Motherhood

How to Raise a Gracious Kid

How to Raise a Gracious Kid

When I asked my two kids about graciousness, their answer surprised me…


Sometimes I get to work a soup-kitchen shift with my 20-year-old son. Every time a guest thanks him for serving up their rice and lentils, he smiles and says “My pleasure!” And every time he smiles and says “My pleasure!” my baggy chest splits open and my ridiculous heart bursts out of it. Oh, this lovely, long-haired, gracious man-child! “I think our kids saying ‘My pleasure’ might be the actual best thing in my life right now,” I say to my husband, who says neither, “That’s because you’re a total loser,” nor, “Our same kids who left a mysterious Taco Bell bag in the refrigerator for three weeks before you exasperatedly threw it away?” He just smiles and says, “I know what you mean.”

“Courteous, kind, pleasant,” is the dictionary definition of gracious, which sounds so beigely insipid, like your life’s purpose is the making and eating of oatmeal. But to me, the word has always held a special quality — a kind of warm expansiveness — maybe because of the grace at its root. Graciousness makes me picture a kind of plush red carpet rolling out in front of everybody as they move through the world. It’s what makes it easier on people to be helped, especially people who are dependent on you: babies, children, sick folks, old folks, guests you’re hosting or people in need. It’s what makes it easier on people to help you. It communicates how much other people, and their efforts, their very being, matter (so much). It’s my British mother and New-York-Jew father still saying “Thank you, my darling” to each other — for the cup of tea, the front section of the newspaper, a steady hand on the small of a back, this plate of spaghetti — after 55 years of marriage.

When I asked my own kids about graciousness, they said that we’d basically given them various all-purpose scripts to follow, which made it easier to improvise as they grew up. (Who knew?) This is what they came up with:

Being helpful:
“What can I do to help?”
“Should I put my plate in the dishwasher / grate this parmesan cheese / set the table?”
“I’d be happy to.”
“My pleasure!”
“You’re so welcome.”

Asking for help:
“Help, please!” #thebabyversion
“Do you have a minute to help me brainstorm this email / clean up this cat barf / figure out if these clothes still fit?”
“I’d be so grateful if. . . .”
“I could really use a hand.”

Noticing efforts on your behalf:
“You made me my favorite lasagna / granola / lunch!”
“Ahhh, you signed my permission slip / renewed my library books / washed my uniform.”
“I’m so excited about the trip / the concert you got tickets to / the movie you’re taking me and my friends to see!”

Being grateful:
“I’d love that.”
“That was exactly what I needed.”
“I really enjoyed dinner / that play / our time with you!”
“This is so incredibly helpful.”
“Thank you so much for having us / for doing that / for giving me this.”

Taking responsibility:
“I’m so sorry.”
“Oof. That hurt you. I can see why.”
“Can I do anything to make it better? Do you need a hug? An ice pack?” (Please note that this has been parlayed by my children into their comedic stock response to me being hurt or sad: “Do you need a band aid? Should I drive you to the ER?” they say, after they climb into my bed and accidentally scratch my shin half off with their terrible toenails. But it does always make me laugh.)

Of course, being gracious doesn’t look the same across families or cultures. (An Iranian friend just told me how insulted her family would be if the kids sent thank-you notes for gifts.) It doesn’t mean you never say no or that you don’t protect yourself from unreliable people or leering men (I have especially tried to teach our daughter this). It doesn’t mean you don’t yell at a protest or stand up to injustice. But it does means making people’s lives easier and better where you can. Spreading a little love and light and [cringe] pleasantness.

And the truth is? These are the same behaviors we’ve practiced with our kids, too. We’ve said, “Good morning, my love!” when the baby opened her eyes, when the cranky toddler staggered in groaning like a dinosaur, when the teenagers limped downstairs under the crushing weight of their backpacks. We smiled into the grubby face we were wiping, at the person whose quesadilla we were cutting up with scissors, whose temperature we were taking, whose college essay we were proofreading. We thanked them for the slobbery kiss, the bite of their fettuccini alfredo, taking a walk with us in the woods when we asked, bringing their dishes to the sink, being so patient with their grandparents. We apologized for interrupting their game when it was time to go, for forgetting that they hated celery, for not listening well enough when they were telling us something that mattered, for being impatient. We asked if they had a minute to please help us with the salad, the guest bed, this financial app, the driving. We put down our phones to greet them when they came home from school. We still do.

We don’t say, “Thank you for being these beautiful people in our lives.” We just imply it daily.


Catherine Newman is the author of Catastrophic Happiness and the upcoming How to Be a Person, a guide for kids and teenagers.

P.S. 21 completely subjective rules for raising teenage boys, 21 completely subjective rules for raising teenage girls and how to teach kids about consent.

(Illustration by Abbey Lossing for Cup of Jo.)

