Hot summer days spent sipping sweet tea on the porch. Wearing flip flops (almost) year round. Traditions, family, and grandmother’s fried chicken. Images like these may come to mind when picturing living in the South. It may all seem old-fashioned to some, but not many can deny that it has a certain charm.
I did not grow up in the South, but I met a Texan in college. We eventually married and our first jobs led us down to his homeland. Over time, we started a family that eventually added up to four children. Our family spent ten years enjoying all of the aspects of Southern living and of raising kids in the South. A year ago, we took new jobs and moved back to my home state farther north.
While we’re happy with the change and loving life up here just as much, I miss the welcoming people and quaint charm of the small-town Southern communities. I have found that certain things I noticed about raising kids in the South have stuck with me, even if we no longer dwell below the Mason Dixon line. Here are some things I didn’t leave behind after parenting in the South:
15 Monograms on EVERYTHING
When a new addition arrives in your family and you live in the South, be prepared to receive a LOT of monogrammed items. Have you ever seen anything quite as precious as a kid’s initial on a onesie? Or their monogram on a receiving blanket? A sundress? Or on a bathing suit? On their underwear?
Of course personalized ornaments are a given. Some little ones even have beautiful carved wood or iron monograms above their cribs. Whether the givers took the time to personalize it themselves (a real possibility with the domestic prowess of some of those Southerners!), or ordered it to be made, it makes everything owned by your little one as unique as he or she is.
Note: As parents, we all understand the potential ramifications of having a kid’s name visible on their person. Hello, stranger danger! At least with a simple initial or monogram, a random person still can’t know your child’s name.
14 Saying “Yes, ma’am” and “Yes, sir”
One of the things that caught my attention – and made me fall in love with – my Texan husband was his use of “ma’am” and “sir”. (My parents loved it, too!) Some may think it is old fashioned, stiff, or formal. In actuality, using these terms of deference show the culture of respect towards elders and authority figures that permeates the South.
When a little one says it to you for the first time, it absolutely melts your heart. This is not just lip service with no depth to it. Kids are raised to use “ma’am” and “sir” to demonstrate regard. It shows in the way they revere their own parents (most of the time!) as well as other parents and adults, teachers, coaches – you name it!
Kids learn that while adults can be your friends, they are different than your same-aged peers and deserve to be treated differently.
13 Greeting People Politely
In the same vein, another set of manners taught to kids in the South is greeting each other in a friendly manner. If you walk by someone on the street, or in the grocery store, or in the hallway at school, you greet them. You make eye contact, smile, and say, “Hello!” If you know the person, you might make small talk.
If you drive by someone on your street, you do the “two-fingers-off-of-the-steering-wheel” wave. It makes people feel special when they get noticed. Walking right by someone without acknowledging them is right up there with wiping your dirty fingers on grandma’s fancy table cloth – a big negative.
It is only done by someone who is at best stand-offish and at worst downright rude. Learning to feel comfortable greeting people will benefit kids in situations like job interviews and dates, among other aspects of adult life that come later in the future.
12 Saying “Y’ALL”
This may be a defining piece of Southern talk. Southerners use “y’all” in their daily conversations. Other Americans may use “you” as both a singular or plural address, or some may use “you guys”.
I tell you what, nothing tops the easy and user-friendly “y’all”. How simple is that? You all. Y’all. It really makes sense, if you think about it. (Please make sure you spell it right though – it’s not ya’ll.) When one needs to address multiple people, you can use “All y’all.” Easy as falling off a log, right?
The bonus is that you’re teaching your kids some aspects of grammar and they don’t even know it.
11 Naming Kids After Relatives
There are parents who only look at completely unique options when naming their little one. That is completely understandable; everyone deserves his or her own identity. However, a wonderful way to honor someone special in your life is to use their name – or part of it – in the naming of your own child.
