No matter when you are reading this post, chances are the internet has had something to say this week about children in restaurants. Whether that is a restaurant owner yelling in a child’s face or a different story—as long as there are parents, children, and restaurants, this will be a Thing. (It will also be a Thing to tell people how many kids they should have.)
I personally hate taking my kids to restaurants. One: they are SUPER active and get restless. I’m all for training and manners, but we do that at home. Two: I’d rather ENJOY a meal that’s expensive. That’s what works for us, and you might be totally different. Great!
We all have opinions and we all think that we have certain RIGHTS. The right to take our children out in public with us. The right to eat without the sound of a crying infant. The problem is when those two perceived rights come into direct conflict with one another. Which happens a lot.
Paula over at Beauty Through Imperfection wrote a great post about how children are sometimes loud, but parents don’t need to be cloistered in seclusion because of this. Jill at Ripped Jeans and Bifocals had a post I loved where she worked through her feelings on this.
Chances are we will NOT all land on the same page with this one. So I thought I would write a common sense guide to kids in restaurants. Oh, and if you want to teach your kids etiquette, this is a great book on manners!
(A lot of these also apply to other public spaces, but I’m mainly focused on restaurants.)
To People with Children in Restaurants
Consider the Vibe before You Take Your Child to a Restaurant.
We tend to avoid all restaurants with our kids in tow that do NOT have playgrounds. (Thankfully there are some great Mexican restaurants here in Houston that DO.) Your kids are probably much better at sitting still than mine, so you may actually frequent non-playground restaurants. But if most dishes are $20 and up or people tend to wear ties, it MIGHT be more of an adult-friendly space.
Consider the Necessary Preparations.
I mean, most parents do this. But maybe you’re the one parent who doesn’t stuff her purse with toys, extra food, electronic beep-y things, and 12 packs of crayons. This one is for YOU. Put things in your purse or bag. Hand them out like rations: one at a time. Have at least 100 things in your bag. Not 99. 100.
Consider the Sacrifice of Having Kids.
I miss when eating out didn’t mean stuffing my purse full of 100 things or getting a babysitter or figuring out how NOT to hit people with the car seat carrier on my way to my table. It’s a production to eat out. But the thing is, we knew some things would change when we had kids? We realized when we had kids that we would have a bit of a lifestyle change. We do a lot of things that we did before we have kids, but they look and feel different. I’m NOT advocating that you keep your kids home every time you go out. That’s silly. But when other movie theater patrons are giving you looks for having your infant in an R-rated movie at 11pm (I have seen this for real and PLEASE STOP), realize that this might be an area to sacrifice. Maybe not. But CONSIDER it.
Consider the Other Patrons.
Most parents are rock stars in restaurants. They have the bag with 100 things. They are aware of their child’s behavior. But. I have also seen many parents turning a blind eye as their children run amuck in restaurants (or other public spaces). Yes, you are a patron and can have your child with you. But that person two tables over who keeps getting hit in the head by your toddler’s toy truck? He is ALSO a patron. And he did not want to pay for a meal that came with toy trucks being lobbed at his head.
Consider a Back-Up Plan.
If your child continues to scream and or carry on in a way that is detracting from the entire space, you should probably consider a back-up plan. If you can’t box up your meal and go home, maybe do a little tag-team parenting. One parent can eat while the other walks around outside with your child. If you’re flying solo, consider a back-up plan before you go. With kids, there should ALWAYS be a back-up plan. Because: Poop. Tantrums. Spit-up. Sugar highs. Poop.
Consider Your “Rights” a Privilege.
This may sting, but I think ALL of us would benefit from thinking about this. So often, especially in the United States, we throw around the idea of our rights when what we really mean is privilege. What this looks like in practice is being thankful that we CAN go to restaurants and have as many babies as we want and work to make money and that we have food and clean water all all. We are SO privileged. When I remember this, it helps put in perspective pretty much everything and makes me much less demand-y of my rights or “rights.” If you have kids and eat out, thinking of this might get your attitude in a place of gratefulness and not defensiveness.
Consider Giving Up Your Rights.