  1. Very well said, thanks for sharing!

  2. Kim B. says...

    Thank you for this article, which brought prickly tears to my eyes.
    I’m working on graciousness, which also means I’m working on patience. A lack of patience with my kids and their demands seems to imply that my time is worth more than theirs.
    My first step toward this started last week when I turned off the data and wifi on my smart phone.
    I’m still not great at answering little requests with grace – “I’m BUSY! You’ll have to wait a second.”
    Oof. Thanks for this lovely exploration of why gracious parenting matters. My father was always the gracious one at home, and it brought a steadiness and reliable love to our family.

    • Monika says...

      Kim, I’m the same! I could have written this exact comment, I still struggle daily with impatience and being short with my kids. But I reckon intent is half the battle, with follow through as the other half. So at the very least, we’re halfway there!

  3. Darcy says...

    It’d be so nice if we could start seeing entries like this, about having lovely, pleasant manners, from fathers.

  4. Alexandra says...

    This is so spot on and I hope my one day children are gracious and polite. I am a teacher and I have encountered many who sadly lack any manners or respect for others and it makes me so sad. On the other hand, children who are polite and courteous are a joy to teach and make me hopeful of the kind of child I would like to raise. It’s the small things like a little thank you on the way out of a lesson that make a huge difference to your day.

  5. Kathleen says...

    This is the key to building a kind world. Essential. Thank you.

  6. Christina says...

    Respect and manners have always been important to me, but as I think about how I want to raise my four-week old daughter, the timing of this post couldn’t be better.

    My husband and I often say ‘can I get you anything’ when we get up, and I love that. I want my daughter to have that consideration for others, happy to do things for people, gracious when someone does something for her. I’ve shared this post around for others. I love this blog!

  7. Sophie says...

    Perhaps one of my favorite CoJ posts to date. Beautiful writing, every bit of it, and the sentiment so lovely — my mom raised me this way and I see it in my parenting now too. Thank you for this. ♥️

  8. I could not love this more!!!! Delightful.
    -Thank you

  9. Every single word – lovely.

  10. Ugh, I just loved reading all of this. I actually heard her tone, calm and happy and grounded. Thank you for sharing these beautiful sentiments and inspiration.

  11. Ingrid Mc Quillan says...

    When my little boy Ezrä goes to the Poo 💩 and he needs a little assistance
    When he is fin and I have assisted; he says your welcome it always makes me giggle I get what he is trying to say and it’s a little absurd for them say when wiping their butt cheeks ( Ezrä s phrase ) your welcome 😂

  12. This is simply beautiful. I also love the language suggestions. I’m bookmarking this so I can come back to it often.

  13. Sara says...

    Oh oh oh, this was such a lovely read. The “why” behind the questions, the manners, the replies… that taking the time to make someone else’s way a little easier is worth the effort. <3

  14. anne says...

    I have a toddler and THEY ARE WATCHING! AND LISTENING!

    One day when I recently dropped something and said, “Oh Fudge!” (but I didn’t say fudge) he repeated it perfectly, complete with facial expression and intonations :/ BUT I took comfort in a following day when he bumped my knee with a toy. My “ouch!” was met with a swift kiss on the knee. I also got a little choked up reading her “good morning my love!” I always ask my husband if he slept well and extend the question to my son who recently began to really speak, and turned to me this morning to ask, “sleep well, mama?” <3

    • sara says...

      oh! so sweet <3

  15. Claire says...

    Every time my mom dropped me off at a friend’s house, or my grandparents’, she would say ” Be gracious.” I think in the moment she was telling me not to complain about whatever they were serving for dinner that night, but I’ll never forget that simple piece of advice.

  16. Mary says...

    I love this! I think if I’m asked what type of parent I am, I will be answering with “I am a Cup-of-Jo-kind-of-mom”. I’ve learned so much about motherhood from CoJ even before I became a mom myself. Toby was just a baby when I stumbled upon this wonderful site. I became a first time mom in 2016 and this has helped so much, especially the Motherhood Around the World series.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      oh my gosh, that means so, so much to me, mary! thank you for your incredibly sweet comment.

  17. Jen says...

    Sometimes I wish your articles had a “love it!” Button :)

    • Brooke says...

      Jen, I love this. Yes all the hearts for this. Catherine’s writing reminds me of all the books that keep me up all night reading because they are so human, gorgeous and textured. The kind of writing that make you feel less alone. Between Catherine, Kim, and Caroline’s writing, it feels luscious around here. ;)

  18. Sarah says...

    Real Simple is the only magazine I still subscribe to in print, and when my copy arrives each month I flip immediately to Catherine’s “Modern Manners” two-page spread in the center of the magazine. Her advice is always spot-on, and it was a pleasure reading her writing on my favorite blog! Thank you!