There are many juniors among the boys down South, and girls named after their grandmothers, but there are many other ways to make use of a family name. Not always is a first name the only option used; there are occasions where a first given name is used as a middle name. Sometimes a middle name is handed down through generations in that same position.
Sometimes the surname of the mother can be used as a middle name to keep it in the family. You can find a similar alternative or different spelling that has the same flavor and hints at the namesake instead of being overt. Due to families using the same name, you find creative variations or nicknames to differentiate to whom you are speaking.
10 State Pride
When you live in the South, you are proud of that fact. If anybody comes to visit from out of state, you happily share all of the amazing places to eat and hang out. Plus, Southerners know absolutely everything about their state.
Not only can they give a run-down of most of the important parts of their state’s history without the help of any book, but they can also rattle off the state flower, the state motto, the state bird, draw the state flag, and probably sing the state song. (This goes double or even triple for those from the Republic – the Republic of Texas, that is.
Texans win the gold medal for state pride any day, hands down. Just ask them.) People in the North may not understand your state or your devotion to it, but that’s fine by you. You still think it’s the greatest place on earth.
9 School Pride
A big part of being from the South is having pride in your school as well. Southerners have strong ties to their high schools. They follow the sports programs’ successes and the recent alumni. (See the note on Friday Night Lights below.) It goes without saying that college sports have a place in their hearts only next to religion. The state school is the only school, as far as they’re concerned.
If there is more than one state school, the rivalry will be intense – no, beyond intense. Kids will announce their allegiance in elementary school – if not earlier. Loyalty lines are drawn, yard signage is proudly displayed, and game day is always on the calendar. When two people from different colleges get married, you will see signs and t-shirts proclaiming the “house divided”.
Obviously, every weekend finds the entire family decked out in the appropriate sportswear to support the team. In all seriousness, it is neat to see how the fun and enthusiasm of college sports is a family affair, where the joy of the game is felt by all who participate in the excitement.
8 Friday Night Lights
Yes, Friday Night Lights is a real thing. The local high school football team comes only behind the state college football team in terms of devotion. In our small-ish town in Texas, cars would be parked for countless blocks, if not for more than a mile, around the stadium every Friday.
Everyone who is anyone is at the game – from parents to community boosters, from raucous students to little kids, and even area alumni who have attended every game for decades. The kids play their guts out each week, drawing crowds that might make some small colleges envious. The coaches are celebrities around the town.
Every win is euphoric, and every loss is devastating. The community is drawn together in a way that is unique and beautiful to behold. There is something so pure about sports being played for the simple pleasure of playing, aside from hype or commercialism.
7 Being Comfortable with Nature
Southern kids are outside a lot of the time, and are completely at ease in that environment. Riding bicycles around the neighborhood isn’t an activity left behind in our parents’ childhoods – it’s still a regular pastime. Boys and girls don’t mind getting dirty. Catch a worm and put it on a hook to go fishing? No problem.
Hunting crawfish in the ditch near your house? That’s a fun way to spend an afternoon. You also probably won’t hear much whining about the heat (even though the rest of the county might find it unbearable). A certain toughness regarding the hot temperatures is also something your Southern kids learn – or maybe just the pride not to complain about it!
Amusingly enough, this does not extend to temperatures on the opposite end of the spectrum. Kids start wearing their winter coats if the temps dip below 75 degrees. Just watch out if there is ever a chance of ice or snow – schools close and entire cities will be shut down.
6 Any Water is Swimming Water
Some Southerners do enjoy using a pristine country club pool when the weather is hot. (We’re not just uncivilized hicks in the South! Creature comforts are important!) But fancy isn’t necessary for the majority of kids growing up down there. There’s no vital need for expensive water parks.
Southern kids use city public pools, or neighborhood pools in a friend’s backyard, but also enjoy swimming in rivers, streams, creeks, canals, ditches… you name it. If it is wet, it can be used for water recreation. (Just watch out for snakes, naturally!) Some Gulf Coast beaches might not have the white sand of Florida or the Caribbean, but they are just as beloved and just as frequently visited by the locals.
