When Your Kid Uses Their Manners Everywhere But Home

by Mike Julianelle
Originally Published: 

Most of the time, the opinions of other parents don’t matter, because they don’t know. When they criticize your parenting or give you a hard time for what they see as your kid’s bad behavior, it’s easy to dismiss it. After all, they have a small sample size. So you shrug their judgment off.

No one but the people inside your home could possibly know the whole story. No one but you, your partner (should you have one), and your kids are privy to the circumstances of your daily life or the context of your struggles. There is often a big difference between public and private behavior, and almost always a backstory behind that behavior that is impossible to understand without living it. They don’t know your life!

It’s often even easier to ignore praise from other parents for the job you’re doing, or for how polite and well-behaved your kids are, for the exact same reason. There’s almost always more to the story. Your kid may be an angel at their house, or at school, or on the playground. But it’s often a different story at home — at least it is for me.

My kid has great manners. When we go to a friend’s house, or when he’s at school, or even when we visit the lawless hellscape known as Grandma’s house, the dude is a regular goody two-shoes. Well, so long as we’re not around — there’s something about their parents that drive kids crazy. I suspect there are a few reasons for this, including the fact that familiarity breeds contempt, and that one’s parents are a constant reminder of your own future, but there’s one thing that trumps all of that: the power struggle.

Raising children is a constant tug of war for control. Whether they’re just learning to think for themselves at 3 or think they know everything at 13, kids are always bumping up against the limits we set for them and seeing what they can get away with. Every single interaction carries with it the subtext of authority — and the question of who has it.

So your kid may be polite at school or on his best behavior when he’s at a friend’s house for a playdate — so much so that other parents are pointing out to you how well-behaved your darling child is — but you have a different experience. You know that as soon as you walk in the door or get in the car, all the whining, talking back, asking for snacks, and saying no (i.e., all the stuff he’s been holding back from other people) is going to hit you like a fire hose.

It’s not a lot of fun when it happens. I remember when my wife and I returned from a weekend away, and my parents and brother couldn’t stop raving about how well-behaved my little guy had been the whole weekend. We couldn’t wait to get back to him and shower him with praise! But then we walked in the door and he went from teacher’s pet to problem child. Just add parents.

The key is probably to try not to take it personally, and to appreciate the fact that, clearly, you’re doing something right. While he may be a nightmare at home, that can be chalked up to the typical parent/child tug-of-war, and the fact that you’re his mommy and daddy. He knows you’re still going to love him, even after he unleashes the Kraken. Knowing that allows for a little leeway that he isn’t sure he has with other people.

Plus, though it may be frustrating to hear tall tales from other people about your kid being a mild-mannered paragon of courtesy and respect, at least he’s practicing courtesy and respect! Clearly, he’s picking up something from you. Congratulations, you’re doing something right!

It would be nice if those same manners were on display in your house for your benefit, but at least it’s some consolation that your child has retained some of your lessons — even if most of the time your kids are around you, you feel like teaching them a few more.

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