It's a staple of our stable of stereotypes: the grandparent who complains about the grandkids' poor manners and fusses about never getting a thank-you note. Like most stereotypes, this one has some basis in truth but is far from accurate, according to my informal survey of grandparent bloggers on the topic of manners and etiquette.
Rating the Grandkids' Manners
Most of the grandparents surveyed think that their grandkids' manners are good. A few marked "excellent," and all of the remainder indicated that, although not perfect, the manners of their grandchildren are comparable to those of other children their age. The grandparents surveyed had grandkids of all ages, and training often starts at an early age. Megryansmom reported teaching her two grandchildren to sign "please" and "thank you" before they could speak. Granny Nanny added that her two grandsons, both less than two years old, are able to use "peas, taku and cuse-me," adding that the comments come at "mostly inappropriate times."
Several grandparents commented on the importance of manners. John Lunn of Grampy's Little Acre called manners "an important interface with other people" and "a sign of mutual respect and understanding that there are expectations in human society."
Thank-You Notes Can Be Controversial
Maybe you've seen the angry posts online from grandparents threatening to stop sending gifts to grandchildren because they never get thank-you notes. My group of grandparent bloggers was much more relaxed on the topic. Only about a fifth reported a family practice of sending thank-you notes. Karen Best Wright of Grandparents Raising Grandchildren is probably typical of the many grandparents who do not expect formal notes from their grandchildren. "I have not set a good example of actually mailing a thank-you note to anyone," Wright stated. "Thank you tends to be too much through the computer." One grandmother said that she would be happy with a simple email or phone call to let her know that her gift was received.
In other families, grandparents and thank-you notes are more closely entwined. Donne Davis of the GaGa Sisterhood still sends handwritten notes. "It was part of my grandma's etiquette lesson," Davis said. She taught her children and now teaches her granddaughters to respond to gifts and treats with handwritten notes or hand-drawn pictures. Another grandmother commented, "It just warms my heart to get a handwritten note." Penelope Lemov of Parenting Grown Children turns the tables on grandparents by suggesting that we send thank-you's to our grandchildren for small gifts or drawings.
Manners in the Age of Cell Phones
Contrary to what I expected, grandparents are not terribly concerned about how their grandchildren use electronic devices. Some have young grandchildren who haven't yet acquired their phones, pads and pods. Some said that their grandchildren had been well taught in this area. Some compared their grandkids' manners favorably to the manners of many adults. FabGrandma works with the public and cited many examples of adults slowing down transactions because they are talking on their phones. Some grandparents deal with the devices by setting firm rules for their use. Judy Smitley of Biblegal said that use of electronic devices is forbidden at their family get-togethers. Smitley's long-established rule applies to both children and grandchildren. "It's easy to let them 'chirp' away on their devices," Smitley wrote, "but when they do, everyone else is excluded."
Table manners are likely in decline, the grandparents in the survey agreed, often citing the modern family's more relaxed dining practices. "If we are lax in an area, this would be it," wrote Pamela Loxley Drake of A Grandparent's Voice. "So often it is one adult and two children, so dinner is a fun, crazy time." Still other grandparents reported that teaching grandchildren the niceties of setting a table and using a cloth napkin is both fun and rewarding.
Being polite to others is more important than dining etiquette, according to most grandparents surveyed. "Much better that they are not rude and obnoxious than they know when to use the salad fork," Olga of Confessions of a Grandma wrote. "I just get anxious when spaghetti is served."
The Grandparent's Role in Teaching Manners and Etiquette
Almost all grandparents reported no conflict with adult children about questions of manners and etiquette. One stated that conflict "seldom" occurs, and one reported conflicts about the manners of a special needs grandchild. Although teaching proper manners and etiquette is the bailiwick of parents, most grandparents said, obviously grandparents are more involved than they may admit. Carol Covin, also known as Granny Guru, said that it is important to share expectations when grandchildren visit. Shayne Packer of Grandparents TLC defined a grandparent's proper function as setting a good example. Grandma Kc of Life in Amaraland always praises her granddaughter "when she remembers and is polite." Other grandparents suggested role-playing good and bad manners, an approach chronicled with humorous effect in this piece by Adair Lara, author of The Granny Diaries. And while there are lots of books, CDs, DVDs and websites devoted to teaching manners, most families prefer a DIY approach. British grandparent Martin Hodges of Square Sunshine warned, "I would be very cautious about recommending resources that advise on something as fundamental as good manners."