Prior to temporarily retiring our Facebook accounts (we become annoyed with people using the account to push their agenda on a plethora of different issues: politics, religion, vaccinating, etc) there was a debate between our friends over an article about parents who passed out a treat bag to passengers on an airplane in order to mitigate the potential annoyance caused by their child’s first plane ride. Some said this was thoughtful and clever while others felt it sent a bad precedent that we must “apologize” for our children simply acting like children. There’s a growing debate on what’s the appropriate level of social consciousness while out and about with children. Parents have been on both sides of the spectrum since there was a point when we didn’t have children. I empathize with both perspectives. On the one hand we shouldn’t apologize for bringing our child, who inevitably makes noise, out in public. On the other, it can be incredibly disturbing when a child creates an ongoing scene within an enclosed space.
Personally I think there is a difference between a newborn crying on a plane (which parents have very little control over) and an older child screaming at a restaurant (parents can chose to take the child outside until they calm down to minimize the disturbance). There are many situations where a disturbance is not preventable (our child has decided to scream in public many times). However, I pride myself on making an effort to be socially conscious. My husband and I make choices on when and where we bring Nate so that noise disturbance isn’t as big of an issue. For instance, we eat earlier and pick child friendly restaurants where we are most likely to dine with other families. I am not saying anyone has to do this; we do this for our own comfort level more than anything else. As a new mom, I am very self-conscious when out with my son. I am overly concerned with other’s reactions, inevitably the well-being of other patrons takes priority over my own. If Nate becomes upset and starts whining (even at a very low volume) I automatically assume everyone in the restaurant is annoyed. I immediately become anxious and freak out: “Dan take him outside!” There’s been a couple occasions where I’ve ran out of a restaurant the millisecond Nate started crying because I was so paranoid about disturbing people.
While I think it’s a positive attribute to be aware of others, I also think a lot of parents (such as myself) put pressure on themselves to have a perfectly behaved child while out in public. We get embarrassed or feel a sense of guilt the minute our children start acting a bit unruly. Of course some parents have the complete opposite attitude and are extremely lax when it comes to their children’s behavior in certain settings. I am not saying either is right, although I hypothesize a balance between the two is probably most effective. My goal is to cut myself and my son slack. It’s OK if he fusses occasionally at a restaurant before I can calm him down. He doesn’t need to be a perfect angel in order for the restaurant to remain undisturbed.
The first time my son freaked out at a restaurant was on Father’s Day for brunch. I decided to treat my husband by taking him to an expensive high class restaurant where we had our engagement dinner years prior. In the middle of the meal my son started wailing so loud people on other floors of the hotel could probably hear. I was mortified and totally panicked. My husband is far more even tempered and addressed the situation in a calm collected manner while I ran around the restaurant like a lunatic trying to calm down Nate as quickly as possible.
I noticed several people looking our way as our waiter asked if there was anything he could do to help. I immediately started analyzing the thought process of the other patrons, assuming it was “why the hell did you bring your two month old to a five star restaurant.” We were able to calm Nate down less than ten minutes later at that point it felt like nine hours had passed. The entire meal was ruined, not because of my son. I ruined it for myself by obsessing, even after my son was calm, over how pissed the other patrons were for the ten minute disturbance during their lunch. Am I saying I’m completely paranoid and no one noticed my child freaking out in the restaurant? Absolutely not. However, it’s like any insecurity, we focus on it far more than anyone else. In reality I was more disturbed by my son’s tantrum than the rest of the restaurant.
The inspiration behind this post was a recent lunch outing with Nate that turned into a reality check. He didn’t have a tantrum but he was very whiny. It was driving me crazy. Although there were only two other people in the restaurant, I fixated on whether or not we were disturbing them. I kept snapping at Dan to rock our son’s car seat or do anything that would stop him from making noise. I could tell I was annoying Dan so I assured him: “he’s bothering people, they are staring at us” to which he replied “I think he’s just bothering you.” At a later point in the meal I left for the bathroom, the older couple came up to Dan and said “we were going to offer to hold your baby while you were eating but realized that would be inappropriate, seeing him at lunch was making us miss our grandchildren.” Dan later relayed this interaction to me and it really struck a cord. The couple may have been staring at us but not because our son was annoying them; he was making them miss their grandchildren. This made me realize you cannot assume people’s reaction to your child is annoyance.
When Dan and I go out to dinner without Nate we have a positive reaction to being surrounded by other children because it makes us think of our son. As parents we need to cut ourselves some serious slack. Although there is nothing wrong with being conscious of your environment, don’t kill yourself trying to make sure your child is perfectly behaved because it will never happen! Dan and I will always be the socially conscious parents who remove our child from the restaurant when screaming or crying ensues. This doesn’t mean I need to spend my entire meal focused on how every noise he makes is going to impact someone else. There will always be people that are annoyed by my son’s mere presence at a restaurant no matter how well he behaves: however, for the most part people aren’t as judgmental as they seem. Although it will take time and effort, I am vowing to be less self-conscious while out with my son. I plan on spending less time focusing on others and more time enjoying my family. Happy dining out!