(photo credit: KSBW.com)
I saw THIS news story posted on Twitter. The tweet, composed by @ConsciousBirths on their another social media page, asked, “Controversial restaurant sign! What are your thoughts? Would you be offended by this or be happy to go to a child free restaurant?”
I used to be one of “those” people who believed we should have child-free restaurants, airplanes (I had a whole business plan around a child-free airline!), shopping experiences. Who in their right mind wants to be around screaming children??
My mind was expanded when we welcomed our first child. So much miracle in one little body – I was not leaving her alone. Ever. She went with me everywhere…including work. I could not imagine leaving her for a second, especially since I was breastfeeding and babywearing…there was not a single place we couldn’t go together.
By the time she was a year old, she had already flown ten times (five round-trips). I saw the dreaded looks from other passengers – I recognized the look of disbelief and dismay when we got on the plane and took our seats. Without fail, every flight we heard, “She is such a good baby!”, or, “We were scared when you sat next to us – what a nice surprise!”
Why? Are we some kind of baby-whisperer? Or did I put bourbon in her bottle with breastmilk? (Since we had a car seat in a plane seat for her, the “rule” was that she had to be strapped in for take-off and landing, so I would give her a bottle to help with ear pressure since I couldn’t nurse her in my arms.) NO!
No. We treated her with love and respect. We talked her through the experience. We pointed out all the different features on the plane. She had her breastmilk, liquid love, from the start through the end of the flight, since I could take her out to nurse while the “fasten seat belt” sign was off at cruising altitude. She was a miniature, darling, little travel companion.
Along the lines of treating your child with love and respect, comes the part where you pay attention to their needs. We booked flights around the times when she would naturally be sleepy so that it would be less stressful for her. Since she nursed to sleep, we would both arrive rested at our destination.
Extend that concept of parenting with love and respect to dining out of your home. A phrase that I learned early on when I was in management was to, “set yourself up for success.” There are a lot of different scenarios where it can be applied, and it definitely drives the way I approach any excursions with our Sweet Peas.
You want to go out to eat with at a restaurant? Plan for it!
- Pick a day when you do not have a whole lot scheduled so that even if you haven’t been able to get a nap in, your Sweet Pea isn’t over-stimulated before you even head out the door. Call ahead, confirm the menu is suitable for you, and for your little one if they are eating solids (to be safe, we still brought our own snacks just in case!). While you’re at it, ask the staff when the off-peak times are, and plan to eat there during the down-time.
- Start small and start teaching your children etiquette from the beginning. Go to a local diner or drive-in where it doesn’t matter if your Sweet Pea has a melt-down because the dining area is already operating at a dull roar. Use all the same tools you would use at home and they are familiar with (we use the suggestions from Dr. Harvey Karp’s “Happiest Toddler on the Block”). And if they really cannot pull it together, love on them even more, and tell them it’s okay to go home – we can try again another day.
- Bring your own entertainment. We do not rely on restaurants to have coloring pages and crayons. We would bring books to read, our own coloring books, and now that our kiddos are older, we bring our Busy Books. We take turns walking around with them when the entertainment is no longer engaging and they are getting restless before the food arrives. Once the food is served, we eat, pay, and leave according to our children’s frame of mind. If they are rested and patient, we dine. If we are at the end of a long day, we eat at the speed of lightning, pay, and go, leaving a cartoon streak behind us.
If all else fails, we ask for our dine-in to turn into take-out, we call it a day and go home. There is no reason to stress ourselves or our children out. Sometimes it just doesn’t work out, and being okay with that is honoring and respecting your child. It has nothing to do with fussy restaurant owners – my children’s needs will always come before anyone else’s opinion.
We are also good at asking people, “Today is not a good eating out day for us – can we do take-out at our place or your place?” We adjust our expectations according to our children’s needs and abilities in that moment, and hence, we get the, “Your children are so well-behaved!” every time we do go out to eat. Of course! Because we do our best to take rested, “respected for their humanity” children out to dinner.
What if you are out of options? Like the parents in this news story, what if you are traveling and there is no “home” to go home to? Use the tools you have at hand to set yourself up for success. There are so many great search sites or smart phone apps out there that can help you find family-friendly dining. Another idea is to ask the employees at the hotel where they like to eat with their families, off the beaten path. You’ll find yourselves at a place that wants your business, and is probably less expensive than the tourist-driven restaurants.
When your children are at an age where they understand restaurant etiquette and like eating out, take them out for a fine-dining experience. While you’re at it, take them to a place that has high chairs. Although white linen service doesn’t necessarily cater to families with small children, by all means give your business to an establishment that recognizes that children at any age are people, too.
To the restaurant owner in Old Fisherman’s Wharf in Monterey: We will not be asking for a high chair, nor will we be eating at your restaurant with our awesome and “well-behaved” children – thanks, anyway.