Thursday, November 10, 2005

Should cafes and other restaurants be "kid-free"?

While reading Salon, I came across this little piece about a restaurant in Chicago trying to address the issue of kids not behaving in restaurants. I read through the piece, and then I read some of the letters that readers submitted to Salon in response. While there were one or two parents ready to defend their right to take their kids anywhere no matter the behavior, for the most part, people were very much in favor of measures to restrict kids from certain places. As a parent, I will say that I agree. Adults should be able to have a good enjoyable dinner or cup of coffee without having to worry about some misbehaved kid ruining their experience. My wife and I have known that you simply do not take a young child to certain places. That is a given. When I was growing up, we were taken out of church if we were starting to misbehave (I grew up Catholic). I will add that my father had such "powers of persuasion" when he took us out of the service for acting up, that we would not dream of doing it again any time soon. These were rare instances; my sibblings and I quickly learned our lesson. As for restaurants, my parents had what I would have to label as a positive philosophy.

For one, they knew they needed their own quality time. I think adults need this regardless of whether they have kids or not. Those with kids probably need it more. So, we were often left with our grandmother. She was nice, and we were safe, and my parents got to recharge their batteries. When it came time for us to go out as a family, my parents sort of worked their way up so to speak. The idea was for us to learn how to behave in public places and how to have good manners. This would begin at home where we would eat at the table together. Then we would go to the family places, yes, the ones with the coloring menus. At those places, we were expected to behave, but I am sure my parents knew we would act up somewhat. I don't recall going to the places with the linen on the tables until I was pretty much older. I don't recall many times we had to be taken out, maybe once or twice. Here is how they did it. They made sure we knew how to behave before they took us to the nicer places, so by the time we went, we would be well behaved. Now folks, this takes time and work. Time and work seem to be two things that so-called parents today do not seem willing to invest when it comes to their own children. My parents, and it is only now as an adult that I can look back, put a lot of effort so their boys would be well behaved in public and knew their manners. And we were lucky. My parents were by no means wealthy, yet they took us to various places, including some high class restaurants. They believed that their children should be exposed to as many experiences as possible. Was it perfect? No, we kids had our moments, but we knew that if we acted up there would be consequences. Misbehaving in such a setting was not acceptable behavior, and my parents were not really of the "ignore them and let them do what they want" school. They dealt with it, but over time, they had to deal less and could enjoy more. The kids learned.

This leads me to today where I have a child of my own. She is nine now. Now, when you have a small baby in a carrier, as long as the baby is asleep or fairly quiet, that is a piece of cake. It's when the crying gets loud that you have a problem, and of course, the little child does not know better. So, what do you do? As a parent, you try to minimize the disruption. If it means you pick up your baby and step outside for a while, you do that. If it means you have to leave and come back later, you do that. When I was growing up, my parents did not expect that others would have to tolerate any misbehavior from their kids. I don't expect other people to tolerate our kid misbehaving either. As she grew up, we gradually began to take her to other places. You start with the places that are most kid friendly, and you then begin to work your way up. Does that mean you as a parent get to eat at places that are not haute cuisine? Yes it does. It's what you signed up for the moment you became a parent. It's part of being a responsible adult, and it is part of being considerate to others, especially since they are not the ones who have to deal with your kids. That's your job as a parent. It's our job as a parent to deal with our kid and teach her to be responsible and well behaved. No one said it was easy, but it can be done.

My wife and I are often puzzled why many parents think that everyone else should tolerate when someone's kids misbehave, disrupt, destroy things in stores, or otherwise wreak havoc? We cannot help but wonder who the heck raised those parents so poorly that they did not learn how to raise their own kids. We are amazed at the selfishness displayed by some so-called parents of taking their kids to places where they should not be on the "I am entitled to enjoy myself" philosophy. The answer to that is simple: no, you are not. Once you have a child, you lose that little philosophy because your kid comes first. Add to that, your rights end where everyone else's begin. Just like you have a right to enjoy yourself, we have a right to do so as well without your brat ruining it for the rest of us. Does that mean you never go out again? No, it means you get a good babysitter until the time when the kids can fend for themselves. For a while, there was a time we did not go out. Eventually, we found good babysitting, and we can have our adult quality time. It takes some sacrifice and some responsibility, traits that good parents should display. At least, those were the traits my parents displayed and passed down to me.

So, yes, restaurant and cafe owners should be able to restrict children if that is the sort of business they are promoting. If it is an adult cafe where I expect to drink my java in peace with other adults, then it should be kept so. Parents, you either get a babysitter, or go someplace else. This does not mean we hate kids; it does not mean we are child-o-phobic or anti family. Many of the adults at such places have kids of their own, so leveling the guilt trip of being anti children will not work. It means such a place is an adult space, and we would appreciate it if you respected it. After all, you would not appreciate it if someone else took their brats on to your place and let them climb all over your dinner table and break your furniture. This is common courtesy. This is something that you should have thought about before you made the choice to have children. Yes, kids put a crimp on an adult social life. That is a given. Only a fool, or an inconsiderate selfish person, tries to deny it. Good parents just go with it since we know it won't last forever. So parents, teach your children to behave and have good manners. The effort will pay off in the long run. And maybe, once in a blue moon, someone in a restaurant may come up to you and say, "you have such a well behaved kid." I would rather hear that, which my wife and I have heard once or twice. And no, our kid was not born perfect. She has her moments, but we knew when she was born that it would take effort and patience (lots of it) to get her to where she is now, and more importantly, to where she will someday be able to fend for herself.

Just some food for thought. And by the way, yes, I think if a kid is disrupting a place, a manager or business owner has a right to ask those people to leave. Sure, it is possible the one parent with the misbehaving brat may threaten to take their business elsewhere, but I will be blunt: for that manager in an adult place, he is more worried about the business he will lose from the other adults if he fails to deal with the situation. Harsh? Maybe, but when I take the time to get a sitter for my daughter to go to a place that is ostensibly for adults, I expect it to be that way. As someone said in one of the letters to the article, if you can't play nice, don't be surprised when you are asked to leave and told you can't play. Again, to me, that is just common courtesy. I learned that for everything there is a time and a place. So, act accordingly.


Mark said...

Well said!

Angel, librarian and educator said...

Thanks for stopping by. Not very often I get on my "high horse," but some of the parents in the article claiming that those who wanted restrictions were somehow "antichildren" simply got my craw. Anyhow, I am sure the selfish ones will keep on, but from what I see, more people are outraged over kids misbehaving than selfish parents. So I think the numbers will be against them down the road, and hopefully the rest of us can get some peace. Best, and keep on blogging.