Courtesy in Mother Culture
“Duty makes us do things well but love makes us do them beautifully.” Phillips Brooks
When I read the above quotation earlier in the year I automatically related it homemaking. I saved it for an opportune time to attach to a post that would do it justice. I thought of many tangible examples, which are lovely in themselves, but settled on an intangible one. It was when I opened my copy of Hints on Child Training that the time-honored ideas on courtesy made their appeal. They made a good fit. Feeling persnickety I added, subtracted and snipped at paragraphs all week. This article is the result. I hope you will find it uplifting.
A Mother Who Values Courtesy
A mother who values courtesy is more likely to enjoy her children. Mutual courtesy helps create a pleasant home atmosphere. A mother models courtesy. She expects acts of courtesy in return: little acts from little children, bigger acts from bigger children.
Surrounding the day’s lessons and chores is the invisible work of atmosphere. A mother respects her children’s curious minds and youthful energy. In return her children are to respect and honor her wisdom and guidance. A child’s chores and lessons go smoothly with the discipline of habit. But his way-of-life is an outgrowth of mutual courtesy.
A Multitude of Petty Sacrifices
It’s been said that, fine manners and true politeness are the result of good breeding and are made up of a multitude of petty sacrifices. A home teacher is familiar with self-sacrifice. Although it is required of her she isn’t very conscious of it. She serves her family out of duty and love hour-by-hour without measuring. Do not grow weary in this well-doing young mother. Over time you will enjoy the fruits of your labor.
Courtesy in Mother Culture is a principle I held in the back of mind while my children and I carried out the business of the day. I tried to be firm but kind. And, like mothers have been doing for centuries, I took care to teach my young children manners. They learned “please and thank-you.” I also placed an emphasis on cheerful “hellos and goodbyes.” I like how Henry Clay Trumbull puts it in his book Hints on Child Training:
“In order to be courteous, a child must have a care to give due deference to others, in his ordinary salutations and greetings, and in his expression of thanks for every kindness or attention shown to him.”
Are you impressed with the manners in the period dramas like I am? Old-fashioned manners are a refreshing oasis in our modern world of coarseness. To give my children at least have a taste of formality when they were older we began watching period films. But have you noticed? Not all the characters in a period film that have manners also have courtesy. I think of flirtatious Miss Blanche in Jane Eyre. She is a good example of what is referred to by Mr. Trumbull:
“Attractiveness of personal appearance, gracefulness in [carriage], tastefulness in dress, elegance in manners, and carefulness in word and tone of voice, may, indeed, all be found where there is no true courtesy. . .”
Jane Eyre, on the other hand, is not stunning. She dresses neatly and even when she has the financial freedom she cares not for high fashion. Unlike Miss Blanche, Jane is unselfishly thoughtful of others. She is given over to those with whom she converses, listening quietly and questioning with a true interest to their answers. She says kind words because she feels kindly. When Jane overhears Blanche and her mother’s depreciating comments about governesses, spoken in the very room where Jane is sitting, she is hurt. This is because the words come from those who are not courteous.
Another character knows how to mind his manners. Mr. Wickham of Pride and Prejudice understands his personal advantage in conforming strictly to etiquette. His manners are on the surface. Because he is self-absorbed rather than self-forgetful, in no circumstances do his manners go deep enough to be called courtesy.
Mr. Bingley, on the other hand, is truly kind. Although, in his station it would be acceptable etiquette for him to appear distant (a proper snob) he is, instead, amiable. His friendliness gives impulse to his generosity and he gives a ball. Mr. Bingley has good manners but cares less for what people think of him and more for giving his neighbors (below his station) pleasure. Courtesy makes him a cheerful man.
Courtesy Isn't Self-conscious
How do we teach children manners with courtesy? It is easier to teach courtesy while children are young and before they enter their self-conscious stage. But at any age we cannot simply tell children to be self-forgetful. It would make them all the more self-conscious. Rather we focus their attentions on serving others. We teach them to sympathize. We teach them not just what it means to spend time with others but what it means to share of ourselves.
In the family circle a children learn to play together, to patiently wait a turn, and to make frank apologies when needed.
“True courtesy involves a readiness to apologize for any and every failure, whether intentional or unintentional,” says Henry Clay Trumbull. “. . . for just as far as one is considerate of the feelings of another will he want to express his regret and that any performance or failure on this part; has been a course of discomfort to another. All this is, of course, a trying matter to a child, and a taxing matter to a parent; but it is to the obvious advantage of both parties.”
Courtesy is Exercised in Community
A child can practice hospitality when guests arrive. Perhaps his courtesy will be toward his grandparents, friends of his parents or friends nearer his own age. What does a playmate enjoy doing? Perhaps a young lady or young man is given the job to entertain young children. When our family was living in England and was invited by new friends for a meal I’ll never forget how the son of the family (of high school age) entertained my little girls (age three and six) after supper. First he tied around his neck a flimsy black cape. Then he brought out a box of plastic paraphernalia. With these he performed a series of magic tricks. I liked to hear how he laughed when he fumbled. He really seemed to be enjoying the job of entertaining. Upon leaving I made sure to whisper in the ears of my little girls to say thank you to the young man. I also instructed them to look into the eyes of their hostess and say, “Thank you for having us.” And if they enjoyed themselves to say also, “I had a good time.”
Small beginnings? Yes, but “from little acorns do great oaks grow.” What I am really getting at is developing character – our duty as parents – but in a lovely way inspired by this post’s quotation. I was so impressed with the young man’s attitude that it was a bright spot of encouragement to me while teaching my children all through their growing years how to be thoughtful of others and hospitable. I’d give them a suggestion or two and then I’d leave them to it.
A Rule Once Learned in School
Our Lord Jesus taught courtesy. I stitched his words both simple yet profound, into a sampler. The linen has an aged appearance and so do the threads. Rather than following the chart by stitching a large lower alphabet in yellow as indicated, I was struck with the idea to replace it with The Golden Rule.
It was stitched as reminder to myself (a good principle for a marriage relationship), and for the eyes of my children and grandchildren. Our Lord knows what makes for joy in His people. And what witnesses His love to the lost. The Golden Rule says it best.
Photographs of our grandsons and of the pumpkin patch were taken by Sophia.
Click to read Dean's review of Hints on Child Training originally published in 1890 -taken from letters of Mr. Trumbull to another father. Reading it as young parents brought us encouragement and direction at a time when we most desired it.
Passages from Hints on Child Training are used with permission.
I took this photograph yesterday. Our leaves are proving to be spectacular this year.
Discussion is invited,