I'm looking for advice on how to help my 12-year-old DD learn some table manners. She lives half-time with myself and my DH (her step-dad for the past 3 years, although she has known him as my partner since the age of 3), and half-time with her dad. I've modeled good table manners myself all her life and tried to gently teacher them to her since she was a toddler, but she has always reacted by getting defensive (i.e., if I remind her to use a fork rather than her hands, she gets mad at me). In the interest of keeping harmony while we adjusted to many changes in the last few years (my remarriage, a couple of moves, a new school, etc.), I've kind of laid off a bit. But we are in a good harmonious place now, and I think it's time. Her table manners are not really age-appropriate, and I don't want her to get in a situation at a friend's house where she feels embarrassed. So here are the things that are bugging me (and her step-dad):
-- She eats with her hands quite a bit
-- When using a fork, she won't use a knife as a dam or to push the food -- she'll use her fingers
-- Instead of sitting properly on a chair, she "hovers" near the table or lounges on the chair quite a ways back from the table
-- She creates massive amounts of crumbs that get all over her chair and the floor (or the sofa if she's having snack in the livingroom -- we don't allow snacks anywhere else in the house but right now the living room is okay) and have to be cleaned up
I think one issue is we have different behavior modeled at mom's house and dad's house. Her dad is a huge slob, but oddly enough, he does have good table manners in terms of how he uses utensils, says please and thank you, etc (he had this stuff drilled into him in boarding school). However, as far as I can tell, they eat every meal at the coffee table in the living room and their home environment is often quite messy/grungy. In our home, we're trying to create an atmosphere of (I hate to use the word "gracious", it sounds so Martha, but...) harmonious family life with regular family meals at the table, being considerate of one another, picking up after ourselves, etc. We want her to participate, and we also want to equip her for life beyond the bounds of our home.
One idea we had is we can tell her we've seen ants in the house (a white lie), and that we are all on "crumb patrol" and that necessitates our being careful with crumbs and cleaning up after ourselves. We can sweep off our own chairs, the floor beneath our chairs, etc. together after dinner. That could take care of the crumb issue.
But what about not eating with her hands? That one has me stumped. One the one hand (no pun intended), I can appreciate the naturalness and sensuality of eating with one's hands and why that might be desirable (I'm remembering a very popular art major in college who always ate with his hands -- apparently it drove women other than myself wild). I come from hippie stock -- I get that. On the other hand, the idea that in this culture it's way more socially acceptable to eat with utensils seems to me to be so patently obvious that it almost feels absurd to bring it up with her! And I want her to at least have the skills to participate seamlessly in mainstream culture, which she can later reject if she so chooses. I might have a little baggage here, since I was raised by free thinking folks and not taught much in the way of table manners -- I learned them myself by observing my friends' behavior, but not before a few embarrassing moments.
Any ideas? Thanks in advance, if you do!