I have been raising children for eight years now. Through every age and phase my children have undergone, I have struggled to teach them grace and politeness. To me, they're not exactly the same thing, and I've found I need to continually adjust my teaching to suit each child's age and temperament.
Grace can mean charm or beauty of form, a pleasing or attractive quality, or good will. It can also indicate moral strength. For me, a person has grace who is capable of being circumspect in a difficult situation and acting in the way that is best for all involved. There is a certain element of elegant benevolence to a graceful person, like Cary Grant in an old movie.
Grace is something I aspire to have, and sometimes succeed, when a quick temper doesn't get in my way. It is a quality my mother has and other, more long-lived, much-loved relatives have possessed. It is also something I would love to foster in my children.
Good manners, on the other hand, is simply appropriate behavior in a variety of situations. It is knowing what is expected in a certain situation and doing it. Teaching good manners can involve teaching good behavior at the table, how to handle introductions in social situations, special words like please and thank you, and how to avoid offending others.
Because manners are concrete behaviors, they are easy to teach and relatively easy to model. (Even though we all slip up once in a while.) But, I find grace to be a much more difficult quality to encourage in my children. Maybe that's because I can model all the graceful behavior I can muster, but ultimately my child is in charge of how he or she reacts to a given situation.
Recently, our family read a truly appealing chapter book called Gone-Away Lake. It's an older book, but we simply loved it. The main characters are children who explore through the woods and meet a pair of very graceful older friends, Pindar and Minnehaha, who live as hermits in a dilapidated resort community. As the children spend their summer listening to the pair's stories from long ago, they begin to adopt some of the graceful mannerisms and behaviors of their elder hosts at Gone-Away Lake.
The book makes me wonder whether the best way for children to learn grace is simply to be around people who possess that quality. I have tried to make time for my own children to spend with the oldest generation of our family, with great grandparents, and great, great uncles and aunts. Last year, we spent time with my Great Aunt Eleanor, who passed away a few weeks ago at age 98. This summer, we made time to spend with my own grandmother, who in turn passed away a couple of weeks after our visit. While I'm glad I could share these much-loved relatives with my children (and share my children with them, too), their passing makes me realize how vital it is to make every moment count as I raise my family, especially when I want my kids to absorb the lessons and experience our oldest generation provides.
Now that they're gone, I wonder what examples of charming, elegant grace remain?
So, here is my question to you readers. How do you teach grace? Do you think it is something that comes from within? Or do you make opportunities for you children to 'absorb' good qualities from the graceful people in your life? Where else might I look for examples to enrich my children's understanding of graceful living?
- Midwest Mom