Thursday, September 1, 2011

Doctors, Lawyers, Indian Chiefs...and Manners

You may not be old enough to remember the 1945 song Doctor, Lawyer, Indian Chief by Charmichael and Webster. The piece aired way before my time, too. Yet somehow, the title popped up periodically throughout my childhood, and I’ve never forgotten it.

One line of the song states, “No one loves you like I do.” Of course, it’s referring to romantic love, but lovers hardly have a monopoly on the phrase. From the second my children were born, I’ve thought and said that exact same thing. What mother hasn’t?

Mothers possess the innate gift of nurture. Sometimes, however, that nurturing can warp into indulgence toward our children. Parents can excuse behaviors that should never be tolerated. Backtalk. Insolence. I remember many years ago when one mother brought her 4-year-old to my house. I said a happy hello to the kid, and she spit at me. Without offering an apology, the mother laughed. “Oh, kids will be kids.”

Well, if that’s the reasoning, let’s admit what we really mean: kids will be devils. Yes, by nature, they don’t need much prodding to cheat, steal or lie. Humans are born without manners. But they can—and need—to be taught.

The busy-ness of today can overwhelm a mother of young children. I encourage you to step back, take a breath, and evaluate what’s important. Think ahead, five, ten, twenty years. How do you want others to perceive your child’s character? How seriously should you take the concept of good manners? How many manners should they learn? Which ones are most important? Shaking hands? Looking a person in the eye when talking? Waiting for the dinner hostess to sit first? Remembering their pleases and thank yous? Opening doors for others?

And what about social intelligence? Should little Mary learn to make exchanges in conversations, or be allowed dominate them? The nonstop talker. I’m sure you’ve met one.

Every once in a while, I check the mirror. How are my manners?

Like me, my children are in process. I’m always seeking ways to demonstrate honor toward others, and I want the same for my kids. I control their development whether I admit it or not. What I teach them—and what I do not teach them—all affects their future. Training starts the moment they can talk and walk.

During the few years my family relied on food stamps, I never thought about entertaining kings or dignitaries. But I did teach my young ones good etiquette, as if they were in the company of nobles. What if someday down the road my children were to stand in front of the Queen of England? How should they act? Their futures were yet unwritten, and I had some serious beginning chapters to write.

I had no idea when my son was born that at age 16 his volunteer job would lead him to interview Chiefs. Corporate executives, Chief Information Officers, Chief Executive Officers, Chief Operations Officers, etc. How could I have known that while my son attended film school in California that the owner of the San Diego Padres would invite him to stay at his house and shoot a documentary on a life-threatening illness…at age 21? My son is socially equipped to treat all people with equal respect and honor.

And my daughter? No way on Earth did I know that my strong-willed 3-year-old would one day fly 10,000 miles to Tanzania, Africa. At age seventeen, in a remote village, she sat across from twelve Maasai elders carrying staffs and machetes and discussed the opening of a medical clinic. My teenager confidently shook the hands of twelve solemn, revered chiefs and later made friends with a Maasai warrior. How cool!

How unexpected. Unforeseen.

Instill good manners while your children are young because you never know. Your little Bobby might someday dine with doctors, lawyers, and chiefs.

(Here is one source of ideas to get you started:

Julie Marx is wife to Texas Health Resources Chief Information Officer Ed Marx and mother of two well-mannered kids.


  1. Excellent points! I definitely respond better to those students who "yes, ma'am" me.

  2. Great article, one every parent should ingest. Parenting didn't come with a handbook, but we can learn from the valuable experiences of others.