The object of the post was for people to name an opinion they held, which was not popular. Many people listed foods they can not stand or what they love on a pizza. Others named music they hate, or a fad they dislike. Then there was this post from a mother of two: I think kids should have a specific section in restaurants …to not disturb others …It’s my pet peeve and drives me NUTS!
I’m pretty sure that I am the only person who, openly at least, agreed with this mom, adding a heart to her post, and telling her that I feel the same. I pictured all of the rebuttals from other moms, sitting at their computers, feeling like her opinion is rude or that she simply does not understand. I imagine that most of the moms who get defensive are the moms with those children, the tiny little terrorists who make dining out miserable for everyone within pea-shooting range. And I thought that maybe, instead of making those moms feel unwanted, it might be better to help them solve the problem.
So, where do I get off telling other moms how to do this? Are my children perfect? Well, no. But they were and are pretty perfectly behaved when we went out to restaurants. I would love to have asked for references from all of the people who commented on their excellent behavior over the years, but those are unavailable. I will say, it happened a lot – people coming over to our table and praising the way my children behaved during our meal. And that behavior was not their original response to being in a restaurant. We taught them how to act through rules and our own actions. It worked. It worked well. It still works today. So, in contrast to all of the many parenting fails I may have under my belt, this one I dominated.
Here are some principles that I applied to help me handle restaurant dining with children:
- Determine to raise kids you (and others) can stand to be around. This is number one, and I admit, came from my own father. I heard him tell someone this once, when they asked him how he managed to raise such great kids? (We weren’t perfect either, but we knew how to be pleasant and socially appropriate.) He told this person that he raised kids he could stand to be around. He knew that he would be spending a lot of time with us, and wanted to make it the best time it could be, which for him meant molding us into human beings that were well-behaved.The extra advantage to this is that you create individuals that others also enjoy being around. If your child learns they cannot hit you in the face, they also learn they cannot hit me in the face. If your child learns that it is not okay to scream while you are eating, they also learn not to scream while I am eating. It is a lesson that carries forward into every social setting.
- Remove idol threats and remove the child. When my children were still in infant carriers, we sometimes found ourselves in public dining situations. Typically, I tried to get my child to fall asleep right before the meal so they would wake once I was done. This did not always happen. What sometimes did happen is that they would begin to cry. I would take the baby out of the carrier and try holding them. If it worked, great; if not, then I needed an exit. My husband and I would take turns eating, so that one of us could go outside with the baby and walk, rock, sway – whatever needed to be done. We always believed that we were the ones with the new baby, not everyone else in the restaurant. We put our parenting above our dining experience without forcing other patrons to endure the baby meltdown.Once our children were old enough to understand and practice some self-control, we informed them that they were no longer allowed to interrupt our meal with tantrums and outbursts. At this point, we let them know that, should they decide to have a meltdown at the table, we would still leave the table, but this time it would be for discipline. Did they still do it? Sure. Did we follow through? Absolutely!I can remember many times having to leave the table with a wailing child, heading to the restroom or out the front door. We addressed the situation (for us, a spanking; for you, whatever works – “works” being the key word), allowed them to cry it out and calm down, then returned to the table to finish the meal. A friend once questioned how I would walk out with a crying child over my shoulder and return with a calm child holding my hand. I told her that we got out of the crowd, followed through on our word, then gave our child a moment to recollect and try again. Before we returned, we always had a moment where I looked the child in the eye, told them that I loved them, but that could not happen again, and gave them a hug. It didn’t take long for my children to learn that bad behavior in a restaurant had unpleasant consequences, so it was just better to behave.
- Protect how people see your children. This is the hardest part to share. I know that we all love our kids, and want others to love them too. But kids who are obnoxious, whiny, little meal terrorists, are not looked on by others with love, but with contempt.When your kid is sitting behind me in a booth, putting their sticky fingers in my hair, and interrupting my meal, and you just sit there, I want to elbow your child away from me. Usually, I just ask the waitress to move me to another table.When they scream throughout your meal (and mine) and you just sit there, I want to take my food to go, and put it on your tab. I also may secretly want to pour a drink on you; but typically your child has already done that.
In any of these circumstances, your child looks bad. And nobody is sitting nearby thinking, “Oh, poor dear, must be having a bad day.” They are thinking, “Why do parents bring obnoxious children to restaurants?” and “Would you please shut your kid up?” They are labeling your child as a brat; and no one wants their kid labeled like that.
I wanted people to enjoy being near my kids. If you were seated next to us, I hoped you would find that it was still pleasant for you. With four kids, I often got looks when we sat down. You know, those looks that say, “Oh great! All of these kids are gonna be loud and obnoxious.” Those were the same people that, before they left, came over and told us how well-behaved our children were. That is how I want people to see my children. That is why, in the midst of their ugly moments, I removed them from public. I wanted to correct that privately, so that their time around others would cast them in a positive light, not have everyone in the restaurant hoping they would leave.
The takeaway from all of this is that those moments of teaching my children that there were boundaries, especially where other people are concerned, carried over into everything. I still get compliments on my children’s behavior and manners. People still enjoy sitting near us, not just at restaurants, but at sporting events, church services, and other group gatherings. People enjoy having my children in their homes, because my kids understand that everything within grasp is not necessarily up for grasping. I believe it all relates. They are better students, friends, travelers, and diners because of these things. And I really did follow my father’s wisdom, and raised children that I can not only stand to be around, but want to be around. And others do too.
Change. Change is tough. Change is uncomfortable. Change is uncomfortably tough. So, why do we insist on it? Because one thing is more uncomfortable than change – not changing.
Change this week came in the form of my daughter registering for her first college classes. She is only 16, and I still struggle to accept that she can drive away in the car without me beside her. Certainly, she needed my help to sign up for college! Right? Well, no actually, she didn’t. In fact, as my wise and wonderful friend who works at the college insisted, as she directed me away from the registration computer, my daughter needed to do it herself. And so, I moved back as my daughter stepped forward, and with each click of the mouse, learned to register herself for a semester of college. And my discomfort as a parent who was not the one in control became my pride in a young woman who didn’t need my help.
Once that occurred, it became clear to me that this would be the only time that I would stand beside her in that building. This would be the only time she would need me to be there. The introduction had been made; it was time to step aside. To continue to walk beside her would make me the third wheel in her relationship with college.
I made sure to refer her back to my wise and wonderful friend, should she need help. In the bookstore, she met another of my friends who works on campus. That friend too offered to help with anything she might need. Leaving campus, my daughter talked on and on about her plans for the new year – how she would study harder, work extra hours to earn her car, and set new boundaries to keep her focused. None of these goals required my hands on the wheel.