The other day, I was dining in a New York deli with my family when my one-year-old son, who had been enjoying the food we were all eating, began to get a bit restless.
Not wanting to cut short everyone else’s meal – we were due to fly later that day and had only limited time to catch up – I took my son on a walk around the restaurant.
Much to his delight (and my relief) almost every diner, staff member or person using the space to co-work stopped my child and interacted with him.
He thought this was marvellous, and handily, it meant that he was content – something every parent wants for their child.
Out of reflex, I think, I apologised to everyone we came across, saying: ‘I hope we aren’t bothering you’.
‘On the contrary’, they all said, ‘it’s lovely to chat to your son!’ Before lavishing him (and therefore me) with a profusion of compliments.
The whole experience filled me with hope. Despite how I often feel like an inconvenience to others when out and about with my child – especially when I lived in London – people generally do like kids and aren’t hostile to their presence.
And so it was with a well-rehearsed eye roll that I met the news of a restaurant in the US state of Georgia that is asking parents to pay a surcharge if their kids are noisy.
In a now viral Reddit post, a menu from the Toccoa Riverside Restaurant was shared, which displays a fairly dystopian warning: ‘Adult surcharge: for adults unable to parent $$$’.
In an interview with Lyndsey Landmann, a woman who received this fine while dining with friends, claimed that the owner, Tim Richter, explained to their party that their children were ‘too noisy’ and ‘running around outside’.
Landmann maintains that the children were accompanied at all times, and says that contrary to Richter’s observations, she and her friends had commented on how well the kids were behaving.
Richter is yet to comment on this policy, and the whole discussion has divided the internet once again, ostensibly into two groups: those who think children should be welcome in public spaces and those who don’t.
Now, there’s a lot to unpack here, but let’s start with the fact children are human beings. They are no less entitled to take up space than any of the adults claiming to be bothered by their presence.
Next up is the reality that every single one of those people – despite their short memory – were once children, and it’s horrible to see their lack of empathy for the generation coming after them.
I’d hedge my bets that the majority weren’t locked up behind closed doors as they made the slow transition from child to adult.
And then there is the idea that your children being noisy or running around might somehow be an indication of an inability to parent.
Last time I checked, there wasn’t a rulebook explaining exactly how to be and not to be a good parent – most of us are making it up as we go along. But the old-fashioned view that children should be seen and not heard is completely at odds with modern parenting theories.
After speaking to people I know, I believe that children who were taught not to disturb adults struggle to manage their emotions in adulthood.
The truth is, many of us remember being told to cheer up or to ‘be good’ (a synonym for ‘be quiet’).
And so forgive us if so many parents are trying to equip our children with very essential emotional resources they may need later in life by rewriting the script on how we interact with them.
Chiefly, this includes treating them with respect, and not espousing the view that our children should be subservient to our instructions, or that their ability to follow demands or rules is somehow an indication of their ‘goodness’. Or even that being quiet is some sort of asset.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t want my kids to just shut up because an adult tells them to.
Yes, there are times when they need to follow rules for the benefit of other people they coexist with, at school for example, and they should always be respectful of others, especially in regards to personal space.
But to be silent when out in a restaurant with their family who are paying as much as other diners to be there? It’s a no from me.
As any parent will tell you, getting out and about in the world with your offspring is a vital part of their development and the thing that is most likely to keep you, their caregiver, sane.
Depending on their age, the time it takes to organise getting out of the front door varies – with toddlers being the most difficult category.
This often means that the sole act of arriving at another location with everyone happy and within a 30-minute window of when you were intending to get there, is nothing short of an achievement to be celebrated.
To be expected to then spend the entirety of your meal trying to quieten your children because others can’t tolerate the presence of young people in their environment is just laughable – and in no way indicates anything about your ability to parent.
I’m so sick of this trend of child-free people complaining about children being visible in public spaces; it wreaks of entitlement.
If those misanthropic souls are so offended by the presence of the population who will, presumably, go on to pay for their retirement through taxation — maybe it’s them who should stay at home.
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