A North Carolina restaurant made news recently for banning kids under the age of 5. According to the news report, some parents are outraged calling it #discrimination, while others support the owner’s decision. The restaurant’s website clearly indicates that no children’s menu is available, and if the photo gallery is any indication, the establishment feels pretty non-child friendly to me, with its faux-marble statues and gold-gilded artwork. And guess what? As a mom who once took my kids out to meals, I’m fine with that. Isn’t it OK that some places are kid-free zones?
While it would be neat and convenient to package this decision as a hashtag and stand up for 5-year-olds who “deserve” to dine anywhere their parents please, can we just take a moment to think this through? Would such a ban exist if all parents insisted on a certain level of decorum at restaurants with a quiet ambiance? Of course, even the strictest parent cannot control aIl aspects of a 5-year-old’s behavior. But here’s what we can control: Our behavior.
And that means cutting our nice meals short if our kids are acting out.
Recently, I attended a working lunch at a casual spot in my town, when a loud wail nearly pierced my eardrums. I discovered an adorable, but unchecked kid climbing out of a high chair, about to hit the ground. The server caught me staring, and I was afraid she was about to tell me to mind my business, but instead she leaned in and whispered that she is exasperated and fed up, and wished the manager would step in. The parents at that table were enjoying Bloody Marys while their kids ran around visiting other tables, climbing the stone walls of the outdoor patio and drawing on the pavers with chalk their parents provided. (The server was outraged about this, too–who said the kids could draw on the floor?!)
I get it. Babysitters are expensive, and parents need to get out. But do parents have the right to go out when it infringes pretty seriously on the experience of others? And sure, the more we take our kids out, the more they learn, but at what cost?
I’ve been there: It happened more than 16 years ago, and I’m still a little traumatized. I was seated in a crowded banquette that ran along the back wall of a diner next to my then 2-year-old, facing my unsuspecting husband. Luckily we were already waiting for the check when our toddler hurled a slice of American cheese across the table, landing it squarely on the shoulder-pad of a well-dressed woman. She didn’t flinch. The cheese epaulet decorated her lapel, mocking me like a badge of shame for not containing my kid. How could he go from well-behaved and manageable to monster cheese-hurler in less than ten seconds?
But here’s the difference: after this, I did what any reasonable mother would do. I grabbed my child, mouthing “you’re on your own” to my husband and ran to the car.
My husband and I have always loved to eat out and have worked hard to ensure that we can take our kids, and that the cheese incident of 1999 remains an isolated event. It’s not that my kids were angels (they were not). It’s that my husband and I were sticklers for etiquette in restaurants: indoor voices, no using silverware as drumsticks, no audio or video devices playing out loud. Back then, there were no electronic devices in mommy’s bag of tricks, which included favorite small toys, coloring books, and crayons. It’s amazing we managed to raise kids during the pre-iPad dark ages.
I’m not advocating always leaving kids home. I’m advocating for common sense and courtesy. By all means, take your kids—it’s how they will learn. But here’s the key: have an evacuation plan in place the second all hell breaks loose, or threatens to. It’s not fun, I know. I’ve done time on the sidewalk and suffered through many cold meals, but those minutes or hours of pleasure denied were worth it. My kids learned.
And when they reverted, as kids do, one of us escorted them out before ruining someone else’s dinner. This isn’t about judgment, discrimination or mommy-shaming. It’s called parenting and is a verb for a reason. There are age restrictions on R-rated movies, driver’s permits, and other adult privileges. Let’s just use discretion and smarts, and then maybe restaurants wouldn’t have to create strict rules for us.