Imagine that you haven’t been out to a restaurant in a while. You’re in a relationship where both people work long hours and at the end of the day heating a couple of Hot Pockets or a frozen pizza is all the energy you have to put into cooking. Day after day and week after week this becomes routine and romantic date nights can quickly become a thing of the past.
Then one afternoon, out of the blue, your significant other texts you asking where you’d like to go for dinner that night. Thoughts of sweat pants and addictive microwaved food try their best to get you stay in but you brush them aside for the chance to get dressed up, sit in a swanky restaurant and have delicious food served with a smile. With excitement mounting, you negotiate for an hour where you’d like to go and then, just as the sun is setting and the bright lights of the city come to life, you step out of the house, into a cab and onto your date night.
In the restaurant everything is going well. The wine is wonderful, the food is fantastic and company is out of this world. Just as you think about how delightfully the evening is going, you hear the blood-curdling screech of child. You look around the room to see where it’s coming from and then you see it, throwing food, forks and a fit as the parent tries to figure out how best to please it. The parent’s freedom to bring their child wherever they want imposes that child’s mood swings on everyone around them. The squealing becomes the focal point and the date you’ve been looking forward to all day suddenly becomes less dazzling.
The debate on whether small children should or shouldn’t be allowed in restaurants is nuanced to say the least. Parents need to eat and socialize just like anyone else but is bringing a child out a good idea? I’ve been at tables with friends who have kids and when the screaming and table climbing and food grabbing begins, we are doing anything but being social. Those who live child free can’t say a word because we don’t have to live with this on a daily basis. Being critical of someone else’s children when they are throwing spaghetti all over the place one of our society’s big faux-pas. Even the best behaved child is a ticking time bomb when it comes to mood swings, being hungry or tired. No one can predict when the giggling, dotting little angel will transform into a howling daemon but the second it does, everyone’s night is ruined as long as the screaming continues.
I was out last week on one of these infrequent date nights and we were cuddled up, minding our own business when a child sitting a stones throw away in its high chair started crying then screaming because it wasn’t getting what it wanted. The parent (I’m assuming) tried passively calming the child but nothing was working. Negotiating with a child (or Donald Trump) like it’s an adult is completely ineffective and this particular ball-of-joy was having none of her terms. It keep throwing back everything she had given it and soon heads were turning (from other tables – this still hadn’t escalated to Exorcist levels of terror yet).
What’s the right thing to do at this point? Giving in to a tantrum in any way may give the child power to throw a bigger tantrum the next time but putting the child in a situation like this is a pretty awful thing to do to them. Strapping them into a high chair that they can’t get out of where every shiny thing they see is just out of their reach – no wonder they melt down. The poor woman sitting near us, facing her screaming child, looked just under exasperated enough so she just kept eating and the child kept screaming. Parents become somewhat immune to their children’s cry-wolf screaming over time but for those of us who are not as desensitized it becomes the focal point. It’s selfish to impose your screaming child on a room full of people who’ve perhaps left their own children home with a sitter to have a break or for those of us who only get out once in a while because eating out is expensive. A wonderful moment is ruined the second your child decides that the only way it’s going to get what it wants is to drown out everything else with its screeching.
Knowing that a small child could have a meltdown should be part of a parents decision making when thinking about bring them out to a crowded restaurant. Should a child that young be out that late? Is a family friendly restaurant a better choice that a trendy, upscale eatery? Should you have left them home or just stayed home all together? Everyone wants to get out and enjoy a night with their family and sometimes there are no other options other than bringing the child. Doing so has its consequences and those glares you get when your child attacks the waiter are to be expected and deserved.
Whether you’re the proud parents of four children or content to be childless, getting out of the house for dinner (or a movie – also not a place for a screaming child) is a break we all need. We all work hard, no matter the size of our families, and a night out at our favourite restaurant is one of the best ways to repay ourselves for a week well worked. Leaving your children at home with a sitter or a grandparent or a friend means focusing on the moment (and food) at hand, a moment you deserve to cherish with your husband or wife.
Raising children is not easy and I commend the efforts of any parent who are trying their best to raise their kids to be good people. Anything to do with criticizing a person’s children is a sensitive topic because questioning their behaviour is often seen as an attack on their parenting style. The attack only comes when provoked and when the only thing I can hear is your child screaming you bet I’m thinking at that very moment that a small child has no place in a restaurant.