    • Kim says...

      Oh, this is Catherine from Real Simple?! I love her column. No wonder this was so good.

  19. Rae says...

    yes yes yes yes yes
    And, thank you for your beautiful, supportive writing. : )

  20. jdp says...

    love love love love. thank you.

  21. Kim says...

    Love this – bookmarking those scripts.

  22. Angella says...

    HELP. Does Abbey Lossing sell prints? I would LOVE LOVE LOVE to have this Illustration on the wall in my office. I don’t see anything on her Instagram page.

  23. MB says...

    Oh wow, thank you for this. Just what I needed today, she articulates parenthood so beautifully.

  24. Emily says...

    I’m so happy to see Catherine’s writing. I have distributed her advice on teenage boys to countless friends-none who could get through it with a dry eye, it’s that beautiful.

    So much of what she is writing about here comes down to basic manners, which at their core, are really about acknowledging others. I see two mindsets when it comes to basic manners with children. I see one method of parenting that doesn’t urge a child to say please and thank you if that isn’t comfortable for the child. I personally subscribe to the other mindset-which is that please and thank you, taught early, evolve into graciousness and gratitude. Since my child could speak, he has been reminded to say please and thank you, to make eye contact, to acknowledge others and to engage with humans (not just the ones he knew but also, the person bagging our groceries or taking his money or handing him a hot chocolate or a plate of food at a restaurant, etc.). I’ve seen an evolution in him to a near-teen who makes eye contact, is friendly to most people, can self advocate and who sees others. Does he still need some reminding in the home to clear his plate and ask what he can do to help? Of course! But I’m so confident that he goes into the world with a kindness and grace that began in those tiny moments of learning please and thank you.

    I do think this level of engagement can be more difficult for shy children, from what I have observed, but I would imagine it’s as important for shy people to connect to those around them as it is for the extroverts.

    Please more from Catherine and THANK YOU for introducing her to me in this space. xo

    • Amy says...

      Brilliant and beautifully said. I couldn’t agree more! It is one of my greatest parenting accomplishments hearing my very little one say ‘peas’ and ‘thank you mama’ on his own. I surely hope this helps set a solid foundation for kindness :)

  25. Al says...

    Such a nice post! What I have taken from this post, among the intended advice, is what a beautiful relationship Catherine seems to have built with her adult children. As I am entering adulthood and have recently moved back to my hometown (and back into a life where I see my parents on more than just holidays) post college, we are working to build this type of gracious, casual, trusting, adult relationship. I left home a kid and came back an (almost) fully formed adult and they missed it all and now we are trying to get to know each other again. I see it when my super woman mom sets aside an evening to go out for coffee, just us, and when my dad doesn’t give me instructions on the drive home (gasp!), trusting me to get there on my own. I am so excited to get to that place, because the parent-child relationship never ends, it just changes and morphed and grows and I am so ready to get there.

  26. Anna says...

    I totally get the cultural thing! I’m mixed race and was raised in a Western environment, and whenever I thank my Chinese relatives out of habit I’m always told “family don’t thank each other” – being gracious is just something that is expected, and appreciation is shown through action not words.

  27. J. says...

    Oh, I loved this so much.

    My mom is the most gracious person I’ve ever known, and though she’s an introverted person, she lives it loudly–she truly SEES people, and greets everyone with such warmth and, more importantly, with such honor. She’s the one whose ‘thank yous’ carry such weight, who quietly buys Christmas gifts for the custodians, who befriends the mailman and hotel staff, who wakes up early to give a loaf of fresh-baked homemade bread to the men who come collect the garbage, who within a few minutes is laughing with flight attendants and waitresses.

    My favorite thing is to watch how people light up when they feel the gift of her respect, full attention, sincere gratitude, curiosity and smile (not least because I know what it’s like to be on the receiving end!)– especially people to whom much of the world doesn’t always honor or pay respect. I didn’t come up with this phrase, but I think she truly sees people with her heart and not with her eyes. I’m so grateful for her and this magical quality she doesn’t even realize is something so special about her (no matter how many times I tell her!).

    • Caitrin says...

      Man that’s so beautifully inspiring – thank you for sharing. Your mom sounds like a special lady.

  28. Nina says...

    I try not to help my kids too much because I want them to be independent. But, now that they are 6, I find that they are no more independent than other kids (less sometimes), and that they are not conditioned to help each other because they are so used to me saying, “do it yourself.” I would LOVE any advice from the wonderful people that follow this blog. Anyone? HELP!!!

    • Rae says...

      It’s not too late to try something new and see how it goes! Your 6 year olds still have years and years to learn from you. In fact, they are old enough that you can discuss it, right? Tell them that you have noticed they are developing good independence but as a family you want to all be more helpful to others. Ask them to remind you and you can remind them. Parenting goals and challenges are ever changing, at least in my house. We all just have to roll with it. Good luck and enjoy those somewhat independent 6 year olds!

