Brother Tom posted recently about taking his daughter Maggie out for a night at a restaurant. He brought up a number of different things that were making my brain itch, so I’m going to jump out of technology for a bit and talk about The Parental Adventure.
Kitty and I have never been reluctant to take our kids out with us (Jack was out in public on Day 3 at his uncle’s wedding, no less, which he handled pretty well). I’ve heard and seen good and bad parenting in public, and done my share of both as well. Here’s some thoughts for Tom to chew on:
1. Your kids will never be acclimatized to being in public if you don’t take them out in public.
Children soak up information like a sponge, and are also really, really good at picking up social norms and cues. Depending upon where they are in their behavioral cycle, they may be deliberately contentious anyway, but if you only ever present your kids with “home” and “friend’s houses” and “park” settings, they’re never going to be able to pick up on “church” and “eating out at restaurants”, etc.
2. Your kids are going to occasionally act out in public. 90% of this is no big deal.
We’ve had our share of misadventures while dining out, in particular. Jack is currently on a Food Strike, in addition to being in the Super-Contentious stage of Age Three-and-a-Half. For example, he will ask, “Dad, is that a train?” and when I answer, “Yes, Jack, that is a train,” he will reply with, “I THINK IT IS NOT A TRAIN”. (God, I’m looking forward to the “Whys?”) As a result, he often won’t eat anything, and thus with his 3 year old attention span he gets bored out of his mind in about 78 seconds and wants to do any number of things that he’s not supposed to do, like kick the table, jump up in his seat, play with salt or pepper shakers, etc. Retaining your sanity while constantly correcting behavior is difficult, but it can be done. Letting him act out a little is fine to keep the pressure at a manageable level.
3. 10% of this is a Big Deal
Lots of parents in my generation are horrible at maintaining boundaries for their kids. Running around a restaurant is never okay. Throwing items or a major fit are never okay. Some parents, as Tom pointed out in his post, will ignore all this and just eat their meal. These are the type of people that ought not to have children. I would say about 1 time in every 10 or so trips out one of my two kids is just too wound up to behave reasonably. So, Kitty or I pick them up and take them outside the restaurant and let them get Their Freak out. Once they get their tantrum or screaming fit done with, they’re usually pretty good at sitting down. Sure, the parental food is cold, but I’m not expecting that both parents will get a warm meal until Hannah is about 5 or so.
4. People who don’t like children, but insist on putting themselves into an environment with children, can bite me.
Obviously you shouldn’t take your kids out to someplace where a dinner for four is going to run a couple hundred dollars (unless you have Stepford Children, in which case there are other things wrong with you that I don’t need to get into in this post). On the other hand, places that cater to families, such as those that label themselves “Family Restaurant”, are venues for children to be present. If your child is acting up in a venue that caters to children, other people in the environment ought to take it in stride. If your normally well behaved child throws a fit at Chili’s, and the people next to you give you the evil eye, rest secure in the knowledge that they’re the ones with the problem. Tangent to this: if you don’t like flying on airplanes with crying children, either charter a plane or take a train. Airplanes are public transportation and people who rant about kids on planes are all massively spoiled and self-absorbed. Expecting parents to parent their children is perfectly fine. Expecting children to act like adults is something else.
If you wait until your kids are five years old to introduce them to the rest of the world, you’re going to be spending an unhealthy (for the adults!) amount of time at home. Get out of the house, or you forget that you have an existence outside of being a Parent.