Monday, June 10, 2013

Why We Take Our Children to Restaurants

Before you have young kids, eating out at a restaurant is no big deal.  It's enjoyable, and a great way to escape the wifely duties of cooking and cleaning for a night.  There comes a time when you have a baby.  And then another.  And another.  And the restaurant experience can quickly turn into "how fast can we get our food, eat, and get out of here?"

By the time you take 2nd trip to the bathroom with your 3 year old who likes checking out new bathrooms for the heck of it and never actually pees, you declare the drinks are going away.  If she asks to go again, you're going to say "no" and you'd like to avoid the possibility of it being a "real" time and her having an accident. 

Then your 18 month old gets tired of his high chair and decides the food isn't all that great.  Since you can't tighten the straps any tighter on the highchair, you let him climb out into the booth with you.  Salt and pepper shakers have to quickly be confiscated, and he starts to whine about life in general.

Your 5 year old won't stop singing at the top of her lungs, and when she does have a chance to take a breath, she wants to play 58 questions.

You have a spouse sitting 2 feet away from you and you haven't made eye contact in approximately 19 minutes.  When you did, it was to ask if he could make the child next to him stop attempting to touch the shiny hair clip of the lady in the next booth over.

Sound familiar?  We've lived it.  We've witnessed it with others.  It's life with small kids.

You may have given up, thinking restaurants are just not a pleasant reality for you right now.  And that's okay.  But I want to give you a peek at my perspective...the reasons why we still take our children to restaurants.  The reason why we endure the chaos that can sometimes ensue with 3 young children at a restaurant.  Just maybe, you will finish feeling encouraged to give it another try with a new perspective.  Or maybe not.  I won't be offended.

Why do we still take our children to restaurants?

Although taking our children to restaurants can be so difficult, we have always opted to continue taking our children out with us, usually monthly (that's what fits in our budget).  Here's why we do it:

1.  Children aren't born knowing how to behave in social situations.  It's a learned behavior, and we get to be the teachers.   Learning how to act in a restaurant can really only be learned in a restaurant.  Manners and such can (and should) be taught at home.  At some point, though, children have to actually be exposed to a restaurant to figure out how they are to act and behave at one.   Children may not ever know that people in the booth behind them don't appreciate you hanging over their seat unless you explain it to them.  The waiter may not appreciate all the sugar packets being dumped under the table.  It's little things that we take for granted that really need to be taught/communicated to our children within the appropriate environment.

2.  Eating out at restaurants helps our children learn some social safety exceptions.  Children need to learn that although they aren't supposed to talk to "strangers",  a server should not be ignored and there is no need to bury their head in moms lap.  When a server asks a question, they can feel safe to respond.

3.  Interacting with servers/waiters provides an opportunity to build confidence in little people.  Do you remember being a kid and asking your mom to order for you?  It can be scary!  Ordering food and drink provides an awesome opportunity for children to state what they would like, answer questions about food preferences/choices, and learn to ask clarifying questions.  They learn how to do this by listening and copying you.  Although they may have opportunities at home to choose foods, it is very different when ordering whatever you want off of a menu from someone you have never met before.

4.  This one is not as huge of a deal, but still something I like, nonetheless.  Restaurants provide a feeling of being "special" for my kids.  They can pick anything off the menu that they want, and their dinner/lunch can be completely different from their siblings!  They get to be served and taken care of by someone other than mom/dad, and they get to enjoy their food preferences.  It's just special.

We still have our "bad" days at restaurants, but honestly, our kids do very well when we eat out.  They are polite, order their own food, ask politely for refills, and put the sugar packets back into the container when they're done playing with them :)  We still have to continually remind them not to point or stare at other people, but those things are getting better with time.

We want our children to know how to act and behave at a restaurant.  We take them to restaurants to teach them those things.  Sometimes as parents we have to "suck it up" when it comes to helping our children learn and grow.  It takes putting our selfish desires to sit quietly at a restaurant with our perfect angel children away and realizing that we have an important task as parents to make sure our children learn in grow in all areas of life.

If you want a quiet enjoyable experience at a restaurant, find a babysitter and go out with your spouse alone.  Soak it up and enjoy it!  But, don't let your frustrations lead you to neglect helping your children grow in this area of life, either. 


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