    • Kristian says...

      When I taught elementary, I noticed my students had a tendency to say, “I can’t do it, I need help” and sit. And wait. And wait. for the teacher to come
      To help alleviate this habit, I posted a list of strategies/questions, and required students to work through those before they came to me. Those questions were: “Is there a tool to help me? Can I ask a friend? Is there a resource I can look at?”and finally- “Have I asked the teacher?”

      Their ability to do these things didn’t happen overnight, and we had to talk about what these things looked like. What tools were available for them (usually I tried to mention what they could use if needed at the beginning of a project), and I had to have those out in places the kids could reach them AND see them. They wouldn’t think to get the items if they weren’t in view. Who or what are resources? How do you politely ask a peer for help? But just talking about them, and asking kids how they would initiate such conversations really helped.

      I also had a mantra of “don’t watch other people work” and we talked about that, how to help clean up (like, what are things that usually need done, like sweeping or putting cutting scraps in the garbage etc.) or who to ask if you don’t see what you could do. Reading books where characters model this behavior helps or acting them out (as themselves or with dolls and toys).

      Obviously the classroom is different than a home, but I think breaking it down like this can help kids see what to do before asking for help, and when to ask for help. Good luck and hope this was of help.

  29. Alex Peterson says...

    Yayyyyy! I love love love reading Catherine Newman’s writing and I’m so glad you included her here on the blog!

  30. Margot says...

    This made my heart hurt in a good way. I am not always the most gracious person and have resolved to become more gracious. Thank you for the serendipitous primer. I’m also raising a three-year-old and my heart is full-to-bursting thinking he might still be climbing into bed to snuggle in his early adulthood – I’d take that, terrible toenails and all.

    You write with such humor and strong gratitude for the ordinary blessings in your life. I’ll be looking up your books. Thanks for this.

  31. J says...

    Thank you for this beautiful post. Catherine, it is MY pleasure to read about your children. I read Waiting for Birdy a few years ago during a very rough, sleepless period of new parenthood, and your honesty and humor and genuine love for you children come to mind often. It comes as no surprise that your little humans have grown into such gracious adults.

  32. Amy says...

    Oh, I’m so happy to see Catherine Newman here! My kids are around Ben and Birdy’s ages, and I always thank my stars I lucked out and got to be figuring out this parenting thing at the same time Catherine is writing hilarious and true and often heartrending pieces about her journey. I drop everything and read when I see her name anywhere!

    • Kate says...

      I feel exactly the same way! My kids are the same ages and I feel like we have been on this journey together since her early days blogging at Baby Center! Love to read everything she writes!

  33. Lauren says...

    Abbey Lossing’s illustration is lovely as well!

  34. Kristin says...

    This made me extremely happy! Thank you :)

  35. Em says...

    This is so incredibly lovely. Thank you for this, CoJ and Catherine!

  36. Joanna, this reminds me of your long-ago post about intentionally making your eyes light up when your child walks in the room. Choosing to be gracious is, at its root, about making people feel seen and known. When we see someone, we acknowledge their struggle or success, and it’s easy to enter in. I tell my children that good manners, knowing how to be polite -all those old-fashioned, grandmotherly, Cotillion-like things – matter precisely because they give us the tools to interact healthily with everyone around us. To meet their needs and identify our own, in ways that build community rather than isolation.

    • Ginny Early says...

      Also, I want to be clear that I don’t mean AT ALL that I am doing this perfectly or that I have all the answers. Most of the time I feel lost with no answers, and am often astonished at the generosity and grace my children show me. The reminder to look at the people I love, and make my love for them plain on my face, is something I call again and again – it’s had a deep impact on my me!

  37. Alexandra says...

    This is such beautiful advice. But just to be clear, it does not matter how you say it, no one is ever available to clean up the cat vomit. ;-)

    • Lili says...

      Haha! So true!

  38. Kimberly says...

    Catherine Newman is one of my favorite writers! Thank you for having her share this post! I’ve followed her “Ben and Birdy” ever since her daughter was born. Her way with words and her descriptions of motherhood and parenting are achingly beautiful. My son and daughter are close in age with her two children, and I’ve been inspired to be a better mom every time I read her.

  39. patricia blaettler says...

    Every time I walked into the school office of my son’s middle school, all the ladies would look up and say (almost as one) “Sam has such nice manners!”
    That will stay with me always.
    Also, all my kids (adults now) always say “Thanks for dinner, mom.”

    • Emily says...

      My son is also Sam and I’ve had a similar experience. When I was naming him, I wanted a name that felt friendly and kind and Sam fit the bill. I think some names lend themselves to certain characteristics. This comment made me smile.

