By MIA FREEDMAN
Yesterday a blog post called “Two flat whites and a bawling child, please” caused all sorts of a commotion on a news website when a woman wrote about an unfortunate experience she and her partner had in a cafe.
It was brunch time on a weekend. The coffee was great and the couple were in the process of deciding what to order but there was a problem. The screaming child sitting with its parents a few tables away was messing with their chi (not to be confused with their chai, that’s something altogether different and they were drinking lattes anyway).
After 10 minutes of this, during which time other patrons looked to be similarly disturbed by the pitch and intensity of the child’s screaming, the writer’s partner got up to say something to the child’s parents. The response he received? “Chill out, mate,” from the baby’s dad, followed by some abuse (on the way out) by the mother who loudly called the man “a despicable human being” before giving him an artfully raised middle finger.
I’ve been both parties in that scenario and neither is pleasant. Wait, I’ve been the couple who had their brunch disturbed and I’ve been a parent with a child who loses it. But I’ve never just sat there and expected my fellow patrons to deal with it.
Why should they? Of course, kids sometimes lose it in public places; supermarkets, public transport, shopping centres, doctor’s surgeries, airports, planes, cafes and restaurants… I don’t think there’s a public place where one of my children hasn’t lost it.
My modus operandi when this happens is always the same: try not to lose my own shit while applying all available harm minimisation tactics. This is often hard. Your kid is distressed or being bratty and you’re instantly forced to juggle their immediate needs with the needs of those around you not to be majorly inconvenienced. You need to stop the screaming/tantrum while quickly weighing up the relative merits of doing this without giving in to whatever demand it might be and setting yourself up for a future world of pain (eg: “Ok, ok, you can have another choc-top, just please get up off the ground and stop screaching like a poltergeist.”)
In the case of a screaming baby, it’s different. You need to urgently try and establish the problem (hungry? in pain? cold? windy? hot? thirsty? overtired? needing a cuddle? just grizzly?) while simultaneously minimising the inconvenience you’re causing to those around you. All under the tsk-tsk gaze of The General Public. No pressure!
But whether you’re a parent or not, it’s unpleasant to listen to another child’s tantrum or a baby’s distressed cries.
So if I’m in a public place and it happens, I will always remove myself and my child from the shop/cafe/restaurant. It’s only polite. And I find the change of scene can often provide a welcome distraction to your child and help them momentarily forget why they’re losing it. Jolt them into a different headspace.
It’s also the polite thing to do and WE NEED MORE POLITENESS IN THIS WORLD don’t we?
In the original post, the woman writes about how the restaurant manager came over to see if everything was OK and noted that this particular couple often sat there with their baby screaming, disturbing other customers. It put the staff in a terribly difficult position, he explained. Imagine the potential headlines for asking parents to shut their baby up? That’s not even legal.
When 34-year-old mother Natasha Young got her check at Cosmo Restaurant in South London’s Croydon, she noticed an extra £3 (around $5) on the bill. She asked about it, and was informed the fee was for bringing her 6-week-old son along, the London Evening Standard reported.
In the US, one restaurant has banned children altogether. From MSNBC:
Owner Mike Vuick opened the restaurant nine years ago. Young children have become an increasing issue in that time, he says. But don’t accuse Vuick of hating kids — his problem is mostly with the parents.
“Parents have gradually diminished their cooperation,” he said, adding that the new policy is strictly in response to customer complaints.
“This is a three-part issue. One is the increasing number of small babies that can’t be controlled. They can’t be quiet and really they can’t be expected to.”
The second factor is kindergarten-aged kids who “have shown increasingly poor manners.” And lastly he blames parents, who “act like we’re the ones being offensive” when staff members ask them to calm their children down.
Many point to Europe where kids are practically brought up in restaurants, bars and cafes. This is true. But I’ve never seen a badly behaved child – even a toddler – eating out with their parents. Something that prompted American writer, Pamela Druckerman, who was living in Paris to write the parenting book, “Why French children don’t throw food.”
So what’s the answer? Do some parents need to be more considerate (let’s not turn this into a parents vs non-parents debate because there is a HUGE spectrum of behaviour displayed by those of us with kids, you can’t lump us all together)? Do we all need to be more tolerant?
What do you think? Should restaurants be able to charge parents to take their kids to restaurants? Should they be able to ban children altogether?
Mia discussed this issue on the Today show this morning. The topic begins at the 2.37 mark.