Growing up, on the rare occasions we would go out for dinner, my family and I would invariably encounter a surly waitress. You know the sort: plonks the menu on the table with a sigh, takes your order as if it’s the most boring thing in the world and practically thumps you one when you ask for extra cutlery! I exaggerate but you get the idea.
When this situation arose, my Dad would say something like: “A prize for the person who can crack a smile from the grumpy waitress!” At which point my sister and I would groan, sinking further into our chairs.
Next time the waitress would appear at the table, my Dad would make a comment along the lines of: “Bit busy in here tonight.” Often this would be all it took and we’d watch the waitress relax, her face softening with a small smile.
If she was a tough nut to crack he’d try again. Maybe put a fake snake on the table next time she came around. (You need to know that it’s usual for my father to carry props like this around with him – he has been known to put a glass eyeball on his plate in the hopes of successfully rising a squeal or two!) Or maybe he’d balance a fork on his glass, anything out of the ordinary to get a smile.
If all this failed and our waitress was particularly dour, he would say, with a twinkle in his eye and a cheeky grin: “Are you having a horrible day?” I don’t think I’ve ever seen this technique fail! A comment like this would completely disarm our server and from then on she’d be putty in our hands…and full of smiles!
My Mum was the same. She’d often strike up a quick chat with people here and there as we did our shopping along the high-street. An old man waiting to cross the road for example or the woman in front of us in the check-out queue. She was always, and still is, ready with a smile or a nod. Especially with elderly people. “You should always say hello,” she’d say to me. “You might be the only person they speak to all day.”
As a kid I would find the whole thing hugely embarrassing. I would roll my eyes at both my parents and wish I was invisible. It was mortifying. I didn’t get the point at all.
But as an adult I do get the point and I find myself doing exactly the same thing as my parents. What’s more I do it in front of my children who find it just as insanely embarrassing as I did. “Why do you always talk to the check-out girl!” My daughter will hiss as we leave the supermarket. “Do you know that man at the gas-station?” My son will ask. “I’m just trying to be friendly!” is my reply. Because what harm is it to smile at someone or pass the time of day? It costs nothing but gives so much more.
So as I happily watch my children writhe in humiliation (an unexpected joy of parenting I find) I realise that this is part of my parents’ parenting legacy. As a mother of children still pre-teen, I tend to think of parenting as a relatively short period of time, while my children are living at home and need me to wipe their noses or buy their shoes, but it runs much deeper than that. It’s in everything we do, every decision we make and it lasts a lifetime.
So why not teach them the value of a smile or a friendly hello instead of how to argue over a parking space? Why not teach them the beauty of giving someone the benefit of the doubt instead of rushing to take offence? Why not teach them how to extend a hand to their fellow man rather than how to pick a fight?
What will your parenting legacy be? 🙂