Because neurotic is the new black....

Ann Nichols

Ann Nichols
East Lansing, Michigan,
December 31
I write, I read, I clean up after people and I worry about things. I have a chronic insufficiency of ironic detachment. My birthday isn't really December 31; it's March 22 but it won't let me change it.


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MAY 23, 2012 9:28AM

When Lax Parenting Ruins Nice Restaurants

Rate: 24 Flag

Last night we went out to dinner at a low-key sports bar/restaurant. As we ordered, a family appeared: an extraordinarily pregnant mother, a father, grandparents and what appeared to be twins about three years old. One was wailing on the way in, and later there was whining, running around, jumping on the banquette seats, and a loud war over the crayons provided by the waitress. Their seating arrangement seemed odd to me, in terms of small-child wrangling; mom, dad and grandpa sat at one table leaving grandma and the kids in a booth. Mom’s back was to her progeny, and dad seemed to be surrounded by some manner of invisible barrier that prevented him from seeing, hearing, or jumping up to give grandma a much needed assist.

I love children. My niece and nephews believe that I am a child because I am not very grown up, and I count several people under the age of ten among my dearest friends. I have also been the mother of a young child, as the result of which I feel deep compassion for anyone whose infant decompensates in the middle of grocery shopping or whose toddler kicks and wails while boarding a plane. I have been that mother. Babies and toddlers are not yet responsible for their actions, and if a parent has made sure that no one is wet, hungry, or missing a nap they have done the best that they can. I do not cherish the idea of a peaceful, sanitized landscape in which children are banned because they bother people.

However, and this is a big however, children need to be taught manners, including restaurant manners, and three is old enough. (Actually, two is old enough to start). Sure, you can get takeout when you just need dinner in a hurry, but if you never take your child into a real, non-fast-food restaurant and talk about what’s expected, they tend to scream, cry and jump on seats if they are already so inclined. It is your job, as a parent, to teach them, even if it cuts into your dining pleasure.

I remember being expected to sit at restaurant tables for seemingly endless periods while the grownups drank coffee and talked; we learned early on to sit quietly, amuse ourselves and be civilized. Both my brother and I were, at least once, removed by a parent and taken to sit in the car because we were loud, hysterical or otherwise massively annoying. Note, here, that my parents realized the necessity of taking one for the team so that a restaurant full of innocent people could be saved.

I also remember teaching my son about restaurant dining.  First, we made sure that he was well-rested, and that we had an ample supply of diapers, snacks and small diversions. If we knew he was teething, hadn’t napped or was otherwise incapable of being charming we stayed home. When he was good to go, we started lessons about staying in ones’ seat, not throwing things, and the necessity of going immediately outside if there was audible whining or complaining. As he got older we taught him to ask the waitperson politely for what he wanted to eat, and that if he made a mess of straw papers and crumbs that some nice person had to clean up after him. We also spoke often about the fact that whining, crying, screaming and other kinds of carrying on were very unkind to all of the other people who wanted to talk quietly and eat their food. The hardest times, actually, involved the lure of other children who were behaving badly. On those occasions we had to hold the line and explain that those weren’t “bad” kids, but that what they were doing was not what we chose to do, and that it was very sad that they were bothering people.

You know what? It worked. It was tough. My husband and I each missed out on some things, we picked up a lot of crumbs and wrappers, and we had to forego our own conversational whims in order to focus on the task of teaching good restaurant behavior, but it worked. By the time he was four or five Sam was regularly receiving compliments for ordering in an adult way and being polite to (sadly) astonished waitpersons. He was still a little boy, and there was no mistaking him for Lord Fauntleroy, but he was civilized and we were proud of him. I would add that I know many other children who are more than capable of behaving nicely in a restaurant, and in every case it is because someone made the effort to teach them that there are other people in the world and that it is necessary and kind to think of their welfare and happiness.

So in closing, I exhort the young parents of the world as follows: please bring your children out to restaurants so that we may all admire and be energized by their beauty and vitality. Also, please use the experience of dining in public as an opportunity to teach first lessons about self-control, consideration of others, and the swift reality of consequences for uncivilized behavior. If you bring your kids out when they are exhausted, cranky, or undisciplined, and you allow them to ruin dinner for thirty other people so that you can relax and have a burger while they scream and run wild, it is not your children who deserve the glares, whispers and head shakes. It’s you, and you can totally do better.

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The time my son acted out at a Red Lobster as a toddler netted him a swift transport outside to the car while his father had our orders wrapped to go...

I am in total agreement with you.
A psychologist once told me that children act out like you described because they are insecure and afraid. When the grownups in their lives are in control, they are calm and lucid, but when they expect control and don't get it, they whine, "pickmeup, pickmeup, pickmeup" and it means, "please discipline me because I need to know where the edge is."

