THERE WE are with a nice, fresh school year coming up. Please get out your notebooks. Miss Manners is certain that this year, if you really try, you will do well, and we will be able to wipe out the unfortunate record of what happened last year.
Parents -- please pay attention. Miss Manners is addressing you.
And while Miss Manners does not want to seem to be picking on any one particular group all the time -- it being her ideal to pick on everyone equally -- she has noticed that parents who are the most eager to help, bless their kind hearts, are among the worst offenders. You show Miss Manners a parent who is deeply, emotionally involved in a child's success at school, and Miss Manners will show you a troublemaker.
That is not to say that your Miss Manners is coming out in favor of child neglect. Interest, respect and attention in the occupations of your loved ones, from their triumphs to their personal problems, is one of the constant duties family members owe to one another, and the child's career of schooling should be considered to be of top-ranking importance in this respect.
But something happens to people who take a decent interest in the gainful employment of adult relatives -- sympathizing with ups and downs, supplying confidence when the going is rough and recognition when it has not been sufficiently bestowed officially -- when it comes to their children.
If a wife comes home from work and tells the family at dinner what happened that day, is she immediately cut off by everyone else present with lectures based on their knowledge, however vague, of her field?
And yet a child who meekly volunteers something like, "We studied the Declaration of Independence today" will find he has irrevocably surrendered the floor to grown-ups who consider this an opening to tell everything they know, and a great deal that they have forgotten, on this subject or anything remotely related to it. The simple courtesy of replying, "Oh, really? What did you discuss?" and then listening, with an occasional question or comment indicating that the material is important and that the child may have acquired something interesting to say on it, is almost unheard of.
Husbands and wives do not generally write each other's professional reports. However much they may advise and contribute, they usually assume that the person with the responsibility also has the competence. This may not always be true in the case of a child, but proof that a 35-year-old can turn in a better paper than an 8-year-old does not do much to advance the purpose of education.
The motive, of course, is to help the child capture the greatest rewards of his situation. A parent who is willing to do homework is therefore under an obligation to keep it up through graduate school.
Unfortunately, academic success, even when a child achieves it unassisted, is rarely appreciated at home. The child who comes home with four A's and a B may be sure that no one will ever say, "Four A's! That's terrific!" The conventional remark seems to be a sour, "How'd you get that B?" as if the child were the first in his family line to fall short of universal perfection.
It gives children a lot to live up to, of course, when they find that their parents already know everything they can learn, can perform better at their tasks, and would never settle for anything short of perfection. It also gives them the idea that, given the statistical possibilities, it is hardly worth their while to try. MISS MANNERS RESPONDS
Q: My boyfriend lives in a distant city. His mother invited me to stay in their home for the weekend, during which my boyfriend's birthday would be celebrated. I accepted.
An older friend thinks that Miss Manners would say that my boyfriend's mother should have discussed the invitation with my mother before extending it to me. Though I think he is a bit old-fashioned, even he is unsure whether Miss Manners would further require that I stay with a female friend of my boyfriend's family, or whether it is permissible for me to stay in the home of my boyfriend.
I am a college senior. As a modern young woman, I have no wish to be shackled by the outmoded customs of an older generation. But I want to avoid unpleasantness with my father, who thinks my staying in my boyfriend's home is "chasing him." And I do want to do what is socially correct by Miss Manners' sensible standards. Please advise.
A: Oh, dear. If only you had omitted that dreadful sentence about not wishing to be shackled by the outmoded customs of an older generation. You see -- well, Miss Manners does not know quite how to tell you this, as she does not wish to shock you, but you are behaving properly. There is no need to insult tradition, especially when it is on your side.
It was perfectly correct for your friend's mother to invite you; she, of course, assumes that you will discuss the invitation with your mother. (Please don't tell your hostess or Miss Manners if you have not.) And with such a chaperone as the boy's mother, you may certainly pay a proper visit.
What you are actually doing is visiting an older woman friend who happens to have a son you like. Modern, indeed! The most sheltered Victorian girl would have known enough to put it to her papa that way. "Chasing" is when such a lady is unaware that you will be doing so until you show up on her doorstep.