I wasn’t sure what to expect when a fellow mum and good friend of mine began telling me in hushed tones, about a disappointing ‘date night’ with her husband.
They had booked a table at a fancy restaurant in the city, arranged a babysitter and got dressed up for their once-in-a-blue-moon night out. They wrangled their toddler into bed after his bath, dinner and story time; tidied up the kitchen, ran through the ‘in case of emergencies’ list with the babysitter, and FINALLY left the house ready for a relaxing child-free night.
They arrived at the swish chef’s-hatted establishment and were about to breathe a sigh of blessed relief and order a wine, when they were seated next to – you guessed it – a couple with a baby.
My friend went on to confess:
“I felt so conflicted because while I know what it is like to be a parent, we had just left our little person behind for a night of freedom and honestly my heart sank when I saw that pram. I couldn’t say anything or ask to be moved, instead I swapped sympathetic and reassuring ‘we’re parents too’ smiles when the baby cried.”
“On the whole, the baby was pretty good and the parents were clearly trying their best to keep him quiet with cuddles and milk, but it did take the edge off our child-free night out. Watching from afar, I’m not sure that the couple were having all that much fun either.”
I totally relate to my friend’s conflicted feelings; I empathise with parents trying to ‘act normal’ and go out with their sweet baby, but I have also suffered a touch of heart-sink when sat next to one.
Perhaps it was a special anniversary and the couple's babysitter pulled out last minute, perhaps they couldn’t afford a babysitter and wanted to spend their hard-earned cash on beef cheeks and a good Cabernet Sauvignon instead. I get it, going out for a meal as a family has presented us with dilemmas too.
When we first had baby Leo in February last year, my mum was visiting from the UK and while he was still a tiny, sleepy newborn, we decided to go to a fancy restaurant in the Hunter Valley. On this occasion it worked well as when he cried his kitten-like newborn cry, I breastfed him and he fell easily back off to sleep.
To celebrate a family birthday, we tried the same restaurant again later in the year, this time with our well-behaved six-year-old son Toby, and Leo, who was by then, an inquisitive five-month-old. I spent the whole meal feeling hideously uncomfortable as I tried to discreetly breastfeed him in my nice clothes, while Leo squealed and squirmed because he wanted to have a good look around the place.
My husband Jules ended up taking him for a walk to placate him, while I shovelled my cold meal down my throat, feeling guilty and thinking, ‘never again’. We tried our best to enjoy the food, keep the kids happy and not be a nuisance to other diners, but I just wanted to get the hell out of there and proceed directly to McDonalds.
We learnt from our mistake however, so now when Jules and I want to go out for a meal with the boys, we always choose child and budget-friendly cafes or pubs with high chairs, efficient service and colouring pencils. Even better if there is space for the little critters to roam freely without upsetting anyone else.
On special occasions, we feed the boys at home, book the babysitter and then go out for dinner somewhere nice, and just like my friend, I hope to God that I am not seated next to that brave (or crazy?) couple with the baby.