Stop discriminating against my kids; but I don’t blame you

Unruly Kid in Restaurant
This is the exact opposite of my kids.

I can’t even count the number of times we’ve been to a restaurant and felt like our kids weren’t welcome or were something “to be managed” by the staff. It’s really annoying as parents who try very hard to teach our kids how to behave in public, how to speak for themselves, and how to know what to do when the unexpected happens.

But more often than not, public places regard all children as problems that need to be contained or ignored. Restaurants are the primary villains in this case, but I’ve experienced it in shopping areas and museums as well. Restaurants have seated us in terrible spots, not given my kids plates or silverware, servers overlook my children when ordering and speak only to the adults, and managers have even tried to give us the bum’s rush as the restaurant starts to fill up. We eat out enough to know better, and I used to work as a waiter so I’m keen to certain signals restaurants send to patrons of all stripes.

The most recent example comes when I took the two kids out to a local place we eat at regularly. I’ve noticed that we always seem to sit in the same room. We go about once a month, so it can’t be random. This time I was alone with the two kids and we were seated in a different room which already had one child in it and quickly filled with other families with children. (On the way out I peeked into the room where we usually sit and there wasn’t a single child in it.)

I ordered an appetizer at the same time we placed the dinner order, and the kids’ meals came out right on top of the appetizer. Not cool. The food runner offered to bring them back to the kitchen for a while and bring it out with my entree. Nope. I’m not going to have my kids’ meals sitting under a heat lamp. I don’t want that for them any more than for my meal. So, we made it work. I told the kids to skip the fries on their plate, eat the main part of their dinner and enjoy the appetizer as their side.

Enter the manager. He comes over to apologize and made it worse. He explained that they like to rush the kids meals out to “help out” the parents to give the kids “something to do”, and “as a dad” this manager thinks that parents appreciate that sort of thing. Then he offered to comp the appetizer. I refused, and I thanked him for the offer. I told him I would have preferred to be asked if I wanted the kids’ meals rushed. I politely added that I was actually now even more insulted than before. I may be a dad out to dinner alone with my two kids, but what gave this restaurant staff any indication that I needed them to make dining decisions for me? Nothing. My kids sat in their seats, still and with their butts on the chair itself. We talked at a normal volume and I interacted with both of my kids directly. Neither was looking at a screen or rocking a chair or running around or shrieking. They also both ordered their own meals and drinks.

Despite all of this, I don’t blame the restaurant or the manager. First, they tried to make up for the initial mistake. It only made things worse, but they tried. They also have a lot of children come through that place, especially on weekend nights, and for the most part children are not very well behaved in restaurants. I know this first-hand as a server and as a customer. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a dining experience interrupted by an unruly child. I don’t have any more patience for it today than before I had kids, and before kids people would tell me to wait until I had some to make judgments. Well now I can, and honestly parents, you suck at teaching your kids to behave in public. Your kids lack manners and they lack basic social skills like making eye contact and speaking loudly enough to be heard, but softly enough so only the people in your party can hear you.

The fact is kids are an afterthought for most parents when they are eating out in a restaurant. It doesn’t matter if it is fast food or fine dining. Well-behaved kids are the exception and not the rule. Same goes for most other public places. My wife and I work on manners and boundaries every single time we are out with our kids. We pre-load them with rules and expectations. For example, we might say, “This people in this restaurant are here to eat a peaceful dinner. If you don’t want to use your manners, we will sit in the car until the rest of the family is done. ” I’ve only had to follow through once with each child. Now when either of us makes that statement, the kids know we mean it.

Of course there will be some exceptions. To me, those are the ones where the parent(s) is/are trying to do their best to contain the kids. The kids deserve a learning curve. I respect those parents and I sympathize with them because I’ve been there. The ones I don’t have patience for are the parents who seem to not know their kids exist at all during their stay. The kids make a huge mess for a server or bus person to clean up. They actually create a dangerous situation for themselves, other diners, and the servers when they run around unchecked. Finding “grown-up” time can be hard for parents, but the restaurant/mall/museum, etc. isn’t your time to check out because the place itself is contained. In this case, it is not the village’s responsibility to look after your kids.

Because of this, why would restaurants want to welcome kids? Kids often create more problems than they’re worth, because they don’t eat anything with a decent margin. They’re too young to drink alcohol, and they aren’t behaved. Parents often don’t tip enough either because the meal is often a function instead of an experience, or they’re too exasperated by the end of the meal to figure out what 20 percent is. I had a parent tell me once that I was a very good waiter, but he only tipped on the adult entrees and beverages. The restaurant I worked at didn’t have a kids menu, so the kids shared a petite adult entree.

But my wife and I are not those parents. Our kids are not those kids.  Restaurant workers who notice that get a huge kudos from us, and we tip even better for those servers who make sure our kids feel as welcome as they make us.

My daughter’s first laugh, or is it?

Before our daughter was born, I was sure that I wouldn’t be as excited about “firsts” the way I was when our son was born. In fact, I was so adamant that I have almost all but tried to ignore the firsts just so I could stick to my preconception. It was a misconception, I’m discovering.

Then came the first time she looked at me and laughed. It was a real laugh, and it totally caught me. I spoke to her some more, and she continued to laugh. I was so enchanted.

I picked her up and walked out the front door to see my wife and son playing outside. I called to my wife, signaling her to come quickly. Thinking there might be something wrong, she made haste across the lawn.

“Watch this,” I said, and I held our daughter above my head and got her to laugh again.

Then came my wife’s uncensored response.

“Oh, yeah. I know,” she said. My face clearly changed from unbridled joy to disappointment. “Uh, well, yes. This is her first laugh. You’re right,” she added, trying to reassure me.

Well, I believe her first response. Clearly, it wasn’t our daughter’s first laugh. But it was the first time I made her laugh, and that means a lot. It’s apparent that she and I have bonded, because I know that not any man can just walk up and get her to giggle. At least, not yet…

Parenting kids in public places is passe

I’m sitting in the customer chairs of my local Bank of America branch on a Saturday waiting to close my accounts, and I get chance to see something that interests me: the real situation when parents let their kids run around.

So far only a few people have come without any kids at all, and most have come with two or three. All were under the age of eight and spanned the world’s major cultures. Regardless of race or national origin, all but one family put limits on their kids behavior.

This doesn’t surprise me. It’s certainly more common than not. But it got me to thinking about my own childhood and the expectations placed on me whenever we went into a store, bank, or restaurant. I wasn’t always an angel, but I knew there were consequences, and I knew I risked angering my mom or grandmother. It was a once-spoken understanding usually before we went in or immediately after I started to act up.

Even when I wasn’t cooperative, though, I knew it was NOT OK to run around shouting and talking loudly. My job was to stand near the person I was with, not hang on things and not whine or yell.

That just isn’t so today, and I’m wondering when this major shift occurred in the parenting paradigm. When did public parenting reach its tipping point? Is this just a pendulum swing? If so, does anyone see it swinging back again?

I don’t have actual answers for these questions on any grand scale. But my answer to this trend, and I hope it is just a trend, is to make sure I parent my children in public places the way I was parented. I know there are plenty of parents who agree with me in principle and practice, and to those I give a big thumbs up. To the rest, I stick up another finger.

Posted with WordPress for BlackBerry.