by Ginger Philbrick
On a recent visit to me, my adult son got out of his car looking like a homeless person. Neat clothes, a shave and haircut would have been a great improvement to say the least.
I am ashamed to say that I was ashamed. We want our children to love us, and some of us are scared of never seeing them again if we say something that might offend. I would like to introduce him to my friends and neighbors.
So, aside from offering a paper bag, what would you suggest I say or do to improve his unkempt appearance?
Conflicted, White Stone.
Fair or not, it has been proven that first impressions are made within five seconds of seeing someone. The first thing noticed is generally the clothing, followed by the facial expression. So you aren’t being irrational in your feeling that your son’s appearance may impress others as his not caring about how he looks.
So let’s consider that. Do you think that he does actually care? If he doesn’t, then it will likely be more effective to approach the dilemma with him with your feelings rather than telling him he should change his.
Many of us learned in scouts, or church, or fifth grade hygiene class or by being sent to our room for having argued with our parents that, whether we like it or not, good grooming demonstrates respect for ourselves and others.
Our soap, hairbrush, everyday clean clothing and fancy dress were all to be seen as our friendly helpers—not impositions for our discomfort. They gave us a ticket to acceptance in desirable (by most) society. I know from your letter that you tried your best to have your son accept that.
If he hasn’t adopted your values in this area, start the conversation by expressing your feelings and then ask the favor:
“Jack, I am so proud of you and I am eager to introduce you to some of my friends. Would you mind humoring me and dressing up a bit so that they see what a handsome son I have?”
“Jack, I hope you will agree that I don’t believe in interfering with your lifestyle. But I am hoping you will be willing to neaten up a bit and go with me to have dinner with some of my friends who are eager to meet you.”
If that approach doesn’t work, maybe a little humor is in order: “Jack, if you have any interest in being in my will…”
Most important is that you remember that ever since it has been your son’s job to pick out what he is going to wear and when he will shower or shave, you have not been responsible for the end result. His choices are no longer a reflection on you.
Chances are very good that your friends and neighbors will fully understand. Your privilege is to do your best to look beyond the obvious and love what is inside.
Ginger Philbrick is the owner of Because You Are Polite LLC. You are invited to email your manners questions to her and she will respond as time and space allow. You may contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.