Each time I take my two children out grocery shopping or errand running, I’m very mindful of their manners and social interaction, bascially how personable are they? My wife has the same priorities, and our kids are generally well-behaved, especially in public. They are actually starting to get a bit of a reputation, I learned recently. A few months ago, I was out shopping with both kids at a local “big box store”. We stopped to pick up a sample from one of the tables at the end of an aisle. “Oh, you must be the father!” the sample lady suddenly exclaimed. “Why yes. Yes, I am,” I stumbled, unsure of her meaning. She went on, “Your wife brings them in all the time, and I love getting to see them. Hi, Abby. Hi, Isaac. Here are your cookies!” My curiosity satisfied, I turned to my kids. “Now, kids. What do you say?” My kids happily started munching their snack, giving out a cheerful, “Dank you!” out of their full mouths. They waved to just about everyone we passed, getting smiles and waves in return. My kids are celebrities. And it seems I’m just the chaperone.
For all the effort we put into making sure our kids say hello to the sample ladies, have them get to know the names of the regular clerks at our favorite fast food joints, or insist that they say, “thank you” whenever they are given something, it makes me wonder: How much of that “be friendly” stuff am I applying to myself? If I’m being honest, my default is often to keep to myself and avoid excess attention, not to put myself out there and make new friends.
Last time I was on my own for a weekend, sans kiddos, I found myself at a conference in San Diego. It was being put on for dads like me who blog regularly and have a vested interest in being involved fathers. The attendees had a lot in common, in other words. But there I was, in a room of perfect strangers, and I had to really push myself to make new friends. It didn’t go well at first. I was a little overstimulated and only managed a few smiles and an attempt or two at idle small talk with a couple of vendors. At a mixer one evening, though, I forced myself to walk around the fringe of the party, meeting other quiet sorts while the socialites mixed loudly in the middle of the room. “Hey,” I said to a couple of guys sipping on craft beer. “So, is this where the introverts hang out?” I was greeted with a chuckle and a knowing smile, and we chatted for 15 minutes or so. I handed them a business card, and received theirs in return. Success! I did that a couple more times, reminding myself much like I remind my kids – “Now what do you say?”
Turns out, this “be friendly” principle applies to adults, too. For the rest of the conference, I made myself sit at a different table at each meal. and sit with new people each time. Most of them were actually pretty different from me in many ways, but we found natural topics of conversation, and it was a great exercise in extroversion (not my natural bent.) As I met more people, there was more eye contact, more waving, and more smiling. More connection. In short, it was a reaffirmation that my kids need this skill of personability in their lives. It’s not necessarily easy, depending on your personality, but it’s so worth it. Let’s support our kids as they make new friends, and model for them how to treat everyone around us with respect, getting names and some of their stories as appropriate. It’s a big world our there, but I say if we stay friendly and open, it will get smaller all the time.
What do you say?