Flapjack fallout: 7 do’s and don’ts for parenting in restaurants

This week’s blog post is by The Paternity Test co-host Matt Boresi, who lives in the Edgewater Glen neighborhood of Chicago with his wife (“Professor Foster”) and their 3-year-old daughter Viva, who thinks your enormous pancakes are crass.

A hot mess over a hotcake hut in Portland, Maine has done all of us in the parenting opinion industry a big favor – it’s given us something to bloviate about. You see, the internet is a big hole and it takes a lot to fill it up each week. Thank goodness for convenient villains. My personal favorites are anti-vaxxers, people who breastfeed until their kids are ten and celebrities who eat their children’s placenta. Another media favorite, as in this case: parents who don’t take good care of their kids in restaurants and the restauranteurs who hate them. These blogs and all those nightly news puff pieces don’t write themselves, folks.

When some parents in a popular Maine diner that serves obscenely large pancakes let their child cry for allegedly forty minutes (Note: The child was probably crying because they figured out the criminal markup on pancakes. Seriously, folks, you can stir and pour. Make your own.) – the sociopathic chef/owner allegedly decided to shout at the kid, prompting alleged cheers from the other diners (allegedly), followed by the internet breaking in half (metaphorically).

There’s a pattern of reactions when this kind of thing happens, (Remember the “Taste of Heaven” throwdown in Andersonville or the Alinea baby?) – the internet cradles everyone with its left arm of anonymity and its right arm of audience, encouraging everyone to espouse the most extreme opinions they can in the loudest voice their caps lock and talent for hyperbole allows. It is required that all parents pretend that it is nigh on impossible to raise a child, and that all parents are merely servants to their children’s whims without exception, and any curtailing of their snowflake’s id will make the child grow up to make trophies out of human bones. It is also required that all non-parents or parent with grown children pretend that parenting is the easiest thing ever, and that anyone with a misbehaving child just hasn’t explained their case with the proper amount of gravitas and warm round tones. (Or that, by cracky, if we just whooped those whippernsappers with a willow switch like our pappies did, they’d get into line as sure as shootin.’)

Of course, the truth is generally somewhere in between, but don’t tell me that when I’m trying to have a tantrum in an online forum. It is probably not necessary to keep your child out of every eating establishment all the time. It is definitely not necessary to scream at little kids. It is probably poor form to let your child holler for forty minutes while people are working hard trying to eat pancakes the size of a garbage can lid.

Why don’t we look at some moderate do’s and don’ts for dining with the wee ones:

DO occasionally bring your child to the nicest restaurants THEY CAN HANDLE (and you can afford):

You know your kid – you live with them (or at least get to visit them, I hope). You know their attention span, their triggers and their eating habits. If you are one of the last five or six members of the American middle class and can still afford to eat out, then start as early as you can broadening your child’s palette, teaching them table manners, public etiquette and that there is room for both casual dining and fine dining. I love pizza robots as much as the next guy – nay, I love pizza robots MORE than the next guy – but there is more to life than pizza robots, and the sooner your child can learn about it the better.

DO note that children have short attention spans.

You probably recall your parents bringing you to nice restaurants every weekend as a child, where you sat with your hands folded, cut your food with a knife and fork, figured out the appropriate gratuity in your head and personally thanked the chef for their work on your way out. YOU REMEMBER WRONG. Your parents took you out once in the first five years of your life, you knocked your old man’s Harvey Wallbanger over into his pineapple chicken and the table ashtray, then you threw your Watergate Salad on the floor, peed in your Garanimals and had to be carried kicking and screaming back to the station wagon. Then you weren’t taken out again until nearly the end of the first Reagan administration. So …

DON’T go in without a plan and the proper equipment.

A child has an attention span that is about as many minutes long as they are old, so if you aren’t going to engage them in conversation or take them for a walk, there’s no sin in busting out the iPad for an appropriate amount of time. There’s value in your child learning to sit quietly and listen to you crucify your co-workers, and there is value in them playing puzzle games, too. Bring crayons, teach them what’s happening around them, but be prepared and don’t expect more stoicism than a child can muster.

DO remove a crying child immediately from a public situation.

If there aren’t pizza robots, than people probably don’t want to hear your child scream, just like you wouldn’t want them to walk over to your table and swear. (Which they might do if you don’t amscray with that kid.) You came in a car, there’s a bathroom, there’s an outside. Extract that baby like you’re SEAL Team Six and THEN plan your next move.

DON’T forget about blood sugar.

Rested, fed children usually don’t inspire arguments on social media. It takes time for food to get to the table (especially if you are eating pancakes that double as yoga mats). You might need to bring some cheerios or dried fruit with you in one of those little kid snack prison spheres.

DO have patience for parents who are trying their hardest.

If you don’t have a kid, or don’t have one anymore, walk a couple of mental miles in the parents’ moccasins before you flip out. Kids are touchy, but if you don’t stretch their boundaries you can’t have a life and they can’t learn. Wait a reasonable about of time before losing your mind on a flight or while dining.

DON’T beef with babies and children.

Hey, tough guy (or gal), there are rarely appropriate times to raise your voice at your own kid, let alone somebody else’s. Is the kid hurting your kid? Is the kid about to be run over by a steamroller? No? Then don’t yell at them. If you truly believe an argument or a dust-up is in order, take the offending PARENTS aside (or outside) and slap them with your gloves, or whatever you do. Hey, I LOVE fighting with people, but only people tall enough to ride a Six Flags roller coaster, NOT people who use tiny potties and dance along to Yo Gabba Gabba!

There you go – take your kids to a restaurant, but take them out if they cry. And if kids are crying in a restaurant and it’s bugging you, tell your server or the parent. And if you are making a pancake and can’t focus because a baby is crying, tell a server …

… or make smaller pancakes. Come on, seriously. How big do pancakes need to be?

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