I was startled last week by two incidents, one at a Davis County restaurant and one at a Salt Lake bookstore. The incidents arose from apathetic parenting and the need for total strangers to enforce discipline.
In one case, a young mother, finished with her breakfast, sat in a booth and scanned a newspaper. She seemed unconcerned that her two bored children reacted by running around the restaurant, at one point almost tripping a server carrying a tray of food.
An older couple sitting nearby put an end to the “marathon.”
“This is not a playground,” shouted the man while grabbing the arm of one of the boys. “This is a restaurant, so go back and sit down with your mother!”
The chastened children returned to the booth; the mother continued to read her newspaper, but within minutes left the restaurant.
The second incident occurred when a barefoot boy approached the bookstore magazine racks and placed his foot on one of the publications. An elderly lady exploded, “Young man, you do not walk barefoot into a business establishment and you certainly don’t place your bare feet on any of the products. If you don’t have shoes, you should stay in your car!”
Shopping a few feet away, the mother of the boy rebuked the woman. “You have no right to yell at my son,” she said. “I am his mother, not you!”
The elderly woman retorted, “Well obviously if you aren’t going to raise him with any manners, someone else must. If you can’t raise children responsibly, you shouldn’t have them!”
As startled and as uncomfortable as I was, I found myself cheering the intervention. Ask most school teachers about the tenor of today’s children and the lack of mannerly behavior taught in the home. It is embarrassing to have your child singled out in public, but it’s also instructive.
It takes a village to raise a child, especially when the parent refuses to do his or her job.
We’ve all seen the rambunctious kids at the mall, in the restaurant, at church. Most of us probably cringe in recognition, remembering the antics our own offspring might have displayed occasionally. Some of us may be tempted to act as “mall police” to correct the unruly behavior.
Not witnessing either of the incidents that recently so provoked my husband, I can only offer a couple of insights.
First, if the oblivious parent would have been a dad, would people have reacted the same way? Probably not. Moms might be embarrassed or even react verbally, but your typical mom isn’t likely to punch you out for grabbing her kid. Secondly, moms get held to higher standards. Like it or not, the term “single mom” carries a negative connotation, but “single dad’ calls to mind Andy Griffeth and Opie. And single or not, when the kids act up it is generally the mom who gets the blame.
As to the restaurant free-for-all, we’ve all seen the toddler melt-down or the kiddie mayhem at the local eatery. It’s enough to ask the Utah Legislature to drop the liquor battles and make laws that establish no kid zones in restaurants. However, the kids at the local IHOP were hardly disrupting a romantic candlelight interlude.
Just for a minute consider what is happening in someone else’s life. Perhaps the mom works the graveyard shift. She feels guilty that most days she sleeps while the kids are plopped in front of the TV. She is exhausted, but willing to take them to breakfast as a Saturday treat. After the meal is finished, she picks up a nearby paper and the kids start to act up. Annoying to surrounding diners, you bet, but hardly a national incident.
A better way to handle this would be to call over the manager and ask him or her to handle the situation discreetly.
Yelling at kids is never the civilized solution. Take a deep breath and remember that next time the kid acting up could be yours.