Mommy Vortex: Should Restaurants Ban Kids?
Last weekend, my husband and I did something extremely rare: we headed to an upscale restaurant in Manhattan for a quiet anniversary dinner. Given that days sometimes go by before we have a discussion that doesn’t revolve around the kids, taking out the garbage, or folding laundry, we were really looking forward to a kid-free dinner where we could just talk – or maybe just enjoy some pleasant silence for a change.
We had just ordered and were sipping our wine when a couple entered the restaurant toting a toddler in a very large stroller. The hostess initially looked confused, but graciously sat the family right next to us. We have two children who often accompany us to restaurants, so we did not think too much of the toddler, other than to comment it was odd seeing such a large red stroller parked among the beautiful, candlelit tables in such a lovely place.
About two minutes after being seated, the toddler jumped off his mother’s lap, and proceeded to ram the stroller – repeatedly – into our table. The mom used a tense inside voice to get the toddler to stop, only to have him jump onto the bench seat connected to a shared wall. He continued to jump up and down for the rest of our meal, continually causing the wall and bench to shake. No matter what the mom said or did, the kid shrieked, jumped, and tumbled less than five feet away from us. We held our glasses down to avoid having the wine slosh onto the table, and tried to make the best of it.
At first, I felt bad for the parents. I’ve been there. Haven’t we all? I’ve been that mom whose kid has an all-out tantrum in the grocery store, knocking down a display and refusing to get off the floor.
I’ve been in dozens (hundreds?) of tense-mom moments where I’ve felt like every other mother was judging my less-than-stellar parenting skills.
I identified with this mom in the restaurant. She was hungry, wanted to eat a nice dinner, and had to bring her kid. She wasn’t having the best time, either.
But then, I started to get annoyed. My husband and I went to great lengths to get out that night, and we deliberately booked a quiet restaurant so that we didn’t have to deal with the noise and interruptions of other people’s kids. I kept thinking that the restaurant shouldn’t have let them in, and moreover, that the parents really should have known better than to bring a rambunctious toddler to a place like this at 7:00 at night. I mean, Manhattan has a gazillion restaurants – wasn’t there a more appropriate choice for them?
We hastily finished our dinner, and I thought about the incident for days after. I was torn. Was it really a big deal that this toddler interrupted our dinner? Given everything going on in our world, given the poverty and injustice, given how much loss so many have suffered in the past twelve years alone, could I really complain about something so trivial as this?
No, I couldn’t. It would make me both petty and ungrateful. And, truthfully, interruptions or not, I was so grateful for the time I got to spend out with my husband.
But inside my mommy bubble – if I’m being completely honest – I was annoyed enough to think that we parents need to be more judicious about where we take our toddlers. And I don’t seem to be alone in this position. The topic of banning toddlers from restaurants has been in the news quite often recently, having evolved (theoretically) from business owners that felt they had to institute these rules because parents – allegedly – were not effectively monitoring their kids’ behavior.
At first glance, it seems pretty mean-spirited to tell the little humans that they can’t come into a restaurant with their parents. They’re just kids being kids.
But looking deeper, it is more likely the no-kids message is for the parents: if you can’t control your children, you can’t bring them here.
Of course, the reality is that parents admittedly can’t “control” their children; at best, we can use their awful behavior for teaching moments. But that requires active parenting, and let’s face it, when we are headed out to eat and drink, we want to relax, too.
Many of us have frequented kid-friendly restaurants that were overrun with unruly kids. Sometimes my kids were part of that madness, and I had to do the hard thing and leave, taking our uneaten food home in doggie bags. Not every parent is going to do that, though, and judging our fellow moms is just not productive or kind.
Yet, the restaurant community seems to be doing just that – and more: they are engaging in parent behavior modification via rule making. No kids allowed. While I feel like I’m betraying parents everywhere, I have to admit, after my experience this weekend, I get it. And part of me agrees with it.
What say you, moms?