It wasn't until I had kids that I understood what a slighted group we parents are. I know, I know. How sad. We were the ones who chose to have kids, and now we are responsible for dealing with them.
My husband and I have always been committed to integrating our kids into our existing lives. That's not to say that we don't bend over backward and devote the majority of our time to our children. We both work at home and spend all day, every day with our young toddler sons.
Most days, I can say that I really enjoy the adorable chaos. On other days, I just want to go out in public and get out of the house. Sounds simple enough — until you realize that, as a parent, your options are sorely limited. Yes, you can take your kids to a fast food joint with a play place or another crowded kid's restaurant. That's a good start.
But what I soon began to realize as my husband and I dined among other downtrodden families is that we were following the unspoken rule that all other anxious parents stick to: Don't ever bring your kids to a non-family restaurant. They're annoying, and they will disturb other diners. You won't be able to enjoy even one bite of your meal because you'll be too worried about your child screaming when they can't play with the salt shaker.
All of this has happened to me, and more, when dining out with toddlers. But despite being an upstanding citizen, I'm also a bit of a rebel at heart. That is to say — damn the man, don't boss me, I do what I want and I will eat at any restaurant with my kids that I damn well please.
I didn't come to this decision lightly. I came to this decision after years of dining out with young children in primary-colored, cartooned restaurants. Those zany places are fun, and they have their purpose. But I soon realized that I was had. I'm a grown adult who can take my family to eat at any restaurant I want to. The unwritten parenting rule isn't a real rule at all.
Not every parent with a child in a restaurant is going to be a jerk. One smart mom describes her method of graduating to the "grown-up" restaurants: "If you see that your child isn't ready to eat out at restaurants (i.e., sitting somewhat quietly, not throwing things, etc.), it makes no sense to keep taking them to restaurants just because you want to eat out. Do you put up with this behavior at meal times at home? Is your child allowed to run around, scream and throw things at your house during dinner? If not, perhaps you can start off slowly by teaching manners at home then taking them to a restaurant like McDonalds or some other family style restaurant for a lunch. Once they can handle that, move onto other restaurants."
Taking my kids to a regular restaurant may seem selfish, but there's a little more to the story. If I ever want my sons to grow into normal adults who know how to use a knife and fork in public, they need to practice. Kids in a restaurant may offend other diners, but I'm a paying customer too.
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