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Domesticating Wolves

I have been married for two years, with stepsons aged 18 and 16. Either their parents did not know what table manners are, or they decided it was not important for the boys to learn.

Last night I made an elegant candlelit dinner for Mardi Gras, including several appetizers and desserts. I invited my mother-in-law as well. When it came time for dinner, I felt like I was eating with Neanderthals. The boys, including my husband, dived at the buffet like wolves at a fresh kill.

I told them next time it would be appropriate to let the guest of honor fill a plate first, then I watched them eat virtually like pigs. They constantly talked with their mouths full, which totally disgusts me! They ate so fast and furious there was a ring of food particles around the table where they sat.

I was appalled. When I asked the boys not to talk with their mouths full, my mother-in-law said, “Oh, don’t worry about them. They’re fine.” In the past, when I’ve corrected the boys, my husband says I’m too hard on them.

The truth is, after last night’s meal, I don’t want to eat with them. It’s gross and disgusting, and it makes me nauseous. Please help me! Do I stop eating with them? Or continue trying to teach them, knowing some future daughter-in-law might benefit?


Claire, you are outnumbered four to one. Correction and negative approaches won’t work, so forget about them. The boys’ future wives will have their own methods, not all of which are available to you. While you may not completely change the boys’ table manners, as an adult, you know that patience and persistence nearly always carry the day.

Start with two ideas. One, you don’t want to be chased away from your own table and your new husband. Two, no turmoil should go on when everyone should be receiving nourishment.

To those two ideas, add three principles of behavior called extinction, incompatible behavior, and shaping. If the boys are talking with their mouths full to express resentment or to annoy you, then it’s important not to react in any way. Be totally neutral. Behavior that is not reinforced tends to disappear. That’s extinction.

At your Mardi Gras buffet, you could not control the boys’ behavior, but in other settings, you can. For example, at a sit-down dinner, your husband can serve each portion of meat, then each plate is passed to you to serve the rest of the meal. You control who is served, when, and how. That is the second principle. Make arrangements that are physically incompatible with behavior you don’t want.

Finally, when the boys show good table manners, respond to them immediately with enthusiasm and your full attention. Use praise and smiles. Perhaps you might even offer a special treat. Positive reinforcement shapes behavior toward what you want. It takes time, but like the slow trickle of water, it cuts through the hardest stone.

Wayne & Tamara

A Lesson Learned

I am wondering if it’s normal to still feel terrible about what happened. I am 20. I had a brief romantic encounter with a married man, 35. This was my first experience with any guy, and I feel terrible about it. I know I cannot change the past and my actions, but I wonder if there is something wrong with me to have let this happen.


Kelly, a friend once said to me, “I can’t imagine why we are here, if not to learn.” When you make a mistake, you can bury yourself in feelings of failure and guilt. Or you can learn, incorporate the learning into your life, and move on.

People with happy, successful lives feel life has momentum, direction, and a purpose. Why? Because they use what they have learned to shape the future course of their life.


Wayne & Tamara are also the authors of “Cheating in a Nutshell, What Infidelity Does to the Victim”, available from Amazon, Apple, and most booksellers.


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