I only have four kids, but you’d be surprised at the reaction we sometimes get when we go out to a restaurant or something. People watch my brood go by, one by one, with a raised eyebrow – like the damn Duggars just walked through the door, or like we’ve come tumbling out of an astonishingly small clown car. Add in the fact that my four children are all boys, and all the wild, rambunctious, can’t-behave-themselves stereotypes which (unfairly) accompany that, and it’s no wonder we get a lot of side-eye.
It’s like people automatically expect that we’re going to barge into the restaurant and my unruly kids are going to ruin everybody’s dinner with their shenanigans. I didn’t just release them from captivity, people. I brought them out to enjoy the restaurant like everybody else. Geez.
I’m not gonna lie: there have been occasions when we’ve had to take a crying baby or tantruming toddler out of an establishment so the other patrons can eat in peace. But so has every other parent on the planet, whether they have one child or 12. For the most part, and especially now that they’re all older than five, my kids are extremely well-behaved when we go out. It’s because their behavior and manners are important to us, and my husband and I have spent their entire lives teaching them how to act in public.
It’s definitely a learning process. You can’t just expect a kid to innately know to hold the door for others, or put their napkin in their lap, or use an inside voice, or to not crawl around under the table – these are all things that must be demonstrated by example. We’ve made it a point to make sure our kids know all the dos and don’ts, so that everybody has a more enjoyable time when we’re out, and we’ve put in a lot of effort to teach them these things.
The other evening we took the boys to an Italian restaurant where there weren’t many kids, and got the usual subtly-concerned looks from other patrons, like they were just waiting for one of them to climb onto the table and burp at the top of his lungs. My boys held the door for me on the way in, and we had dinner without incident. As we got up to leave, an older couple approached us.
“We just wanted to let you know how impressed we were with your children’s behavior,” the man said, as his wife beamed at me. “You’ve got a bunch of good boys.”
I swear, I could not have been any happier if he’d said, “Here’s a tube of effective wrinkle cream and a blank check.” We thanked them and left, but the warm glow of his words stuck with me. And it was like a lightbulb went on: Why don’t we compliment parents more often?
People can be so quick to issue criticism of others’ parenting, but complimenting happens far less frequently. It’s such a simple thing to do, to say, “Hey, your kids are great,” and it leaves behind such a profound feeling of accomplishment and pride – so why doesn’t it happen very often? Because it totally should.
If you think about it, we get all kinds of opportunities to give someone kudos on their kiddos, and there is literally zero reason not to do it. There’s the kid at the petting zoo who’s so gentle with the animals and is not chasing the chickens. The teenager being so sweet with a younger sibling. The kid from your neighborhood who’s always so polite. The toddler smiling and waving at everyone from the shopping cart.
Sure, maybe they’re not like that all the time, but when we see it we should speak up … because it could mean a lot to a fellow parent who may be struggling with self-doubt.
I spend so much time second-guessing every aspect of my parenting, wondering if I’m doing any of it right, as all parents do. So to hear someone who has no stake in it whatsoever say that I’m doing a good job, that I’m raising great kids – it’s like a balm for the worry that constantly scrapes at my consciousness. For a little while, I can be confident that I’m not screwing this whole thing up, a feeling you can’t put a price tag on. So I’m going to give it to other parents, too. It might be a small affirmation, but the after effects are huge.
Pass it on. You never know when somebody’s self-worth as a parent depends on it.