This is an excerpt from an Emily Post's Miss Manners column in 1922. I believe it rings just as true, if not more so, today, as it did then. I hope in our home that we are able to live up to these standards.
Every-Day Manners at Home
JUST as no chain is stronger than its weakest link, no manners can be expected to stand a strain beyond their daily test at home.
Those who are used to losing their temper in the bosom of their family will sooner or later lose it in public. Families which exert neither courtesy nor charm when alone, can no more deceive other people into believing that either attribute belongs to them than they could hope to make painted faces look like “real” complexions.
A mother should exact precisely the same behavior at home and every day, that she would like her children to display in public, and she herself, if she expects them to take good manners seriously, must show the same manners to them alone that she shows to “company.”
A really charming woman exerts her charm nowhere more than upon her husband and children, and a noble nature through daily though unconscious example is of course the greatest influence for good that there is in the world. No preacher, no matter how saint-like his precept or golden his voice, can equal the home influence of admirable parents.
It is not merely in such matters as getting up when their mother or other older relatives enter a room, answering civilly and having good table manners, but in forming habits of admirable living and thinking that a parent’s example makes or mars.
If children see temper uncontrolled, hear gossip, uncharitableness and suspicion of neighbors, witness arrogant sharp-dealing or lax honor, their own characters can scarcely escape perversion. In the same way others can not easily fail to be thoroughbred who have never seen or heard their parents do or say an ignoble thing.
No child will ever accept a maxim that is preached but not followed by the preacher. It is a waste of breath for the father to order his sons to keep their temper, to behave like gentlemen, or to be good sportsmen, if he does or is himself none of these things.
In the present day of rush and hurry, there is little time for “home” example. To the over-busy or gaily fashionable, “home” might as well be a railroad station, and members of a family passengers who see each other only for a few hurried minutes before taking trains in opposite directions. The days are gone when the family sat in the evening around the fire, or a “table with a lamp,” when it was customary to read aloud or to talk. Few people “talk well” in these days; fewer read aloud, and fewer still endure listening to any book literally word by word.
Railroad station reading is as much in vogue as railroad station bolting of meals. Magazines—“picture” ones—are all that the hurried have time for, and even those who profess to “love reading” dart tourist-fashion from page to page only pausing at attractive paragraphs; and family relationships are followed somewhat in the same way.
Any number of busy men scarcely know their children at all, and have not even stopped to realize that they seldom or never talk to them, never exert themselves to be sympathetic with them, or in the slightest degree to influence them. To growl “mornin’,” or “Don’t, Johnny,” or “Be quiet, Alice!” is very, very far from being “an influence” on your children’s morals, minds or manners.
A Supreme Court Justice whose education had been cut short in his youth by the Civil War, when asked how, under the circumstances, his scholastic attainments had been acquired, answered: “My father believed it was the duty of every gentleman to bequeath the wealth of his intellect, no less than that of his pocket, to his children. Wealth might be acquired by ‘luck,’ but proper cultivation was the birthright of every child born of cultivated parents. We learned Latin and Greek by having him talk and read them to us. He wrote doggerel rhymes of history which took the place of Mother Goose. He also told us ‘bed-time stories’ of history, and read classics to us after supper. When there was company, we were brought down from the nursery so that we might profit by the conversation of our betters.”
Volumes full of “manners” acquired after they are grown are not worth half so much as the simplest precepts acquired through lifelong habits and through having known nothing else.