion.  And she can reasonably and calmly sit down with her child and explain at length why he should re-do his homework to produce the answer she thinks is best.

Sure it may be exhausting but what is the alternative?   Trusting that her child will eventually figure out what he needs in a friend?   Letting her child come to her with a proposal of how he would like to spend his free time?  Letting him get a bad grade on a homework assignment?   But then what?  By that time he may not be in the popular crowd or have missed the opportunity to play ice hockey or not gotten into that ivy league school.  At which point his life will be over.   Or, maybe, let's look on the bright side for a moment, maybe he will emerge a confident, capable, happy person who did not spend his youth being molded into someone else's idea of a successful person.   Plus, maybe the well mannered modern mother can relax for a while  and take comfort in believing that doing nothing is really doing something after all. *

*This advice does not apply to truly dangerous or destructive behavior.  In such cases a parent should absolutely get involved and help her/his child in any way possible.

The Lesson of the Twice Forgotten Lunch

There is a horrible feeling, a cringe-inducing regret a mother can get when she knows she has let her child down. For example, on the way to school she may have told him she would bring his forgotten lunch, but then she promptly forgot. She went about some morning errands, a meeting, the gym, the supermarket, and then she came home at noon to find the packed lunch sitting expectantly on the kitchen counter.

A shock of recognition and remembrance of that morning conversation: “Don’t worry; I’ll bring it in.” A vision of her child sitting forlorn and empty handed among chattering friends as they obliviously scarf down go-gurts. And a mad dash to carry that lunch to him (her baby!) before lunch period is over. 

Of course, this mother knows the school staff would not let her child go hungry. She knows that a forgotten lunch is a small inconvenience, an opportunity for her son to recognize his own resilience. She knows not to sweat the small stuff, the blessing of the skinned knee, and blah, blah, blah. Yet, she cannot help but feel aghast, a bit sad that she has let her child down, even in this small way.  Because, well, she’s his mother and she can’t help but want to fix everything for him, to make things perfect for a child she loves so much. 

But why? Why the guilt, when her rational mind knows better? Perhaps guilt is just a condition of motherhood. Or, maybe it’s because her baby is actually 10 and not very needy. Most of the time, he’s excellent company, and she knows this probably won’t last. Only 10 and already, there are fewer things he needs from her. No more teeth to brush, no more hair to comb, fewer puzzles to help him solve. He continues to grow and thrive, forgotten lunch or not, perfect mother or not.  

These changes are, of course, cause for celebration – not just for his growing self-sufficiency, but also for his mother’s new-found freedom. Yes, this modern mother may look forward to watching her son grow up, but she may also feel a twinge of wistfulness for the much younger child he once was. Her regret over the twice forgotten lunch might not really be guilt at all, but a swirl of nostalgia and surprise that these first 10 years slipped by so fast.  

I'd rather be in Paris

We discovered this wonderful story, "Kiki and Coco in Paris," by photographer Stephanie Rausser on the website Absolutely Beautiful Things.  Please click HERE to enjoy. 

Half-Full, Rose-Colored Glasses

No doubt most every well mannered mother on the planet remembers being told 'If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all.' as she was busy growing into her well mannered self.  In fact, she has probably said it to her own offspring once or twice.  And really, the longer we live, the wiser this advice seems.  For, at the end of the day, who really wants to be around gloomy, negative, catty people?  Most every modern mother knows one - the old friend or new acquaintance who emanates negative energy and universal dissatisfaction.  Not only do you feel fatigued after a visit with this person you also feel irritable, depressed and mad at yourself for spending your valuable free time in such an unproductive way.

Of course everyone gets a bit down now and again and can be excused a good gripe session.  After all what are friends for?  But in general, we have found that a positive,  rose-colored, glass half-full attitude gets one further in life and makes it a lot more enjoyable.  No one is advocating being a big phony or pretending everything is wonderful if it isn't.  Yet many times given the choice, it is usually just as easy to think of something pleasant to say as it is something snide or unkind.  At the risk of sounding all new-age touchy-feely: the more positive energy the well mannered modern mother emits the more she receives and the more pleasant her world becomes.

Playing the Santa Card

For families who celebrate Christmas, the grip that December 25th, and specifically, Santa have on the minds of young children can be surprising. Take this recent exchange:

4 year old: "Mom, how many days until Christmas?"
Mother: "A long time. Three and a half months."
"But how many days?"
"I don't know, like 100?"
"Is that a lot?"
"Yes, I just told you it’s a long time. Why are you asking about this? We just started school."
"Because I can't wait until Christmas! Is it coming soon?"

Given the extraordinary power of the man in the red, fur-trimmed suit, it can be tempting to sometimes play the Santa card with a seemingly innocuous statement like, "I don't know, I think you might want to do a little be better job cleaning your room. Santa likes a clean room." Or, “Santa likes it when children eat all their green beans.” After all, visits from Santa can entail considerable effort on the part of a mother - why not try to get some cooperation and good listening out of it? Why not play the Santa card? And, more importantly, is September too early to start?

We leave our thoughtful, well-mannered readers to answer these questions as befits their own family dynamics. All we can say is, if and when you choose to "play the Santa card," do so with restraint, unless you are willing to go to elaborate lengths to back yourself up, as in this hilarious "Letter from Santa at your Birth."

What ever you do, don't invoke Santa in discussions of honesty: "Santa doesn't like children who lie!" Really. Dangerously hypocritical territory.

A (Homework) Room of One's Own?... Maybe Not.

The “latest” parenting research can often just be a huge guilt trip, but other times, it can provide welcome support for the status quo.

A recent New York Times article, “Forget What You know About Good Study Habits” may fall into the latter category for many a modern mother. It may provide some peace of mind for all those mothers struggling to “clear a consistent, quiet homework workspace” in a boisterous house, or a mother feeling inadequate because she is unable to fit “quiet consistent homework time” into a hectic schedule.

The article reports on recent studies showing that shaking things up, moving study spaces, studying in several short sessions about may actually improve academic performance. Go figure. And, go ahead, encourage your child to practice those spelling words in the car on the way to gymnastics, to fill out math worksheets at the kitchen table, and lie on the floor while completing vocabulary exercises. For once, not being the organized mother might actually have some benefits.  
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