Recently a friend of mine gushed over my 13-year-old son. She was so complimentary, at first I thought she was joking. She described how tender and sweet and fun he was while working with other teenagers to babysit during a parents' church activity. Apparently he played games with the kids, held them when they needed it, and even was thoughtful enough to cut up a pizza slice for her 2-year-old. The fact that he even recognized that the little boy needed food in the first place was surprising! I had to ask her if she was really talking about my son--the one who only leans in for hugs occasionally, and the one who literally runs everywhere he goes in the house. We call him "Broad Strokes Boy" for his less than stellar attention to detail. I was so proud of him for behaving so well. I was also wondering where he learned how to do all of that, since he certainly didn't look like he was paying attention when I taught him.
What is that magical something that prompts my (and your--I'm sure of it) children to zip on their best behavior suits? It's something I call Company Manners.
I love company manners. I choose to believe that they are, in fact, a reflection of my children's "real" selves that they save up for special occasions. Why waste them at home, right?
Company manners are proof that my children's ears are in working order. They don't need hearing aids after all.
Company manners allow my children to visit other people's homes more than just once.
Company manners allow me to have other people fooled into thinking I've done a good job.
Company manners also make me feel better about all of the meltdowns we've endured, because I have a theory. I've convinced myself (read: coping mechanism) that when my children freak out, it's because I have provided such a warm, caring environment, that they feel totally and completely comfortable sharing all of their feelings, without fear of rejection. See what a good mom I am? It's a good sign that they yell and scream and stomp on the floor and call the elephants to come and play, right? I feel so much better. Company manners mean that they've held all of that crazy together for someone else all day, and when they come home, they lovingly give the crazy to me. That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.
Company manners are the primary reason I do not homeschool. I have a degree in Elementary Education and plenty of teaching experience, by the way, but I can't handle the crazy for that long or in that context. Besides, they wouldn't believe me anyway.
Beware. Company manners have a loophole. They specifically do not apply when company visits the children's own home. No, no. There is some kind caveat that says when guests arrive (especially home teachers), it is acceptable (and even expected) for a child to unleash the worst behavior possible. Parents find it difficult to maintain their own company manners at these times, and the children can smell it like a dog smells fear.
Despite this loophole, I will take company manners any day of the week, as the alternative is less than desirable. No one else deserves our kind of crazy.
P.S. Tell someone how well her children behaved sometime. It will save her sanity and make her day.