Following my divorce, I dated a gentleman for the better part of 4 years. He was from a big, boisterous Italian family. They would regularly have family dinners to celebrate birthdays…..and since there were a lot of cousins, there were a lot of family dinners. One day, he called and asked if I would like to attend his mother’s birthday dinner that next Saturday. Being the introvert that I am, he sensed my hesitation and told me that it would only be a few of us and it would be at a restaurant in a nearby city. I asked what type of restaurant it was and should I have CJ (who was then 3 1/2) stay at his grandmother’s for the evening? After making some inquiries, he informed me that his sister, Jane, was also bringing her 5-year-old daughter and had brought her to this restaurant multiple times with no problem.
On the evening in question, we met up with his family outside this very, very upscale restaurant. I groaned inwardly….I knew it wasn’t going to be a fun evening, this was not a good space for my sensory sensitive kiddo. I felt a little better when the maitre d’ brought us to a semi-private dining room. Our group of 8 was seated at the one large table in the room and the scattering of small 2-seat tables were all empty. I figured, we were there fairly early, so maybe we could eat and get the kiddos out of there before the bulk of diners arrived. I was wrong.
Following a huge influx of appetizers and very few people being able to make a decision about their meals, and hour and half later…and before we were served our meals, couples started to be seated in room along with us. Being able to maintain a toddler in a private room is one thing….but now I was trying to maintain a toddler in a public atmosphere after he had been behaving for well over an hour. What made it even harder was that Jane had handed her 5-year-old a pad of paper and told her to play waitress. Of course, CJ would have none of sitting when another child was allowed to wander. Jane…..a child behavioral specialist, picked CJ up out of his chair, reprimanded me and said “you have to let kids be kids”. As our 2 small children started wandering around the room taking orders from all of the couples sitting at surrounding tables, I was mortified. Needless to say, for any other dinners with that family, my son got to go to grandma’s….where I could let my ‘kid be a kid’ in a space that was appropriate for him to do so.
Why did I tell you this story? Well, just as we have become an egocentric society, we are raising selfish, entitled children. What made it ok for our kids to interrupt other people’s evenings? If you were a couple that was having a private ‘date night’ at a very upscale restaurant, how would you feel about small children impeding on that time? Had I been given more information going in, I would have found a sitter for my son….but once I sized up the situation, I was trying to use it as a teaching moment…trying to teach my son to be respectful of others. That teaching moment, my choice as a parent, was over-ridden by other people who thought they knew better. In turn, it was insinuated that I was a bad mother……and was told that night that I had a lot to learn about parenting. Years later, I still feel like I wasn’t the one with something to learn in that situation.
Our society is becoming so self-involved because we are teaching our children that it’s ‘all about them’ and that their feelings, wants and needs come before others. It may seem old-fashioned of me, but I think it’s time that we return to teaching manners, first and foremost. If you want your kid to be able to act like a kid, then bring them to an environment that is conducive to that behavior. If you bring them into an adult situation or environment, be prepared to use it as a teaching moment for your child…..and for you. Your child needs to learn to respect other people’s space and privacy and you need to learn that, if your kid is ‘being a kid’ there are probably going to be people who are upset by that. But guess what…..it’s not all about you or your kid.