    • Kathryn says...

      Another mother of a Sam here, and I agree – I chose the name because, for me, it evoked such simple warmth and kindness. And yes, kindness is not such a small act. I’m always beaming inwardly when they receive a compliment on their character or graciousness.

  40. M says...

    I love this article; it was so well written

  41. Elspeth says...

    Beautiful!

  42. Suzyn says...

    I recently watched my teenager put on “the full Christmas morning” opening birthday presents – exclaiming over each gift, getting up to give each friend a giant hug, making everyone at the party feel great. It was so lovely…

  43. CB says...

    Lovely read from a lovely author, thanks COJ for sharing her with us!

  44. Agnes says...

    How to raise a ___ kid. Be a ___ person yourself. Works more often than not :)

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      love this <3

    • Neela says...

      I wish people knew that this isn’t necessarily the case… it’s hard to read advice like this whilst parenting a difficult child when one is definitely the opposite of a difficult person.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      i hear you, neela. that sounds hard.

    • Erin says...

      To Neela: I can see why it is hard to read this advice. But even though modelling the right behavior doesn’t always seem to help, it can’t hurt, and I think that in the long run, something will sink in. I agree that the advice can sound trite, though, and imply, sometimes painfully, that people with ____ children must be ____ people.

    • Neela says...

      <3

    • Kat says...

      OMG, Neela. I hear you! My kids have various neuro-developmental diagnoses, which complicate behaviour, so sometimes I read parenting advice for “typical” kids positioned as if it’s universal and I want to scream. Although I keep those screams internal because I’m modelling polite behaviour. ;)

    • Elly says...

      NAILED IT.

    • jane says...

      @ neela and anyone with difficult kids: I’ve always seen my role in those situations as a call to model optimal behavior, specifically because that is what the moment is trying to teach them: how to behave with awful people. Your response to their terrible behavior will inform them going forward. Even if you flip out – we’re all human, you can apologize for flipping out while reinforcing the correct behavior.

      It’s a super efficient mindfulness practice that brings you back into your job as a parent instead of reacting as a person – which you are not, in that type of situation. Parenting comes before your ego.

      I’ve applied this practice with horrible people at work as well – it almost always works to re-establish a respectful exchange and if not, then I know I’ve shown up as best I can and the ball is in their court.

    • Naomi says...

      Dear Neela,
      Sending love and lots of understanding- and also hope. My son was a very difficult child. I can’t begin to express how hard it was to parent him and also how hard it was to hear/read a steady flow of well meaning advice that just didn’t apply. But, (!) with plenty of gentle support, he has grown into a gracious, empathetic and thoughtful young adult. I hope the same for you and your beautiful child. xoxo
      P.S.The most helpful advice we were given was to remember that every behaviour has a function, or put another way, every behaviour is an attempt to meet a need (sensory, physical, emotional etc.). Identifying the function and addressing the need together with him before talking about the behaviour. I think these conversations with our son opened up space for the beginnings of mindfulness, which in turn helped his underlying anxiety.
      Much love, you’re not alone, dear mama.

    • Naomi Hill says...

      Meant to write
      *Identifying the function and addressing the need together with him, before talking about the behaviour, was so much more effective than simply focusing on the behavior.
      :)

    • Neela says...

      Gosh, this is just the BEST online community. I just got back to my phone after a half day’s break, feeling a little guilty about leaving a depressing comment on such an uplifting and beautiful article, and was greeted by these expressions of support. THANK YOU, for seeing me, and for your advice, Naomi and Jane. Naomi, your message particularly made me want to cry tears of hope, and I feel like we will get there too, as out kid is not a bad kid, just struggling with some issues! We will continue to do our best, and model as best we can. Improvement is on the horizon, and in the meantime, I’m just so grateful for the kindness of my stranger-friends <3<3

    • Anna says...

      Oh my goodness Neela, I so hear you. I wish I could hug you over the Internet. But the idea from another commenter (sorry can’t see the name now) that you are a parent before you’re a person is just nuts to me – unrealistic, unachievable, untrue. ‘That is the moment to model optimal behaviour’ – come on, we are humans, with our own daily stresses and baggage, not pre-programmed robots. I do my utmost every day to be loving, kind, gentle, soothing, empathetic with my non-neurotypical four year old but you know what, it is fine for her to see that I’m frazzled sometimes, stressed sometimes, short-tempered sometimes. The idea that I have to be impeccable and goddess-like in my patience and wisdom in order to wind up with a gracious kid at the other end of twenty years just seems laughably unachievable to me. I do my best. I adore my daughter. We fall about laughing together every day. Frankly that is good enough. And Neela, you are good enough too.

    • Neela says...

