Oh readers, it is so good to have a computer again! And I almost feel badly that my first blog is going to be another soap box post. But I hope you'll hear me out and understand my frustration. Some of you have probably felt this frustration and some of you, well, I love you very much but you have caused this frustration.
I kind of enjoyed my respite from social media, though I don't want a repeat experience. For several days I didn't have to see any negative posts about, well, anything. But I was sad to miss out on some of the really wonderful things you had going too. I missed being able to start the voting on my coloring contest (which by the way is going on right now on Facebook) when I'd planned. And we won't even discuss the total lack of writing that took place.
But one of the first things I saw upon returning to Facebook was someone ranting about a child being upset in a restaurant and how families with small children should be segregated or excluded from such establishments. And it just made my mama bear blood boil.
First, let me point out that I absolutely agree there are certain places children simply don't belong. About 90% of them are places I don't feel I belong. I don't have a problem with certain places being child-free zones because of their nature. But to say that every restaurant should have a separate place for families? Or that families with small children should have to pay an extra gratuity? (Yes, I've seen that suggested.) Let's really think about that for a second. Do you honestly and truly believe that is fair? Let me turn things around. I'm going to now suggest that restaurants exclude single people. Or they shouldn't allow for childless couples. Or if they do, they should be kept separate from my family or made to pay extra because they are somehow imposing on my family time. What do you think would happen?
A firestorm of, "that's not fair," would happen and rightfully so.
Look, I get it. When you go out to eat or to a movie, you want to enjoy an evening out. Guess what? That's what that family wants too. They aren't going to a nice restaurant to ruin your evening. They aren't going to the movies to make sure no one else gets to enjoy the experience. They're going out because they need time away from home too.
Think about dinner from a child's perspective for a moment. When you eat at home, Mom doesn't make you sit at the table until dinner is already prepared. She may have had you help set the table five to ten minutes before dinner is done. But for the most part, it isn't dinnertime until the food is on the table and everyone's sitting down. You eat and enjoy family conversation and there's no long waiting at the table or anywhere else. When the meal is over, you clear your spot and then go play.
Now Mom and Dad take you to a restaurant. You have to wait for someone to show you to a table. This can be upwards of ten minutes (more if the restaurant is crowded and your parents don't change their mind about eating out). Then once you get to the table you have to wait for someone to ask what you want to drink. Another five minutes. Then you're waiting again for your drink to arrive and then you tell them what you want to eat. If there haven't been any appetizers ordered, you're probably going to sit and wait for fifteen to thirty minutes (depending on how busy the restaurant is and how long the food takes to prepare) waiting for your meal. Finally your food arrives and you get to eat. But when you're finished, you can't just leave. You have to wait again for the server to bring the check. And then the waiting starts all over as you wait for her to come back for the check and bring back your parent's change/card. So, for one meal, you're going to do approximately thirty to forty minutes of just sitting. Again, I'm a grown adult and that's hard for me to do. I get antsy. I expect my toddlers to get antsy too.
I'm not going to say that all parents are doing a perfect job of instilling in their children proper public manners. I've seen children act out in ways that were embarrassing and annoying. And believe me, no one is more annoyed than I am when it's my children acting out. But should I really make my children wait until they're old enough to know how to act in public before letting them experience a nice restaurant? No, I shouldn't. Because the only way children will learn proper public behavior is to be given opportunities to experience being in public.
There are many factors into how a child behaves whether at home or out. That child having a meltdown two tables down from you? She may have spent the entire day on the road and is tired and cranky and does not want to see the inside of the car again for the rest of her life. The child bouncing on his seat and talking non-stop? It might be his birthday and he's finally getting to go out because it's his special day. The family with loud toddlers might be in the process of moving and can't stand the place with "Happy Meals" one more time. And yes, sometimes a child's poor behavior is a reflection of bad parenting decisions. But who are you to decide that's always the problem?
