Children are everywhere. This is how we all started out.
I recently read “Bringing up Bebe” by American author Pamela Druckerman about her experiences of living and raising her children in Paris. She is exposed to the French model of raising a child: from sleep to food to naughty allowances to manners – specifically how young children are well-behaved while enjoying fine dining.
Under the ideals of French parenting, no child should ever have poor table manners. This extends to eating out and eating politely and eating in fancy restaurants in a way that all patrons may enjoy their meal. There is something to this that our North American babyhood experience seems to lack.
I read an article regarding the new phenomenon of “child-free” zones: dining places where patrons can have a meal without the noise and distraction of children. I have kids and am not immune to their screaming. I also think it’s bad mannered to have kids screaming at the table, throwing food, or running around just because you may tolerate it and/or don’t know what to do.
Once, for an anniversary celebration, my husband and I went out for dinner. We had no choice but to bring our daughter, who was almost 6 months old. She was a wailer and couldn’t be soothed. One of us ate, while the other paced the alley behind the restaurant, shushing and rocking to minimize the noise that patrons inside, behind a closed-door, might hear. Then we switched positions and finished our meal this way. Happy anniversary. No one thanked us for our consideration, but we got no dirty looks or evil glares on our way out. And we’ve been welcomed back to that restaurant.
I understand the issue that having toddlers tearing around a cafe or playing tag between waiters is annoying, disruptive, and dangerous. I can understand why people would want an “adult-only” environment. I don’t think, however, that this is the real issue. I think the issue is how we initially teach our children their manners and a sense of respect that this lack of etiquette has resulted in this growing problem.
It’s been said that a family that eats together creates cohesion, as well as creating an environment where each person enjoys their food more, eats slower, and eats less overall. We are a society of “stuff-and-go;” how often do we even eat standing up, or in the car? In reality, one seated meal a day, with everyone present, is lucky in our house. But I can still teach my kids some basic expectations of courtesy and manners when we do eat together; they are not wild animals that need to multi-task with toys and can only eat noodles with their fingers.
Creating child-free zones does put a band-aid on a problem. Adults who have chosen not to have children, or those trying to take a break from their own households, may not welcome the chaos that can go along with another family’s brood. But the issue is why these children don’t have the understanding or expectation of what eating entails, especially when paying for a meal and being surrounded by strangers.
I am loath to have my own children dash around a restaurant because they are “bored.” Most places we visit provide some kind of coloring or small toys for distraction before we eat; as they get older we replace this with conversation. I have not specifically set out to create tiny perfect avatars of impeccably mannered diners. I was raised to behave appropriately when eating out (my own parents are from Europe) and expected the same of my children. I also started my children eating out young; meals sometimes were only as long as it took to order food and the kids to eat it, but so be it. They had the experience and didn’t have time to indulge in any destruction.
If we want to limit where we allow children the discretion could lie with an understanding of tolerable behavior. No one wants to admit their child behaves in a way that others find offensive. But we need to look at how we are helping these little people think it’s okay to throw food or run around a restaurant uninhibited. It starts in our own homes with our own meals. Maybe it’s time to all sit down together, and ask who sets the example.
*Do you feel like children are impeding on your space when you go out? (restaurant, museum, movie theatre)
*Are parents being too permissive with children’s manners?
*If you have children, how often do you eat a sit-down meal together?
These are my thoughts in response to the Word Press Weekly Writing Challenge: Mind the Gap. This week’s topic was: children. Should children be allowed in adult-oriented places?
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