      Oh Anna, thanks for the reminder that it is ok to be human! I spent the morning feeling very proud of my ability to stay calm and maintain humour under duress, but I’ve definitely had my moments where I’ve snapped. We all do our best. Thanks for your support xxx

  45. Ceridwen says...

    This is perfect and made my cry a little! My daughter has been saying lately, “Oh, I just love that!” when she admires someone’s or someone does soothing for her. It fills me with pleasure.
    On a work note, I’ve written some quotes in my diary today from this post- I’m presenting at work and going to use the one about helping to make people’s lives easier, better. I’ll be presenting g to a room of teachers so they know this well, but it is always so good and important to remind ourselves that along with looking at data, planning, assessments, admin….all the things that come with our work, at the core isn’t this what we’re doing? Working to help make people’s lives better and easier. Thank you so much for this. With kindness and grace.

  46. Silver says...

    I appreciated it when the author (Catherine Newman) wrote that being gracious does not mean staying silent. It is so important to raise children who can see when to push back and disrupt a corrupt system – what’s corruption? – hopefully we will see it as any decision that failed to consider kindness. Not every issue is worth a fight, but to consider every issue and decide for oneself which ones matter and to act, even in disobedience might just be the best future we all have. If we raise our kids like this, we’re also making room I our every day life for this – in our workplace, our family, our politics. Anyway thank you for introducing me to Catherine Newman, I will seek out some of her writing to learn more.

  47. Elizabeth says...

    Somehow I knew within the first three sentences that this was Catherine Newman – who I have been reading since BabyCenter and across all itineration’s – when we both had crazy, darling 3 year olds. She was my village when there wasn’t a village to be found – and I also find myself benefitting from a gracious, kind, helpful, loving child/adult. It is blissful – it is a joy – do yourself a favor and start now. You will be so glad. Even across the abandoned bags, socks, whatevers.

    • Elizabeth says...

      Hey Elizabeth — this Elizabeth thanks you for BabyCenter because I have been racking my brain for where I first found Catherine. My kids are 19 and 16, so basically Ben and Birdy. I love your village comment. Spot on and captures why I have read every word she has ever shared. Remember her article about crying on the curb at Target because there wouldn’t be anymore children? I still think about that one.

    • Kate says...

      Yes! Another follower since the BabyCenter days (my kids are also 19 and 16). She was also my village when I didn’t have one. And I remember the no-more-babies post well! Catherine is always able to articulate my feelings better than I can! Love her writing!

  48. Katie Warren says...

    Catherine Newman, be still my heart. You always know how to say it just right. Much of my parenting style comes from reading your pieces and blog and books, and I feel so, so lucky I stumbled upon your works when I did.

  49. Sadie says...

    Whenever a guest complimented a dish my mom made she would say, “I’m so glad you like it.” Now I find myself saying that too.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      i love that!

    • Ivy says...

      My dad has never been much of a cook, so my mum always did the cooking in our home. But, he taught me early on to end every meal with saying “thank you, mom, for making this meal for us!”, and so we always did that and continue to do so. So simple, but means so much.

  50. Y says...

    So beautifully simple. Teach your children how to be kind and respectful of other people’s feelings/situations/needs, by treating them in kind.

  51. RS says...

    I laughed when I read this because the summer before my senior year of college I worked as the receptionist at a hotel management firm. It was such a odd and sort of boring job, mainly involving answering the phones and transferring calls. I was instructed to say MY PLEASURE every time I transferred a call. I enjoyed seeing how chipper I could be, it was a source of amusement for me. I even got some compliments on my delivery, haha!

  52. Alison says...

    I am so obsessed with Catherine Newman and her writing. MORE, PLEASE!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      done and done! :)

  53. Julia says...

    The note about cultural differences has me wondering— Are thank you notes not a thing any more? I still send them religiously after holidays, but no one else in my husband’s extended family seems to. As we were slipping the stack into the mailbox this year, I worried my thank you notes to his side of the family would come across as passive aggressive? Should I only send them to my side (who expect them) and not to his (who don’t)? For what it’s worth, his family is WASP and we’re Irish Catholic.

    • Katie says...

      I always send them, too. Even if we’ve thanked people for things via text/ quickly on the phone, I think it’s important to take a minute to be thoughtful about a gift received (and it can be a less tangible thing, like helping someone out in a difficult time- a friend came over once after I just had a baby and cleaned up my kitchen and it was one of the kindest gestures) and what it meant to you. I also use it as an opportunity to write a mini letter, which I also love writing and think is important to do. Everything is so casual these days, and it’s easy for that to translate into how we treat our relationships. I am not able to see people in person, or even have as many long phone conversations, as often as I would like to. Letter writing and thank-you cards are, for me, a way to show appreciation and maintain connections, and I want my 2-year old to learn the same. Right now, he “signs” his name on cards and makes a drawing to tuck into the envelope, and he knows that’s how he “writes thank-you cards.”

