Care and Feeding

Do Manners Still Matter?

My ex doesn’t think so.

A couple standing back to back and having a tense conversation
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by IanaChyrva/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Submit it here or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My 7-year-old’s father (my ex-husband) grew up amongst outgoing friends who constantly interrupted, talked over one another, competed for the wittiest remark, and thought nothing of all of it. Even now, as an adult, these are the type of friends he’s drawn to, which has resulted in him thinking this is “normal” behavior.

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On the other hand, I’ve largely been surrounded with people who are conscientious about listening to what others have to say and let others finish their thoughts before jumping into the conversation. Not only do I think of this as respectful behavior and “good manners”—it feels so dang warm and fuzzy to be on the receiving end of someone giving me their attention when I speak!

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Today my ex told me that by teaching my son not to interrupt people, I’m “ruining his life” and “crippling his chances to enjoy normal social interaction with his peers.” (He also said some pretty mean things to my son, who had gotten upset over an interruption by a young friend.)

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Me “ruining his life” also applies to things like teaching him not to talk with a mouth full of food, not to drop trash on the floor, etc. My ex insists these things are the true “normal” and that “everybody does them.” I’ve tried having a calm, reasonable conversation with him, but he just won’t bend.

Co-parenting is hard enough, but how do I continue teaching my son basic respect and good manners when his dad actively tells him it’s bad to follow social niceties?

—Manners Still Matter (Don’t They?)

Dear MSM,

The short answer is “yes,” manners absolutely still matter.

I know you said that your ex grew up in a household where interrupting people was acceptable, but that doesn’t change the fact that America has gone through a strange transformation over the course of the past five years. Name-calling, bullying, lying, overt racism, and being a jerk became normalized behaviors for many of our citizens. It’s time to push the reset button and do our part to make America dignified again, and your son is going to be a part of the movement.

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This dude really thinks teaching your son not to interrupt people is “ruining his life”? The fact that you have to co-parent with a grown man who said that with a straight face is beyond disturbing, but here we are. Don’t be gaslit into believing you’re the problem here, because you’re not. I applaud you for holding calm and reasonable conversations with your ex-husband, but are these conversations also firm? Have you insisted that you’re going to raise your son to be a good, conscientious human, regardless of how your ex peddles crap about every kid being taught the opposite? If you have, then it’s time to move to step two.

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It sounds like it would be useful for you to solicit the help of a mediator (probably a therapist) to help you talk through this. Perhaps your ex will change his ways if a professional tells your ex that he’s completely off his rocker. I promise you that the majority of well-adjusted adults will take your side on this, so you just need to find the right one to reach him.

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Of course, it’s quite possible he’ll refuse therapy. This will make your job more difficult, but not impossible. When your son is in your house, teach him the rules you want him to abide by. Stress to him why these social niceties are important. He can’t grow up thinking it’s OK to talk over his boss, his teachers, his coaches, and other authority figures. Not to mention people aren’t going to want to hang out with someone who behaves like a Neanderthal, as a friend or otherwise. Try to find as many trusted allies as you can to help you hammer these points home to your son as well. It’s going to take a village to help unlearn these bad behaviors, but it can be done. Good luck!

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I’m the “one and done” mom of a 6-year-old kindergartener. He’s an absolute joy and I’ve had no trouble with any of the milestones we’ve reached as he’s grown. It didn’t bother me when I packed up his first clothes and shoes and sent them to Goodwill. It didn’t faze me when he graduated from pre-K. Many of my friends are sad when their children become less needy and clingy, but I’ve always been proud of my son’s growing independence.

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Despite all this, I’ve hit a stumbling block, and I can’t figure out why it’s bothering me so much. As soon as we started allowing screens, my son fell in love with a popular cartoon about a British pig. He adored it. Every birthday and holiday saw him add to his collection of figures and books, and every time we played, all the games revolved around that cartoon. Our DVR was filled with hundreds of episodes of the cartoon. We even forked over a ridiculous amount of money to take him to see the live show when it came to town.

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Then, very suddenly about six months ago, he announced that said pig was for babies (and girl babies at that!). He didn’t want to see anything relating to the show, and I even caught him tearing the pages out of one of his books so I wouldn’t try to read it to him again. I’ve agreed and let it go … except for the hundreds of episodes that are still sitting unwatched on our DVR. I’m out of space to record anything else, and he insists he will never watch it again, but I can’t bring myself to delete it. What’s up with that? Why is this stupid show causing me such sadness, and why can’t I accept that it’s just a dumb cartoon, one of many he’ll outgrow in his childhood?

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—Cheerio to Childhood Loves

Dear Cheerio to Childhood Loves,

Ah, we’re talking about Peppa Pig, amirite? My daughters are 7 and 9 years old and they each went through the same addiction, so I get it. I didn’t experience any emotional distress when my girls outgrew the show—quite frankly, I wanted to throw a damn party to celebrate.

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In regard to the DVR—have a good cry, take a deep breath, and delete the recordings. Peppa Pig isn’t going anywhere. And if Peppa gets back in your son’s good graces, you can always record her zany cartoon antics again. But I also want to say: It’s OK to have these feelings. When my 9-year-old stopped calling me “Daddy” and transitioned to “Dad”, I experienced a very real sadness that felt like a gut punch. “Daddy” was always so loving, but “Dad” feels like she’s about to ask me for 20 bucks. I took my own advice (a good cry and a deep breath) and rolled with it, because I knew this meant she was growing up in her own way. Everyone has their triggers—be it a cartoon pig or a name—but it’s all normal in this parenting game.