When a good portion of the year is as hot as it is, kids have to find any way possible to cool off.
5 Being Laid-Back
Something that many folks notice about the South is its tranquil atmosphere. Things do seem to move at a slower pace. I will have to admit it took a bit to get used to my husband’s more relaxed approach to life, especially regarding time. I was raised to be fifteen minutes early to everything; on a good day, he slides in exactly on time (or a few minutes late).
I have come to realize that the typical Southern lack of hurry is not laziness, but a focus on a bigger picture. Which is worse: being late or letting anxiety over time ruin your day? It’s not that Southern kids aren’t raised to value punctuality, but that they learn that life is something to be savored and not rushed.
Enjoying the moment that you’re currently in, instead of worrying about the past or the future, is a lesson we all can learn, no matter how old or young we are.
4 Taking Pictures in the Bluebonnets
This may be mostly a Texas thing, but, come on y’all – there is something so charming about a cute kid in the middle of a beautiful patch of blue flowers. It’s a rite of passage, a yearly tradition for most families. Bluebonnets are the state flower of Texas, so each patch will be protected throughout the year and (hopefully) your favorite scraps will return to come into bud annually.
The flowers only bloom for a couple of weeks every spring, so everyone takes advantage of the opportunity while it lasts. While the bluebonnets are blooming, every day will find cars stopped on the side of the road or near parks, families posing kids in their cutest spring outfits, wherever the flowers can be found.
Extra style points are awarded for finding a bluebonnet patch with a rustic barn or shed in the background for an even more bucolic authenticity, or for bringing an old-fashioned basket for the baby to sit in.
3 Family Dinners
In the South where a more traditional life abounds, you will probably find families gathered around the table together for supper on most evenings. Sunday meals may be spent regularly with extended family for some folks. Southerners of course enjoy a nice meal out at a restaurant, but Mom’s (or Grammy’s, or Aunt Mary’s, etc.) cooking will always be the favorite.
Learning your way around a kitchen is a life skill that is important to acquire. Plus, feeding others something you created using your own hands is a pretty special accomplishment – for a kid or an adult. Beloved recipes are handed down and treasured for generations. Memories of childhood, especially holidays, include the dishes that the family has had for years.
In a world that focuses so much on “things” and “materialism”, being able to treasure things like a recipe, or time spent cooking (and eating) with grandparents, make the reminiscing of past shared experiences more valuable than anything you could buy for your child.
2 Being Cose to Family
You may be close in distance or just in spirit with your family. You may be across the street or across the country. Geographic space doesn’t matter much, because family is an enormous part of life in the South. Even today, many families not only see extended family like aunts, uncles, and cousins often, but second cousins and even third cousins.
There is an innate ability down there to name how someone is related to you to the nth degree. Lines of communication are open between all of the family members, so news travels quickly – even faster sometimes than social media. It wouldn’t be truthful of course to say that this was always a positive thing; anyone can get on your nerves, no matter how much you love them.
The message here is the importance of these connections, and letting your kids know that, even beyond having parents to love them, they have a whole cast of supporting characters at their disposal.
1 Living in the Village
It goes without saying: family doesn’t always just mean genetics. Beyond strong connections with family, kids in the South also benefit from positive interactions with others in their community. That African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child,” rings true for us all.
Children are being loved on and looked out for by neighbors, parents of friends, parents’ friends, teachers, and all kinds of other adults. Southern kids know that, if you’re acting out or talking back, and your parents aren’t around to do something about it, most of the adults in your vicinity are more than happy to step in (mostly kindly and tactfully).
And it goes both ways; other parents appreciate you being a support and encouragement for their children as well. Studies show that successful kids develop relationships with adults other than their parents. In turn, these kids develop into adults who are invested in the future of their community and in supporting the children around them.