Friday, January 31, 2014

It Shouldn't Take a Village to Shoosh Your Kid

When exactly did a screaming baby in a public place become a debatable topic? When my parents were children, there were four rules for children in the presence of adult not in the immediate family:

1. Shut.
2. The.
3. F*#k.
4. Up.

OK, there were five. The fifth, in tiny font and parentheses, was:

“... (unless spoken to)...”
By the time my generation was born and journeyed through our schooling years, the rules had relaxed a bit. Kids could talk, but only if they were saying something stupid or funny enough to keep adults entertained, and even then, it better not last longer than a standard YouTube commercial.

Once upon a time, interrupting a chatty kid wasn’t rude. In fact, it was an accepted part of life, because that generation of parents was raised with the aforementioned 4 ½ rules; they considered themselves wildly benevolent to even allow kids to talk at all, ever.

At some point between then and now, we decided kids had rights or something. We decided that whatever the hell comes out of kids’ mouths merits the same value and consideration as that of any other adult at the dinner party. I don’t know when that was. Maybe it was around the same time meth came into vogue, which would make sense.

In the mid-90s, my wife and I had just moved to Chattanooga, and we were church hunting. We visited an Episcopal church in town, because we were good friends with a huge number of Episcopalians -- or Anglicans, or whatever they liberal ones are calling themselves these days. The service was a bit too “by the book” for us, but that’s not what chased us away. It was the kids. The middle aisle of that church might as well have been the daycare room. Kids ages 2 - 8 were running up and down the aisles during the service. Not, like, during the “children’s moment,” mind you, but just as general practice. We looked around, wondering where the parents were, and none of the other parishioners seemed bothered. They were just smiling and facing the front. We couldn’t concentrate on the sermon -- or homily, or whatever Episcopanglicans call it -- for the kids, or for the unfazed adults apparently numbed to it.

What we didn’t know is that this church was merely ahead of the cultural curve.

In the past 20 years or so, the Emboldened Child Syndrome has exploded. And what I mean by Emboldened Child Syndrome is “Crappy Parents.” Their kids run up to your booth at a restaurant and say something clever or nonsensical and, if you are lucky, spill your beer by flying a Lego airplane over it. And the parents sit, giddy and unapologetic at their table, and wave at you and wink because they want you to share in the joy of their child’s adorable precociousness.

Because we’re generally nice and decent people, we keep our mouths shut. But we quietly promise one another never to be those parents, never to expect other adults to babysit our children for free, or to tolerate what we find cutesy and adorable unless they signed up for it by entering our house or some other locale where children can be expected, like Chuck E Cheese.

And most of us, I truly believe, have held to these vows. Most of us don’t expect everyone else to adore our sweet angels unconditionally and under all circumstances.

The Chattanooga paper recently tried to suggest that there might be some “controversy” surrounding whether parents should be allowed to bring small screamy children to expensive restaurants.

It is not a controversy. It is simply selfish. Period.

Anyone should be allowed to bring any kid anywhere, with one simple provision: when your child’s volume disturbs or might remotely disturb others and cannot be managed, remove said child from the premises. Take the child outside, or to the bathroom, or to the top of a mountain, anywhere so long as it’s away from everyone who is entitled not to have to give a flip about you or your child.

Here’s the flip-side rule for those who have no children in the restaurant: have a heart. A grain of sympathy for parents -- even incompetent or selfish ones -- isn’t asking too much. Most of us do this. But even parents have breaking points; it's perfectly reasonable for a stranger's patience to be sliced much thinner.

The Golden Rule is, I fear, misunderstood. If you think The Golden Rule is about you… then for the sake of everyone else’s dining enjoyment, please just stay at home.


Daisy said...

I agree with every word of this post! Fantastic!

troutking said...


Tockstar said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

G. B. Miller said...


While I can tolerate screaming/crying children in a lot of places (pet phrase of mine is "there goes a happy child"), restaurants is one of few places that I cannot.

Even mine didn't act up when they were that age, or any age for that matter, in restaurants.

Bob said...

Expanding the conversation to the reality that many parents cannot know how their children may behave until the moment of truth, I do not quite agree. Children should be able to go anywhere. If they can't handle it, then their parents should take them out. Agreed. But there is an implied discrimination here; unless your point is to explicitly include (which you haven't) the loud, drunken asshole at the next table, or the impatient patron even at your own table who makes the experience unpleasant for everyone, or the guy making relentless "that's what she said" jokes in the booth behind you, this sounds like a puritanical, precious argument for people who don't have children or who don't want to work on their children's socialization. Expand your idea of selfishness to include anyone who causes a disturbance, and maybe you've got me. Adults can be just as screamy as children. Just sayin'.

Billy said...

@Bob - (a) In point of fact, most restaurants will ask a drunken or disorderly adult patron to leave their premises in the fraction of a time they'd ask the family of an obnoxious kid. (b) Drunk obnoxious adults in certain establishments are sort of to be expected, but in the rest of day-to-day establishments, the kids at the heart of this post drastically outnumber those sorts of adults. (c) I'm going to cut you some slack because I think you're feeling pugilistic after having yer boy suffer the most humiliating Super Bowl defeat in your daughters' lifetimes.

Robert Berman said...

With our first child, we tried going to restaraunts with a toddler. I ended up running laps with him around the Red Lobster while my wife waited alone inside for our food. With our second toddler now, we pretty much just do take-out or buffet, although Cracker Barrel can actually get the food out quickly enough not to be an ordeal.

The church issue is trickier. Kids who have grown up in church are generally trained to sit quietly in the pew, assuming that they attend a churh which does not segregate the young'uns to their own activity during the worship service. (I prefer the hybrid that keeps families together during the more interactive part of the worship service, then has a separate age-appropriate learning opportunity for the kids during the sermon.) The question is how a church can do what it's used to with its "own kids" without erecting an insurmountable barrier to new families whose kids aren't trained in the ways of sitting quietly. Such is often the case with the needy families that the church ought to be reaching out to help. They already feel uncomfortable enough just being in an unfamiliar building, doing unfamiliar things, with people who already know each other.

Billy said...

@Robert - Your point is appreciated and is a testament to the grossly imperfect nature of my writing. My beef is primarily with the handling of children in public places intended primarily for adults.

If a church wants to let its children run rampant down the aisles -- be they "churched" children or newbies matters not -- I respect that. In fact, I respect any establishment that makes an assertive decision either way on this. Their property, their right.

Mostly I just don't respect or tolerate parents who look at everyone else as if we are obligated to immeasurably tolerate the shrieks or misbehavior or their children. (I spent much of my restaurant time with our three kids in the same place you did... walking outside or in the lobby in the hopes my child might chill out before the food got cold. And I always felt that was the risk I was taking upon myself by going with kids in the first place.)