Mind the Gap… Children in Adult Spaces?

Yeah, I’ve been quiet of late. Life’s just been that way. Then I saw this writing challenge and had to chime in.

Happy Children Playing Kids
Happy Children Playing Kids (Photo credit: epSos.de)

The subject? Do children belong in adult places, yes or no?

I am the child of someone who took her kids to nice restaurants and the theatre. I have two children myself, who were taken to “adult” spaces. You’d think I’d chime in with a resounding “yes” – but you’d be wrong.

Nope, I’ll offer a wishy-washy, “it depends” … on the venue, the nature of what’s going on at the venue, the individual child and most of all, the parents.

If we’re talking about a fine restaurant for a late dinner and a talkative, squirmy toddler who thinks food should come with plastic toys and a ball pit, and whose parents think it’s “cute” to watch them clamber up on chairs at adjacent tables and say “hi” to that table’s occupants, then no, that child does not belong in an adult space. I’d go so far as to say neither do that child’s parents. (and for the record, I’ve been the patron who had an unknown toddler place his sticky hands on my silk skirt and try to climb in my lap. The parents didn’t even apologize)

But if we’re talking about a well-behaved kindergartner who knows how to remain in their seat (note I didn’t say “sit still”) having a late lunch with parents who will quickly (and quietly) remove said child if they become disruptive, then bring them on, and I’ll happily congratulate the parents on their remarkable child.

The trouble is, most parents are so besotted with their own offspring that they cannot tell the difference. I have witnessed a child literally disrupting an entire restaurant, and heard the parents describe that same child as “so well behaved we can take him anywhere.”

I have had lunches, dinners and shows ruined by disruptive children whose parents did nothing to curtail the problem. Oh, and for the record, rolling your eyes and apologizing in an exasperated tone is not curtailing the problem. It’s asking me to tolerate the behavior. What you should be doing is either quietly stopping the behavior or removing your child. Period. Repeated, and increasingly loud warnings of dire consequences are even worse than your child’s behavior.

Ditto for plays, movies, or anything else where reasonably quiet enjoyment is the goal. Concerts are a gray area that depend greatly on the venue, type of music, atmosphere, general audience and so much more.

I’m not talking about children on planes, or at doctor’s offices, or other places where really, you don’t have a choice. That’s why I have earphones, a willingness to escort an inappropriately wandering child back to its parents and perfected both a sympathetic smile and a withering glare for the parents.

So, “it depends”. Parents, are you ready and able to look at your child objectively, without parental blinders? If you and your child can pass that test for a particular event, then by all means bring them. Otherwise, please leave them with a sitter.

When I had children, my mother’s advice was simple: if this were not your child and you were going out, would you mind them being there?

And no, you don’t have to take your child to a fancy restaurant to teach them how to behave at one. That’s what home is for. That’s why you take them to non-fast-food restaurants and continue instructing them on proper behavior. That’s why you take them to the children’s museum, and to children’s days. You teach them, everywhere you go, starting at home, so that when you do go somewhere nice, they’re able to handle it.

  • Teach your child at home – if they are never expected to sit quietly for a meal and are always allowed to get up, wander, make noise, bang on tables, etc, etc, etc, they will do the same thing when they are out. A white tablecloth does not magically impart good behavior.
  • Know your child – if Little Johnnie is capable of walking without too much wandering, and understands the idea “inside voice”, please do bring him to the museum. If Sweet Susie has two volume settings of loud and louder and runs everywhere, please save her visit for one of the children’s days.
  • Skip the rush – the best time to introduce your child to the more “adult” pleasures in life like fine dining, museums, theatre, etc is when those venues are not super busy. Your child will be less overwhelmed with a smaller crowd, the venue will be more able to be accommodating and smaller crowds mean you can more easily distance yourself from others if necessary.
  • Set aside pride – yes, we all love to brag on our children, but please, when taking them to someplace that is not normally child-friendly, understand that not everyone shares your parental joy and act accordingly. Quickly and quietly remove them at the first sign of trouble. The other patrons will think far better of you and your child for doing so.

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