Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Courtesy in Mother Culture

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.

Taking Care
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.”

Old-fashioned Manners
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. 

Post Script

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,
Karen Andreola 


  1. An excellent post Karen...thank you for sharing these words of wisdom!
    Beautiful fall leaves, the ones here in the Northwest are still quite green, with only a little brown!


  2. Your leaves ARE spectacular already!
    This is a lovely and encouraging post. In viewing the "child as a person", courtesy is essential. Without it, the atmosphere of home will be lacking to say the least. My boys are learning about courtesy this year via George Washington's rules in Civility and Decency - his 'old-fashioned manners are refreshing'!

  3. I have always said that training definitely begins at home. It is here where I am able to focus on what they are not doing correctly. It is not easy, but it is something that is important.

    Thank you so much for sharing Karen! And yes, your first quote is just perfect :-)


  4. The description of love in I Cor 13 is so helpful in reminding me to exercise this way of being.

    Karen, your description of Mr. Wickham reminded me of Eddie Haskel from Leave it to Beaver.

    The pumpkin patch is enchanting!


  5. Karen, your post is nicely written, as you say, you "snipped at the paragraphs...", it came out well sewn together.
    Mutual courtesy is essential to "the invisible work of atmosphere." Well said. It is too easy to snap at the children that they need to show better manners, when it really starts with mom. And when we are all being gracious and gentle together, how pleasant that is! thank you for the reminder.

  6. I picked up the same Trumbull book at our local used bookshop for a dollar. It's been sitting on my bookshelf for a year now. Guess I should read it! :)

    Thanks as always Karen.


  7. A few years ago I learned that Henry Clay Trumball was Elisabeth Elliot's grandfather.

    I agree with what you have said and find encouragement in it to keep on with the younger set in our family. We have seen the fruit of this in our older children...


  8. Karen,

    Thank you for the encouraging post. You have such a gift with words. I love the characters that you chose to illustrate your different points. They were perfect!

    Your leaves are gorgeous! The pumpkins pictures and grandson pictures are lovely too!


  9. Karen, I was so deep in thought about courtesy and trying to teach my little one that I forgot to comment on your sampler!! It is so beautiful! It is a great reminder to each of us!
    You stitch beautifully! It looks really nice with your wall color!!

  10. Dear Karen -
    Another lovely post. All of your thoughts about courtesy were well-thought out and so very true. Courtesy has always seemed to me to simply be an extension of love. What we are called to do and to be. I think you show this to be the case with your examples. Thank you so much for sharing this.
    Also, I want to tell you that I simply love the photograph of your grandsons - that is such a sweet and beautiful picture! I can only imagine how much joy they give you and Dean. Second, your sampler is simply perfect, Karen. And I couldn't agree more that the Golden Rule is a wonderful and most necessary principle for married life. If only I could have it emblazoned on my heart and never forget it!
    Blessings to you and your family -

  11. Your posts are like dessert. I save them for a quiet minute when I can savor them.
    The Lord is good, because I really needed this reminder today. We've been on the go too much lately, and everyone is tired and even the little ones have frazzled nerves. This mommy needs to remember to set the example of courtesy to my children, instead of using exhaustion as an excuse to be grumpy myself.
    The sampler is lovely. From what I've seen in pictures of your sweet home, I wish I could replicate it!
    Blessings to you, and Dean. I never commented in the earlier post, but I've been praying for his health, and recovery.

  12. Thank you, Karen, for the timely post. I've been working through _Hints on Child Training_ and just last night finished copying some thoughts from that chapter into my reading journal.

  13. Your post brightened my day. Why? I had a doctor's visit today and was very much scrutinzed over my choice to homeschool and how many children I had.

    So much more than math and reading are taught at home. I have a sincere interest, and I heartily want my children to be good Not only in their education but also their soul. I need to oversee their manners constantly as they are growing up. This post only too well reminded me of that.

  14. Beautiful post, adorable grandsons,thank you Karen.I well remember our oldest son who is profoundly deaf,saying to me upon his arrival home from school,that Mommy has a sad face when he arrives home.He was about 7 years old at the time.He thought I was sad about him . He proceeded to sign to me that Mommy is always happy when other people arrive at our home.It was a wake-up call for me. My kindnesses to others were not the same as to my own dear family.I thank God for that event,it changed my life."Out of the mouths of babes".I truly appreciate this posting Karen, may God bless you and your dear family.Dawn E. Brown

  15. Thank you for joining in the discussion, Ladies.
    I am touched by your honest sharing.

    The Man-of-the-House can do an impression of Eddie Haskel from Leave it to Beaver. It was a cleverly written television program.

    When Nigel read portions of Blackberry Inn while he was illustrating it he told me,
    "Mom, you made the kids too good."
    "My children were pretty good for the most part," I told him.

    I do remember how tiring a certain 4-yr-old little girl could be, however, who liked trying new experiences she had to have guessed were naughty. I wasn't laughing then but I was laughing when I reminded this certain daughter of what she did when, just this week, she described to me over the telephone the mischief her little boy had gotten into. He dumped the entire box of fish food into their large fish tank. The day before he found that a pile of breakfast cereal makes for satisfying crunching under bare feet. He gets into mischief when she is pumping. She has been pumping her milk (hence the bottle in the photograph) for four months because Baby only cries when nursing and won't stay latched. Her little boy has had practice this week in saying "sorry."
    I enjoy our visits,
    Karen A.

  16. Karen,

    I was just reading my Bible this morning and this passage jumped out to me in relation to this post.

    Titus 3:2 ESV
    to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.

    What a great reminder!

    Love, Heather

  17. Oh Karen, we love all the same books. Wonderful first quote. We can do our duty but with what attitude? Love is what changes drudgery to something joy-filled. As you said at the bottom of the post, do unto others, as you would have them do unto you. If we loved the way we want to be loved, then we would do our duty beautifully. Clarice

  18. Thank you for this encouragement to be not weary in well doing.... I was feeling frustrated yesterday that my children seem to joy in knocking the wind out of their sibling's sails. Common (maybe not so common today) courtesy will be woven into our lesson's in the days to come...for the children and their "teacher."

  19. Thank you for another inspiring and challenging post. I need to re-read Mr. Trumball's book. What a gem.