Switching Roles: When My Parents Lost Their Manners

Switching Roles: When My Parents Lost Their Manners


by Andrea Vinley

I’ll never forget the time my parents decided to reverse roles with my brother and me to teach us a lesson. I was 10 and Dick was 8. One evening at dinner, my folks announced that we would be the parents, and they would be the children.

They threw themselves into the role-playing. My father, usually a quiet and polite man, began noisily slurping his food. Dick and I stared aghast, then looked uneasily at Mother, typically the arbiter of table manners.

She offered no help.

“You’re the parents,” she said.

“Stop slurping!” I timidly reprimanded Dad.

He looked at me with the innocent stare of an 8-year-old. “What’s slurping?”

His response temporarily stopped me. I knew what slurping was but, unable to define it, I fell back on parental authority. “Don’t get funny with me, young man!” I commanded, dimly aware of sounding like my mother. “You know what slurping is.”

Mother reached over and speared a meatball off Dad’s plate. “You got more than I did!” she whined.

“Stop that!” Dad stopped slurping and speared it back.

I looked at Dick. Shouldn’t the father have a part in child discipline? But he was snickering at the scene. A lot of help he was!

At that moment, I realized my dad rarely took part in imparting table manners. Either he thought it was Mother’s job or she thought it was. I also realized my brother’s silence was making me the “bad guy” in the eyes of the “children.” What new thoughts.

Then Dad began singing some jolly song, his mouth open and full of food. Again I looked at Dick. If he wasn’t going to say anything, I wasn’t going to either.

Food fell out of Dad’s open mouth. That was too much for Dick. “We don’t sing at the table,” he announced, and then added hastily, “unless we all sing.”

“Let’s all sing!” my mother proposed, beaming.

“Not now,” I replied. “The food will get cold.” I cast an accusing look at my brother. “You didn’t have to add the part about us all singing.”

He immediately became defensive. “What’s wrong with that? It’s true.”

I opened my mouth, then closed it. Dick and I were supposed to be the parents, but we were arguing like children. It occurred to me that I could not remember either of my parents ever correcting the other in front of us. This parenting thing wasn’t so easy.

In a huff, Dad threw down his cloth napkin, which landed in the food on his plate. He shoved back his chair, and it crashed over backward. My brother and I started giggling. Not even stopping to put the chair back up, Dad stomped loudly across the floor toward the front door, saying, with his mouth still full, “I’m gonna go play with Chuck!”

By this time, we were laughing hysterically, but I managed to say, “Come back here. You didn’t even excuse yourself!”

Dick, struggling through his laughter, said, “And you didn’t finish cleaning your plate.”

More in control now, I added, “Pick up that chair, sit on it and finish your supper.”

Dad flung himself into the chair and frowned ferociously. “A kid can’t do anything around here. And besides, I hate peas.” “If you don’t eat ’em,” Dick chimed in, “you don’t get any dessert — and it’s apple pie.”

The role reversal taught my brother and me an impressive lesson. We got a parents’ eye view and realized how wearying parenthood can be if kids don’t cooperate. We also got a vivid picture of how gross bad table manners appear to onlookers.

Someone once said, “It is not necessary to be a pig to raise one.” Nagging us about table manners usually fell on our deaf ears. But my parents’ piggy method was certainly a fun, memorable way of learning the value of good manners.

Betty Garton Ulrich is a freelance writer in Stone Lake, Wis., a mother of five and a grandmother of one.

This article appeared in Focus on the Family Magazine, September 2005.

This article appeared in Focus on the Family magazine.
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