Last year, my birthday was mostly wonderful. But there was a moment which put a definite cloud on my day. We were traveling and my husband and I had endured more fast food (particularly McDonald's) than any adult wants to eat. It happens when you're on the road. Being away from home for my birthday, we decided to go to Olive Garden where the whole family would be able to have food we enjoyed and have a nice evening out. We had spent a lot of time in the car that day. And we were all feeling antsy. The trip to the rose garden in Boise hadn't quite worked out all the wiggles. When we got to Olive Garden, we were taken to a table. My son sat next to me and behind us was a table with two older couples. A few minutes after sitting, my husband and I were talking and Gary was babbling happily next to me. What I failed to notice was he had discovered the chair he was on had wheels and was gleefully pushing it into the gentleman seated behind him. I felt a tap on my shoulder and the woman behind me said, "Your son keeps pushing his chair into us."
I was mortified. I immediately apologized, corrected Gary and told him he needed to say sorry, which he did. I pulled his chair up to our table and he stopped pushing into them. Despite my actions, I heard not long after, "Parents today just don't know how to parent."
"My child certainly would never have behaved so poorly."
"Just another spoiled brat from parents not old enough to know anything about the world."
I wanted so badly to turn around again and give them a huge piece of my mind. My children are not spoiled and I can guarantee you that at some point, their children (if they had any) were the perpetrators of some social faux pas because every child does at some point. And on top of that, I had just turned thirty. I think I'm plenty old enough to be a parent.
But this kind of thing happens far too regularly. Parents of today are looked down on as lazy, soft-willed, technology-absorbed children. While I recognize there are certainly cases of those out there, I've seen them too, not every parent is lazy or soft-willed or technology-absorbed. And it's not just the generation(s) before us looking down their nose at us. People our own age do it as well and often, they're people who don't have children. I'm sorry, but if you don't have a child you have no clue what it is like to be a parent. You can study it all you want, but it's not the same thing.
How would those couples have reacted if I had turned in my seat and let them know exactly what I was thinking? Or just that I had heard them? Would they have been more patient realizing we had spent a long day traveling and my child was trying to release some pent-up energy? Would they have accused me of being too young if they'd known I was there celebrating my thirtieth birthday? Would there have been understanding realizing that children are sometimes children and aren't going to sit as quietly and patiently as an adult?
I don't know. I don't know that it would have made any difference at all to them. I've seen children behave horrendously in public. And sometimes, I'll admit it, I've wondered why their parents didn't appear to do more to correct them. But generally, I keep those opinions to myself because the reality is, I don't know what circumstances brought them to the same restaurant as my family. I don't know what factors have played into their child's behavior. It's none of my business and it's not my place to judge them. I'm grateful that for the most part, my children are really well-behaved when we're dining out. But even on the nights they make poor decisions, I would't change the choice to take them out for dinner. If I deserve time out of the house, then surely my children do too.
Yes, there are parents who could use a lesson in discipline. There are children who become monsters when unleashed on the world. But I think those of us who are adults, whether we are parents or not, could extend a little patience and understanding to those children who are struggling. Eating out is a fun experience, but it is also a departure from the normal routine. And for some children, that is very difficult to navigate. So the next time you hear a child cry when you're eating out, instead of viewing it as a personal attack on your evening, extend that child a little patience. Give that parent the benefit of the doubt. Not every parent of small children is too absorbed in themselves to recognize their child misbehaving. Often, they take care of the situation as quickly as they can. Have you ever recognized it? Have you even once noticed when the child stopped crying soon after he started? If you're saying no, perhaps the family isn't the one with a problem. Remember, you're not the only one who heard the child scream. There is probably a very embarrassed parent trying to calm their child down all the while knowing that there are people in the restaurant judging them and looking down at their child as a nuisance. It's not a pleasant experience as a parent. No one wants to feel judged. And I can tell you as a parent, that nothing makes me angrier than people judging my children.
Be patient, be understanding, be kind. And if you can't be, then perhaps it would be better for you to order take-out and eat at home.
Jessica L. Elliott
Author, artist, mom and super-genius