Mealtime Mayhem: Dining Out of Control with Toddlers

When I would eat at restaurants before I had a child, I would make sure I wasn’t seated near any children. If I’m spending my hard earned money on over-priced food that I don’t have to cook or clean up after, I want to enjoy my experience, sans errant shards of food being lobbed into my hair.

After having a baby and dining out with her and her cohorts, I have realized I feel the same way I did before having my own child.

I can hear the collective gasps of mothers across the country followed by exasperated: “Children have a right to eat at restaurants!” “How are they supposed to learn to behave if you never take them out?” I can explain.

We took our daughter to a restaurant the minute the doctor lifted the ban on her going to public places. She was a doll—she’d lie in her infant carrier and coo at the patrons walking by. When she reached high chair age we brought along books for her to flip through while we raced through our meal. When she was approaching the one-year mark, our sweet thing turned into a screaming banshee between the hours of 6 PM and 8 PM. We would tell our mini-opera singer to “use your inside voice” or we’d gently shush her, and she would return the sentiment by shushing us. We decided to take a break from restaurant outings.

A month later, we restaurant-tested her again. Instead of screaming, she now flung a plate of rice at the waiter and Frisbee-tossed a bowl that ricocheted off another table and shattered on the floor. Our dining days with the little terror were NOW officially over—at least for the time being.  

Coming off our restaurant hiatus, we took our lovely daughter to dinner with some friends whose daughter decided that she would test the acoustics in the restaurant. My friends just sat there ignoring their child and explained this was her night out, too.  

“Parents need to be prepared to sacrifice fun for themselves in order to teach their children . . . choices and consequences,” says Susan Shell, marriage and family therapist in Los Angeles.

The couple at the next table moved to the other side of the restaurant. My friend reacted by saying, “She’s a baby, people should understand.” But should a random stranger who is out to enjoy a meal have to be subjected to your child’s . . . childish behavior?

“I think that you need to put yourself in the place of the other people in the restaurant. If a child is out of control and disturbing others, I think that it is best to leave. If the child is old enough and can understand . . . go out to the sidewalk and sit there and say, ‘When you stop crying we will go back,’” advises Baltimore, Maryland pediatrician Richard E. Layton, M.D. “By staying outside of the restaurant and not showing any emotion, most children will calm down and then will be able to re-enter.”

The waiter brought us our check without offering coffee or dessert. I was mortified. Our table was disruptive to those around us. Sadly, it will be a while before we show our face there again.   

Do you dine out with your little ones?  Has it been a nightmare or a dream?

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Tags : motherhood   confessions   toddlers   meal time   humor   

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