Dear angry woman at the restaurant giving my child the evil eye,
We obviously have very different opinions on how to raise children. I gathered that you probably take your preferences from the outdated & destructive school of thought that children are to be seen & not heard. I, on the other hand, base my philosophy on attachment theory—a field of study involving psychological & evolutionary theories, which, when applied to parenting, show that happy, strongly attached children grow into happy, healthy adults. Our world is in desperate need of happy, healthy adults (if you haven’t noticed).
I understand there are drastically varying views on how children should behave in public. Some people truly believe that kids should be seen & not heard. As a general disclaimer, you should know that when I had a child, I never intended to make him bend to the bizarre whims of our unfriendly culture. I believe in honoring my 3-year-old child while respecting our environment—which does not equate to spoiling him, nor does it mean I let him “run wild” in public. He’s pretty mild (& hilarious) these days, but as a toddler, if he was banging on the table in a restaurant (which is a developmentally normal way for a toddler to attempt to explore his surroundings), I’d remind him to keep his hands quiet or I’d distract him, but I would never hiss threats at him or grab his wrists to cause pain, as I have seen some parents do in an attempt to control their child. Maybe it’s true that a young child whose wrist hurts won’t bang on the table again. Maybe it’s true that my gentle guidance isn’t as immediately effective, & you’ll have to hear the annoying sound more than once. You might even have to hear my son burst into song at some point during the meal. It’s a rough life for the public diner.
Something I have discovered is that kids will be noisy whether their parents treat them kindly or harshly. I could threaten to spank my child for being loud in a restaurant, or I can gently remind him to be quiet, but kids are still going to make noise sometimes, no matter how much you try to control them. I have been around plenty of kids who are spanked, threatened, given time-outs, & various other forms of punitive punishment—all of them make noise, all of them want to explore their surroundings, all of them have big emotions sometimes.
With that said, my child wasn’t being loud. You might not have even noticed that there were two kids at the table, because my friend Crystal’s daughter was asleep in her lap the whole time we were eating. I know my son wasn’t being loud, because he was respecting the fact that his friend was sleeping. What bothered you was the 5-minute trot we did around the restaurant while my friend & I were paying our respective checks. First I went to the register while Crystal took her 24-month-old daughter & my son over to the cool goddess fountain in the corner. Then Crystal paid while I watched the kids as they (gasp!) meandered through the restaurant toward the exit. There was no one else in the restaurant. As we walked by your table, you slammed your fork down. The woman you were eating with didn’t make eye contact or say anything, but she looked as cold as you.
“We’re having a meeting,” you said angrily.
I knew you both looked like you weren’t having a good time. But because our kids were actually being quiet for children their age, simply walking past your table while chatting (yes, loudly) in their sing-songy way, I assumed you were discussing an unpleasant matter or were of naturally foul disposition. As it turns out, the latter might be correct.
“This isn’t Chuck-E-Cheese,” you told Crystal. Yeah. . . We know that. We were at an Indian restaurant, a family-run business, which I’ve been going to since long before I had my son. The woman who runs the place always comes out to check on us & she seems to adore not only my child, but all of the children I’ve seen in her restaurant. I interviewed the male owner for a school paper & my son came with (because I am a single parent with very limited options for childcare & because I love taking him with me everywhere). During our conversation he started banging a fork on the table while singing. I (gently) took the fork & (nicely) told him he needed to be quiet so I could finish my conversation. The owner said something along the lines of, “No, mama, let him play,” & gave my son back his fork. That sweet interaction prompted me to text my friend Jesse (an American who travels to India often) to ask him if Indian parents are like Americans in their belief that children should be seen & not heard. My friend Jesse’s response was: “Lol hell no!” He went on to detail his perception that Indian parents let their kids be kids. They hold appropriate expectations of their children, & according to my friend, their kids are better behaved than their US counterparts. Most likely because they feel positive, understood, & honored.
But that’s not the point. It doesn’t matter how you believe kids should act in public or how you believe their parents should punish them. It doesn’t matter what I believe either. One thing is certain, as Crystal pointed out– we were in a public restaurant. You chose to have your meeting in a restaurant that does not offer anything even resembling privacy. The restaurant’s seating area is a single square room with open booths & tables; you WILL be hearing your neighbors’ conversations. Children are allowed there. I present the small candy-dispensing machine in the vestibule & the dish of suckers by the cash register as evidence that children are actually welcome there. It’s also just a reasonable expectation that if you venture into public, you might hear a child. Children have emotions; you might be witness to that. You might hear a baby crying, or a person talking loudly on a cell phone. Someone wearing too much cologne might walk past you. It’s terrible times out there.
I am not saying parents should allow their kids to do whatever, whenever. Please understand this. Children need guidance, some more than others, especially in closed-in situations. That’s why I love going to spacious parks & playgrounds—my child is allowed to free-range without having to conform to the cranky adult version of the world. But my son & his toddler friend do really well in public most days. They are both learning how to communicate their needs in a healthy way, both rarely cry, & neither has “tantrums.” They are “good kids;” boisterous, talkative, & funny. In fact, I’m not sure what about them bothered you so much.
Which leads me to the conclusion that maybe you were planning a funeral or something. Maybe your dog just died, or you lost your job & you’re feeling the weight of the broken economy on your shoulders. Maybe a lot of sad things have happened to you in your life that somehow makes the normal behavior of children exceptionally irritating to you. Maybe when you were a child you were hurt for acting like a child.
If you were having a bad day, I’m sorry our kids were a bother. I try to have compassion, & I would spare a grieving person annoyance if I could. But the truth is, I don’t know your circumstances, & we have to share this space. I do know that my son & his friend are a pleasant addition to most public scenarios. We were polite & kind, & we raise kids who behave the same way. You were not. You spoke furiously at us for no logical reason, which is just a lame thing to do in front of kids. You tried to shame us, but it didn’t work. I smiled & told you we were leaving soon. You said “Good, the sooner the better.” Crystal told you we were in a child-friendly restaurant; you said we were annoying. Something I find more annoying than a child is an adult who holds their preferences above the rights of a child. I feel that my friend & I did our parts to fulfill the general contract of decency that individuals presumably enter into when we venture into public. You did not, for whatever reason. To assist you in behaving in a more decent manner when you’re in a public space with a child in the future, consider reading about healthy child development, secure attachment, & gentle parenting. It may give you some perspective & help you empathize with children rather than try to control them.
Eating seaweed salad at a sushi restaurant.
About Kristen Tea
I am a 27-year-old single, attached, informed, lactivist, intactivist, peaceful Minnesotan mother of almost 4-year-old Sun Ronin a.k.a Sunny Boy. I am an artist & lover of expression. I’m also a student with many things to learn, including nutritional therapy, lactation consulting, doulahood, yoga instructing, & more. I believe that unplanned pregnancies do not have to equal uninformed motherhood, & women have the power to restore humanity to everything we touch.