Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Can you Teach Grace?

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


  1. I think you can't really teach grace, just model it and have people around who model it. Grace comes within, but I also do believe children can grow into it. Very interesting question. Good luck, we all need it!

  2. Grace is a tough one--I find that teaching my kids how to be grateful in difficult circumstances is a good start. You lost the game? Be glad you got to play. Don't like dinner? Be glad you get to eat breakfast in the morning. Struggled with math? Makes you appreciate how easy reading is. I try to model this mostly by not being grumpy when things do not go my way.

    Johnny Depp on your slide show? Now I'm all distracted...

  3. @green girl

    You crack me up... gratitude is a wonderful thing. (But being distracted by Mr. Depp?? Priceless.)

    ;D - Julia

  4. Very good questions! I think it comes from a mix of modeling it, outside influences and within. It's something that needs to be there throughout the time, and that needs time to be formed!
    Hope I make sense LOL!

  5. That is an excellent question. A post hasn't made me think like this one in some time. Kudos to you.

    Like the others, I do believe the core of grace is something found within. Think of it like a talent. One might be great at drawing, or singing and exhibit hints of this greatness but until it is nurtured hints are all you get.

  6. Thanks, Chuck. (It's good to see you here.)

    I think you're right about some element of grace coming from within a person. But, I'm coming to think of it the way I think of seeds in my garden. Children have such tremendous potential inside.. but they need fertile ground, water and sun for that potential to bloom.

  7. I like the seed metaphor. Potential itself is a much broader topic than grace though. I think of grace as more of a trait whereas potential is much larger, maybe even limitless.

    I'm not arguing your point. It's just been a long day. :) I hope your holiday weekend is a good one.

  8. I love this post. It is such a thoughtful look at raising children. I've always thought "grace" is a gorgeous word that connotes deeply rich human qualities. In my view, manners are behaviours and can be sincere or artificial. But grace is authentic. It cannot be faked. cgn


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