    • Allison says...

      As a girl from Virginia (also a WASP), there is no harm in sending a thank you note. How could anyone interpret a gesture as thoughtful as a handwritten note as passive aggressive?

    • Libbie says...

      I think the question “Are they not a thing any more?” is all the more reason to send them. :) More often than not, people will be grateful. At the very least, it brightens their mail box.

    • Lauren says...

      I always make a point to send written thank you cards too. I just figure, it’s a small thing to do to brighten someone’s day/show gratitude. Over the years I’ve received many thank yous for a card, and no one has ever complained about getting one. :)

    • celeste says...

      We’ve moved onto “thank you text” in our family. Take a picture of the person wearing/playing with/reading said item and send with a short note.

    • Eli says...

      To this day I send thank you notes – Christmas, Birthday, for any reason at all. A co-worker brought me Starbucks? Thank you note. The manager of my favorite restaurant (which I am at WAY too much) comped my meal? Thank you note. I even sent a hand-written thank you after the interview for my first internship (only 4 years ago). To this day, my former supervisor still loves to point it out (I took a full time job at the company). No matter who it is, I’m probably going to write you a thank you note. My mother sends them to all of us children for the gifts we give her on holidays. It means so much to me when I receive a hand written note from her expressing how I was able to bring her joy, it reminds me someone else may be receiving joy from my thanks.

    • jane says...

      Interesting. I just bought a box of the most beautiful blank note cards – with incredible design on the fronts – because I want to send physical thank you notes more often this year.

      PS: the comment box used to auto-fill if you’d previously left a comment but it’s stopped doing that. Did your settings change? I really like that feature – even though I’m sure I comment too much.

    • Anna says...

      I only send to my family and friends now and never my (Irish Catholic) in laws. They have never sent a note in 20 years. I just finally felt like enough is enough! Instead I send extra long notes to those I know will appreciate it. I feel my energy is better directed that way.

    • Elisabeth says...

      The Forever 35 podcast had a couple of interesting discussions on thank you notes, including cultural/family culture aspects, guilt, the emotional labor of thank you notes often falling to women in the family, what to do when you haven’t sent a note you’d like to send but feel like it’s been too long, and alternative ways to show gratitude. I don’t remember episode numbers, but searching their website should bring it up.

    • olga says...

      Thank you for introducing Catherine Newman to me. I have made the conscious decision not to become a parent, but her writing makes me check my behavior with others in general and appreciate people more. In addition, as an educator I try to be guided by kindness and attention to people, and this speaks to my core values. I am just happier after reading this, thank you.

  54. Maria says...

    Thank you, Catherine! I really think you set a great example by really living your own truth- that we all should be kind to each other. It is such a gift! I would love for you to write about some other topics, because I´d love to learn from you. Maybe handling Menopause is one (not shure if you´re there or not)? And about how to have such a long, hopefully loving, relationship? Please write more here, I´d love to read it!

    • Midge says...

      I second the call for perimenopause advice from Catherine. It is a wild ride, for sure, and I’ll bet she has the perfect hilarious, joyful, exasperated words to express it!

  55. florence says...

    love all of this!

  56. Courtney says...

    I love this! At some point, I watched a video of Love Taza and her husband discussing how they get their kids to show gratitude. She had discussed many tactics in the video, but I distinctly remember her toddler son explaining to his parents how incredible he thought the buildings in NYC were that day and he felt thankful to be able to see them.

    So! With that as my inspiration, every single night, we have asked my-now-three-year-old what he is thankful for. He comes up with the craziest things. It’s amazing to listen to the little events he comes up with or remembers. I hope this teaches him to reflect on his day and remember what he is thankful for.

  57. Erika Tracy says...

    This is a beautiful post for Monday. I went immediately to order Catherine’s book. I’m looking forward to reading more of her words on constructing childhoods for ones you love and admire as the great humans they are/and will be.

  58. Jenny says...

    Showing other people grace, and recognizing when you are being shown it, is such a beautiful part of being a person and it was a lovely exhalation of Mondayness to read this here. I believe a gracious apology centers on the other person’s feelings and your actions. Sometimes, when my socialization as a woman is howling into the coyote canyon of my anxiety, I’m tempted to apologize to make myself feel better or enough. My friend (fortuitously and actually named Grace), acknowledges instead of apologizing in situations where the apology is to make herself feel better (notably a great apologized when need be). Thank you for waiting instead of sorry I’m late. It’s a recognition of the grace others have shown, and I love it

  59. Amy says...

    You know how recipe blogs have a print button? Yeah, I’m gonna need a print button soon for articles like these ;)

    • Laurel says...

      YES!!!