But you're right. Stay home, folks, until you can get this act together.
All you needed to keep me occupied was a supply of cellophane packaged saltines or oyster crackers and some chocolate milk! Order me a bowl of cream of tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich and I was in heaven.
A thirty minute "time out" in the trunk works wonders.
Bravo! I was wondering how the story ended. I had a terrible table move in next to us at a restaurant this last weekend. The little girl was a shrieker. Loud parrot like screams filled the restaurant about four times. I was just about to move my table, leave or say something and the dad plopped some food down in front of her and she shut up. Geez. I spent many hours walking around restaurants with my babies as others sat inside and finished eating. Civilization might be crumbling.
I always blame the parents, who generally not only exercise bad judgment in where and when to take their children, but how. I, too, witnessed a parent abandon young children to the care of others at a nice restaurant recently, and was horrified (she huddled with girlfriends at one end of the table and multitasked on her smart phone while the kidlets were all grouped together at the other end). I've taken kids to restaurants. I've been the kid in the restaurant. Parents need to teach, and to gauge the where, when and how.
Perhaps it is because I am getting old..but this parenting problem is getting worse. For an additional $$$. one can select a vacation resort that is "adults only " anywhere.
It is well worth it. In my travels I find the parents from the USA are the worst when it come to discipline and manners. Corporal punishment is a last resort but if judiciously applied it really works.
A good spanking is better than this "time out" bullshit. Though I do approve of Larry's suggestion. rated
yep. did what you and mr. nichols did with sam with my daughter. she's done the same with her daughter. sadly, it's not just bad behavior in restaurants that is those other kids' problem, i'm guessing; they grow up to be clueless adults (like their parents). erk.
On the behalf of waitstaff everywhere...huzzah and thank you!

Yes, we were paid a whopping 60% of the prevailing minimum wage to scrape the cottage cheese off the wall and sweep up the box of crumbled saltines while supervising your precious darlings at the salad bar to keep them from sticking their adorable little fingers into every crock, put it was that C-over-high-C shrieking while we were attempting to take your order that put the maraschino on the hot fudge.

When this retired server's daughter was old enough to go to a restaurant that didn't include packets of catsup and sandwiches wrapped in paper, she already knew what was and was not acceptable.
Absolutely. It's up to the parents to set limits and stick to them. At the risk of fogeyhood, I can tell you I'd never have been allowed to behave so disruptively at dinner, either at a restaurant or at home. Nor were my siblings.
One good way to teach children what behavior is courteous is to play "restaurant" at home at dinners and get kids to understand proper behavior there; if they have a melt down, nobody else's treat of a dinner out will be ruined by screaming small children.

I got hit in the back of the head with an apple muffin at a restaurant where people bring in their kids.
I took it back to the table from which it had been hurled and told the parent his kid had just thrown it and it hit me.
He said he didn't know his kid could throw that far. Then he went back to eating.

I don't go out a lot.
I completely agree. We've done with Jacob what you did with Sam, and I would be comfortable taking him to a fine dining restaurant now at age 8, if we ever actually ate at such places. This weekend, I was picking up a pizza and a woman was outside on her cell phone. I was dismayed (and the teenage staff had no idea what to do) when we saw that she had deposited her progency (approximately age 4) to wait inside all by himself. Poor little guy. Of course he was being crazy climbing all over the benches and applying stickers to the front windows. Sheesh.
Kids who act out should be taken immediately to the meat station in the kitchen to watch what happens to "children who misbehave in restaurants."
Amen. I always made sure my children were not annoying others. There are always meltdowns and unexpected turns of behavior when you're dealing with children, but good parent plan for that. I remember sitting in my car with our son, in full on tantrum, while my husband delivered the food we had already ordered to me. (It was my turn.) I ate while listening to Bruce Springsteen and Toddler. I can't say I enjoyed the meal, but at least no one else had to eat to that beat.
Manners start at home and are always in season. That's what we taught our children and now they to theirs.
Many of us walk down the street wearing earbuds and headphones, oblivious to the ambient noise, and there are reasons for that. No one will change, and also, no one at the restaurant would find you rude for popping on your headphones when Trouble sits at the next table. You can have your own self selected dinner music!
yes yes yes. My parents went way too far with punishments but we got the thorough set of lessons. I cannot stand rude monkeyshine kids(' parents! exactly!) in restaurants.

My temporary problem now is: my three daughters were good in restaurants when young, but my just-turned-18-year-old is having a wild time in her interregnum before UMAss Amherst this fall. I refuse to go out in public with her. Well, I don't refuse, actually, and she isn't THAT bad, but she enjoys blurting out eschatological etc things that she knows they make me cringe and her answer is always "I'm 18. I can do whatever I want." This applies to things like "I'm going up on the roof now" and "we're taking a road to trip to Skagway." So far it's just talk.
This has become a plague in too many places. My parents didn't take us out to restaurants until we were old enough to behave.

There's a cafe in Chicago's Andersonville neighborhood that became a focal point on this issue several years ago. The owner got fed up with parents letting their children terrorize the place. After many polite (then not so polite) requests, for their cooperation in having some courtesy towards other patrons and the restaurant staff, the owner posted a sign on the front door, requesting that parents mind their children and that "children of all ages use their indoor voices" while visiting. Some parents of brats protested. Many others applauded. Not surprisingly, it increased business, because enough of us were ready for a brat-free zone.
All it takes is a little but CONSTANT discipline. Teaching kids about proper behavior and good manners, specially in public places, is a "MUST" for parents. I came across a very informative article that helped me understand and prepare the proper things to do when going to restaurant with a kid. Here is the link: http://blog.peppyparents.com/699/toddlers-and-restaurants-dining-out-with-little-ones/. It really helped me a lot. Check it out, I know it will help you too.