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Another thing you might want to keep an eye on here is how the loss of Peppa went down in your house. To turn on a dime from love to disdain that quickly can be relatively concerning, no matter what we’re talking about. To be clear, I vehemently disagree that Peppa Pig is only for girls, but did a friend or a loved one get into his ear and ridicule him for enjoying a show “for girl babies”? I’m not a psychologist, but it seems like he may be trying to avoid the pain of being ridiculed by acting out and tearing up his books. I would do some detective work on your end to figure out what prompted his “full 180,” because I’m pretty sure he didn’t come to that conclusion on his own. My worry is that he could be fed more toxic masculinity nonsense from that individual as he grows older.

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You can also ask clarifying questions to find out what changed, such as “What is it about the show that you dislike?” Of course, the simple answer could be that he outgrew it—which would be totally normal. You just want to make sure his reason for outgrowing the show is a healthy one.

If you missed Monday’s Care and Feeding column, read it here.

Discuss this column in the Slate Parenting Facebook group!

Dear Care and Feeding,

I’m a freshman in high school and have an unghostable friend, “Ashley.” Ashley is toxic—constantly blaming others for her own mistakes, gossiping about friends behind their backs, and even outing one of our mutual friends and my close friend, “Kara,” to me and a few other people. Kara and I decided to ghost her a few weeks ago—we stopped chatting with her in the hallways, texting her, and spending time with her. We’re polite and civil to Ashley at school but do not make any efforts to further communicate. The problem is Ashley is not getting the hint. She’s frequently calling, texting, snapping, and video chatting me, although I don’t respond or pick up. That doesn’t seem to stop her. She’ll call Kara and me over to sit with her at school and insist on it even when we decline. Kara even confronted Ashley over text, and Ashley tried to blame me! (That doesn’t stop the constant calling and texting, though.) I haven’t confronted her personally because I’m afraid she’ll have a big reaction/get mad/spread lies/label me a “bitch” at school. How do I get Ashley to take the hint and accept that the friendship is over?

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—Moving On

Dear Moving On,

Here’s something to consider: Have you thought about how toxic your own behavior is? Basically you’re saying, “I’m too immature to tell you that our friendship isn’t working out, so I’m going to send you mixed signals and hope that you can somehow decipher that I want nothing to do with you.” Did I capture that correctly?

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Listen, you’re a kid, so I’m not going to drag you through these internet streets, but I think there’s an important lesson to be learned here. Ghosting (the act of cutting off communication with someone in the hope of making them go away) is not a good look at all. My guess is everyone reading this has been ghosted professionally and/or personally at some time or another, and we all know it’s a pretty awful feeling.

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You’ll quickly realize as you get older that ghosting is not normal behavior. You can’t ghost your teacher when she gives you an assignment you don’t want to complete. You can’t ghost your parents when they tell you to clean your room. You can’t ghost your future boss who snaps at you for making a mistake on the job. Well, I guess you could ghost them—but each situation would end badly for you.

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How about this approach instead? Pull Ashley aside and say, “Hey Ashley, I don’t feel comfortable in this friendship right now, and I think we should take a break from hanging out. I’m sorry.” You don’t have to give her a specific reason unless you want to, because these are your personal feelings. (If you do want to give a reason, keep it about your feelings, not her behavior.) Sure, she may get upset, but I truly believe that it won’t be nearly as bad as you think. Plus, you’ll get some great practice with mature confrontation, a skill everyone needs.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I am six months sober and feeling healthier and happier than I have in decades. The first few months were challenging and emotional, but I’m working with my sponsor and a therapist to continue to heal from my traumatic past. A friend of mine recently confronted me about feeling uncomfortable around me in my newfound sobriety. She said she feels as though I am too dependent on her for support and that she doesn’t trust me. I felt betrayed, as this friend has not been a big part of my journey and I thought that our conversations had remained friendly and casual. Is it normal for friends who were once drinking buddies to want distance? I was really hurt by what she said, and she made it clear that I would need to apologize and change for our friendship to continue. I’m so used to admitting my faults at this point, but I’m having a hard time not feeling offended by her accusations.

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—Sober in Solitude

Dear Sober,

Congratulations on your newfound sobriety. Your question hits me right in the feels because I’m four years sober and counting, and it’s easily the best thing I’ve ever done for myself. It looks as if you feel the same way.

Let’s talk about your “friend” for a minute. It’s pretty obvious to me that she’s projecting her insecurities onto you in an effort to make you feel as if you’re at fault. Of course, I don’t know the whole story, but if your situation is anything like mine was, I lost a few friends who thought I was too sanctimonious in my sobriety (I wasn’t). Hell, I was that guy who offered to be the designated driver so my friends could have a drink or two and know they’d get home safely. Sadly, it wasn’t enough for some of them.

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Is this “friend” the kind of person you want in your life? You’ve evolved and become a happier person—and if she’s not screaming from the rooftops saying how proud she is of you, then she can hit the bricks. I’ve always believed that our truest friends are the ones who show up for us in our happiest moments and in our darkest moments. It looks like she’s striking out on both counts.

Instead of apologizing to her, you should thank her for showing you her true colors. Real friends will be there for you no matter what.

—Doyin

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My daughter’s teacher recently told me that my daughter is a great student, eager to learn, and very fun to have in class. But he also mentioned that he often asks her to partner with difficult students in class. When I asked my daughter about this, she said that these difficult students are often boys that don’t pay attention and don’t really want to be in the class. It seems wrong to saddle her with this. What should I do?

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