  60. Molly says...

    It’s one of the privileges of a happy home, to be polite and kind to each other. If you’re especially lucky, it’s generational and comes easily to you. I know people who’ve done the work to parent like this despite not receiving the same warmth themselves and have so much admiration for that.

    • Em says...

      This is so incredibly beautiful, and made me cry. Thank you!

    • Em says...

      Oops, sorry, I was trying to post that as a main comment (not a reply)!

    • Nadege says...

      YES, Molly, thank you.

    • Emily says...

      What a beautiful comment. I believe what you are talking about is called re-parenting-and it’s one of the most powerful and healing aspects of being a parent. You can model what you may have missed and express love in ways that can heal and transform you. Talk about grace! xo

  61. Kim says...

    Love Catherine Newman!! As a mother of 2 young children, I took great comfort and found many laughs and much wisdom in Catastrophic Happiness. I also would love to see her as a regular contributor!

  62. Eli says...

    What a wonderful post, and such beautiful writing! My mother instilled in my older brothers and myself these same attitudes and actions. I must say, I’ve fallen off as life has been difficult lately and my thoughts are all about me. It’s a nice gentle reminder of the manners my mother taught me and how using them requires nothing extra of me.

    What I really love is hearing about these actions from my sister-in-law. My brother, who I have always regarded as very selfish and self-absorbed (we are very close in age), displays these acts of graciousness in ways I never imagined he would, especially now that he is a father. I beam with pride when I hear Heather speak about him, how helpful he is, how kind and gracious he is about things, how he believes that he is just as responsible for everything in the house as what is typically dumped on the woman. He is the epitome of what I, as a female, dream of in a spouse/partner one day, and it blows my mind that it is found in my brother. I can only hope that I emulate these same qualities to those around me, and make conscious effort of what my mother taught us, until I no longer need to – it’s just the attitude I have every day and live my life.

  63. Ruth says...

    That last paragraph makes my mama heart burst (a 9-month-old and 4-year-old are my gracious-people-in training). My husband and I strive to model and encourage this each and every day. My dream is for my daughters to be happy, healthy and kind. The details beyond that don’ t matter.

  64. sallyt says...

    This made me tear up, in a good way! This is really so much of what I hope for my kids. One thing that helps for us is to role play before attending an event (with younger kids) – “what do you say when…” “how would you say it…”
    *
    Also, I’ve been reading Catherine for 13+ years of parenting and LOVE HER. Please bring her back, frequently!

  65. Ann says...

    I love, “it’s my pleasure” in lieu of “you’re welcome” which I was raised with. I wonder if I can make the switched or if it’s just ingrained in me.

  66. Sara says...

    I loved this, thank you! I don’t have kids, but it’s a good reminder for everyone.

  67. Lauren E. says...

    I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, as I just got to spend the loveliest evening with friends and the four kindest children you’ve ever met. My husband and I are always asking our friends, “How’d you do it?! How did you raise such humble, gracious children?” And they don’t have any answers. They’re just kind people themselves, and they treat everyone they encounter with that same attitude and it’s trickled down to their kids. I hope if I have kids someday I can employ that same attitude.

  68. celeste says...

    As someone who had a really crummy day with my kids before 8:30 a.m., thank you Catherine.

  69. Emerald says...

    This is so lovely, thank you.

    • Kristín says...

      Loved this, thank you so much :)
      I always try to make sure my kids hear me thanking others for their assistance. My wild child struggles a bit with thank yous but has gotten much better since I started quietly asking her if she wants me to say thank you on her behalf or if she’d like to do it herself. Sometimes giving them a choice makes all the difference.

  70. liz says...

    really loved reading this! it’s a great reminder to let compassion lead your actions

  71. Elizabeth Catlin says...

    Oh, the abundant joy of seeing Catherine here — how did you all find each other?!?! As a Catherine fan for at least 16 years, ever since finding her earliest posts online, I have referred to her forever as “my internet best friend.” And I will never forget the wild exhilaration I felt when we became Facebook friends (through a mutual friend a few years ago) — like I had won the freaking lottery! As this post makes clear, Catherine is a national treasure and a perfect fit for COJ (another national treasure). Day made! YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY!!

    • Emma says...

      My feelings exactly! I’ve been following Catherine for years and absolutely adore her writing and her take on parenting. Would love to see more of her here!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      yes we adore her! i loved her book Waiting For Birdy.

      she started writing for Cup of Jo because jenny rosenstrach, who writes for us, assigned two pieces to her. here’s the other one:
      https://cupofjo.com/2018/12/raising-teenage-boys-advice/

      we’re SO happy to publish her wonderful work!

  72. Meg says...

    Oh my goodness Catherine Newman is my favorite writer on life and parenting. I really hope she’s going to be a regular contributor!

    • Ellen says...

      I hope so, too!

  73. Amy says...

    Beautiful post.