This one WILL sting. I don’t want to give up my rights or my privileges. But you know what? It’s actually a freedom to HAVE rights and privileges I can give away. No, I don’t HAVE to take my crying baby out of a restaurant. But I can CHOOSE to do so for the benefit of the whole restaurant (and my child). I don’t think this is the right move in all situations, but I think that we would do well to put others ahead of ourselves in most situations.
To the People withOUT Children in Restaurants
Consider the Vibe before You Go.
I remember distinctly the time a man gave me a dirty look because my children were being super loud in a restaurant. He actually glared at me AND my kids over his laptop. That restaurant? McDonalds. My kids were in the play area, being kids, and he was using the free wifi on the other side of the glass separator. If you go to McDonalds, there WILL be children. If you go to a Mexican restaurant with a playground, there WILL be children. Before you get all huffy, think about your surroundings. Don’t hit up Red Robin expecting a quiet, childless evening.
Consider the Circumstances You Don’t Know.
I always remember one particular devotional from Oswald Chamber’s My Utmost for His Highest where he said something like this: Be gracious because you have no idea what happened to that person earlier that week or even that day. You don’t know what the situation is. Kids could have special needs. Parents might be going through a divorce. Or it may just have been one of those Days. You have no idea. And chances are that no matter how hard it is for you when a kid is fussing through dinner, it’s likely harder for that parent who actually has to deal with the situation.
Consider the Value of Children.
I didn’t want kids for a very long time and I think that I have a good handle on the non-procreating-by-choice mindset. I also really don’t feel like sitting near kids when my hubby and I do have the rare night out alone. BUT. I think there is sometimes a mindset that children should be neither seen nor heard in public. Parenthood should and does not mean a self-imposed solitary confinement at home for 18 years. So let’s remember a few well-worn idioms and quotes as we consider the value of children: It takes a village. We are the world. The children are our future. Yup, that one right there with one hand in his fries and the other up his right nostril: that’s our future. Get excited. And be supportive. For real.
Consider Your “Rights” a Privilege.
See this section in the list above for parents with kids. In short, let’s be thankful for the privileges we have and stop demanding our “rights.”
Consider Giving Up Your Rights.
I know. You paid for a dinner that was totally affected by a noisy kid. It totally stinks. As a parent of four, I will say that I REALLY hate going out to eat at a nice restaurant and having crying toddlers or kids nearby. Just the sound gets me all stressed and then I start wondering about my kids and then sometimes my milk lets down and then I might as well go home. But you know what? I have the privilege of a dinner out and I can give that up for the sake of someone else. I don’t have to leave, but neither does that parent with a fussy child. I don’t have to, but I CAN leave. Or I can try to tune it out. Or I can ask to be moved to another seat. We would ALL do well to put others ahead of ourselves, even if we don’t feel like they “deserve” it.
Or…Sit in the Smoking Section.
I think they still have these in some areas. If so, I have found that generally speaking, babies are not in bars or smoking sections. (Though once I accidentally sat in the smoking section with my newborn and couldn’t figure out why everyone was looking at me weird. Until three people lit up cigarettes at the same time at the table next to me.) I’m mostly kidding about this, but also not. For real: babies aren’t usually in bars. Some bars have really awesome food. If you want to avoid the small humans, this might be your sort of fool-proof plan.
I love this post from Renegade Mothering that addresses this very thing (though more toward the parents with kids) but with some more colorful language. (By colorful, I mean that if you are offended by PG-rated curse words, just stay here and read my post.) I don’t anticipate that we will all get along anytime soon. But I think that this discussion is important to have, especially the part about rights and giving them up.
For me, this comes straight from the top. You’ve probably heard of that Jesus guy, but sometimes I think Christians do a really poor job of illustrating the fact that he was the ultimate giver-up of rights and privilege. The glory and honor God deserved? Jesus gave it up. For a bunch of whiney, tantrum-y people like me.
So for those of us claiming to know Jesus, let’s be extra sure we are thinking of the giving-up-rights portion of this post when it comes to restaurants, playgrounds, homes, stores, jobs, and Facebook pages. (Also? Don’t forget to leave a big tip.)
Do YOU take your kids out to eat? What’s the backup plan when they melt down?