A couple years ago, I wrote a post about dragging my toddler out of a chain restaurant because she was throwing a fit. Naturally, I wasn’t sure what she was throwing a fit about exactly. I was pretty sure it had something to do with me stopping her from throwing chicken fingers, or maybe it had to do with all the times I stopped her from trying to sneak under the table to get to the claw machine, or perhaps it had something to do with her balloon popping moments before we got to the table. But what I can say, 100% for sure, is that I got a lot of dirty looks as I dragged her out of the restaurant like a kicking and screaming surf board.
There were so many comments on that post. Thousands, actually. And many of them were from childless folks talking about how if I can’t control my toddler, I shouldn’t leave the house.
Listen, I’m sorry, but that’s not how it works, Margot. That’s not how any of this works.
It takes years — yes, years — to teach a child how to act appropriately in public, and the only way you can teach them is by taking them out and showing them what’s right and wrong — by saying no a million times, letting them throw a fit, redirecting them, giving them choices, and telling them no again.
Despite all the attention that post got (because clearly plenty of other parents had been exactly where I’d been), what I didn’t think about when all that was happening was the fact that there were balloons, chicken fingers, a kid’s menu, and a claw machine. On the walls, there were a million wacky, kid-oriented things, and when my son ordered Mac and Cheese, they served him Kraft. I mean, I don’t want to state the obvious, but this chain restaurant was obviously catering to families, and yet the college sports enthusiasts splitting a pitcher of beer were disgusted with my toddler’s outburst. So was the couple in the booth next to ours, who were childless and on a date. And the hostess, a young woman in her late teens, opened the door and glared at me as if I’d committed a crime.
I was so emotional in the moment, that I never really took the time to think about the fact that I was there, with children, at a family restaurant, but I was getting the side eye because my toddler was acting like a toddler.
Listen, people: the reason families frequent chain restaurants aimed at families is because they create an environment that embraces some clatter and lively conversation, and the occasional tantrum. If there’s a kid’s menu, kid’s cups with lids, milkshakes, unlimited fries, balloons, and some cartoon animals on the door, don’t go there and get all uptight about kids being kids. That’s like going to a park and getting mad because there are children on the slide, or going to a nude beach and asking people to put their clothing on.
Listen, I get it. You love endless fries too. You love milk shakes. You think the never-ending pasta bowl should be a national holiday. I feel the exact same way. But don’t try to own something that isn’t yours, and don’t expect something that isn’t going to happen to happen. If you are a single group of guys hanging out, good for you. But don’t get pissed when a family shows up, and a 5-year-old turns around and looks at you. Kids do that, and you are at a family restaurant. It’s not a difficult concept to understand. At least, it shouldn’t be.
Kids are allowed to occupy space and experience the world too. They are also allowed to act like kids because they are not mini-adults.
Stop trying to flip the script on us by saying that we can’t bring our kids out unless they act like a working professional. How about you stop going to family-focused establishments until you can’t stop acting like a snobby dickface.
You have child-free dining options. You can go to a bar or a restaurant with an age limit. You can go to a restaurant without high chairs or crayons. And let me be clear, if I take my family to a fancy restaurant and my kid throws a tantrum in a place that reads “no kids allowed,” feel free to give me side eye. I’d deserve it then.
Because honestly, all of this comes down to expectations. Don’t expect children to not act like children in a place that welcomes children. It’s simple logic, dude. And if you have a problem with that, go ahead and find your endless fries somewhere else.