Restaurant Baby Blues

I do not have any children. Sure, I hope I’ll be able to have one or two down the line, but since I can barely afford keeping myself well nourished right now, it’ll be a few years (so stop bugging me about grand-kids, Dad!). It’s not like I haven’t thought about what kind of Mom I’d be . When I’m out in public, I keep mental notes of how other families interact and try to tuck them away in my mind for when the time comes.

However, there’s one thing that I don’t need to use my memory for, and that’s because it’s something that occurs every time I decide to go out for dinner:  Dealing with screaming kids in restaurants.

“JUST EAT YOUR MACARONI AND SETTLE DOWN!” a Mom to the left of me screeches while I’m trying to enjoy the lowest-price of the high-end dishes. Cue child screaming. Cue Mother yelling. Cue Mother taking a long sip of chardonnay.

On the other side of the restaurant, a two-year-old looks like she just witnessed someone kicking a puppy. She’s just losing it. Her world is ending, while her parents blissfully ignore the hollering, hoping that by not paying attention, the screaming will subside. It doesn’t.

“That kid’s not happy,” my Dad always comments when he’s my partner-in-crime for dinners out. I can tell he’s annoyed, yet also a bit sympathetic. He’s also probably silently hoping once more for grand-kids, even amidst the awkward display of typical child-like behavior.  I decided to ask him for advice on what he and my Mom did when my sister and I were younger.

“Well first, places like this are just too old for kids. We eased you into eating out with fast food places that are more family friendly. Places that where – in the chance you girls acted up – it was a little bit more socially acceptable.” I agree. If I’m stopping for some onion rings at Burger King, seeing kids exert their energy by running laps around the register doesn’t faze me whatsoever. Fast food was meant for kids, and is aimed for kids. After all – who could forget the Burger King kids club? Or the McDonald’s Play Place, before it was plagued with horror stories from the Internet?

“Phase two – when I thought you were ready – was taking you to a diner. It’s a step up, and parents need to monitor how well their children can handle patience.” Once again, I agreed. I fondly remember places that offered crayons and a clean, paper tablecloth that was the perfect canvas for whatever artistic expression my mind felt like creating that day. Any place that allowed me to naturally tune-out of adult conversations became a favorite.

I’m not going to lie, I still like going to places that allow drawing on the tablecloth. I know I’m not alone on this.

Recently, a few restaurants have made the news when they started to adopt a “no screaming children” rule, which has brought in mixed reviews from patrons. One in North Carolina, called Olde Salty Restaurant, claims that business has gotten better since putting up a sign that reads “Screaming Children Will Not Be Tolerated.” While families wouldn’t be kicked out or banned for not adhering to the policy, staff members won’t hesitate to approach their guests and ask them to take their kids outside.

While I’m not trying to criticize anyone’s parenting – since trust me, I’m an outsider with little experience – I feel like sometimes parents forget that at higher-end eateries, kids just get bored. Some of them are too young to understand why they’re even there. While loud music sets an interesting ambiance for adults, kids think it’s just uncomfortable and noisy, and something they have absolutely no control over. A child’s idea of time duration typically is a bit abstract, or illustrated by specific events they feel familiar with (i.e.: “Nap time”, “Story time”), so they don’t have as strong of an idea as to when the food will arrive, or when the adults will decide it’s time to go. Thus, they act out. And who can blame them? They’re not intentionally trying to cause a scene – they’re probably just exhausted.

Here are some other observations from this kid-less customer: If you need to bring your kid along with you, please know that by ignoring them or screaming at them, the problem becomes even worse for those sitting around you. I cringe when I hear a parent hollering at their kid to stop making a scene, as it’s only a larger addition to the scene already being made.

I applaud parents who take their kids outside when things get intense, and try to explain to them that they can’t act that way in a public eatery. The same goes with movie theaters – especially if the movie is something that isn’t created by Pixar. While it might inconvenience your personal enjoyment of the outing, trust me, everybody else who paid admission, or paid for a nice meal, will severely appreciate the gesture.

“So,” I asked my Dad. “When did you know I was ready?”

“Well, every kid is different,” my Dad said. “There’s no age limit. You have to know your child and try to understand whether or not they’re ready for that next step. Of course, things might happen and you may push them into something too early, but you need to just have patience and teach them. Take them outside, have them settle down, and just calmly tell them that screaming isn’t allowed in a place like that. If it doesn’t stop, try again in another year.”

“So, you and Mom only ate fast food when my sister and I were younger?” My Dad laughed.

“Of course not. Going out with your Mother became less of a frequent occasion of course, but we scheduled a night where the two of you had a babysitter, or were watched by a family member. Not every week, but maybe once a month. And those became really enjoyable.”

I realized that the break in Mom-and-Dad schedule was also good for me as well. It was kind of like an in-house vacation where I felt secure. Not only was I allowed to eat Kid Cuisines (score!), but I learned how to cope with brief bouts of parental separation.

“It’s important for adults to have some time alone.” He paused. “And honestly, it became even more annoying when the two of us were out, and someone’s kid started to misbehave. That’s what we went out to avoid. No offense.”

Offense not taken.

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