Wednesday, 14 May 2014

A discount for "well-behaved kids"??

This is probably not going to be a very eloquent post as I'm tired and ill, so please bear with me, but something has got me annoyed. Flicking through twitter just now, I saw this article about a couple who took their one year old daughter out for a meal, and were given a discount because she was "well-behaved."

First of all, I want to say my annoyance is not at the parents. I'm very happy they had a nice meal. It's the way this idea is symptomatic of an anti-child culture, where natural childlike behaviour is branded as bad.

Most parents will have suffered the ill-effects of taking their child to a restaurant when they're having a tough day. Or even when they're not having a tough day, they just happen to be a lively and exuberant (read: fidgety and noisy) child. It can be a very stressful experience. Walking round with the child trying to amuse them before, between and after courses, trying to stop them making a grab for the cutlery and glassware when they're at the table, the almost inevitable fight getting them into and unfamiliar highchair, persuading them that food should be on the plate or in their mouth, not on the floor or smeared across the table. I feel panicky just thinking about it. And it's even worse if you feel that you are being judged by fellow diners and staff, that they are all thinking your child is naughty and you're not doing enough to control them.

How much worse would it make you feel if you knew that the family at the next table, whose child happens to be having a good day or who is naturally quite chilled-out, has been given a discount because staff have deemed that child to be "well-behaved"?

I take issue at the suggestion that a one-year-old can be well-behaved anyway. That age is far too young, in my opinion, for the child to grasp the nuances of social propriety and modify their behaviour according to the situation. My two-and-a-half-year-old is only just starting to grasp the idea that it's wrong to do some things, and those things tend to be the big things like hitting or pushing. Restaurant etiquette is entirely beyond her. Does that mean I'm a bad mum? I don't think so, I just think she's a lively, spirited young girl who is learning an awful lot right now and will figure out "good behaviour" when she's done figuring out more important things like sentence structure and just how high is safe to jump from. (Importance is relative!) Saying that a one-year-old who happens to have the right temperament and conditions (i.e. not tired, hungry or ill) to sit quietly for an hour is well-behaved implies that any child who doesn't meet that criteria is badly-behaved.

The tone of the article annoyed me too - it talks about the parents getting a discount, "simply for having a child who didn’t terrorize the dining room." Terrorize? Really? I know that there are times when kids take it too far, but saying that anything less than quiet acquiescence is akin to terrorism just shows how intolerant of children some people are. And I say this knowing that I too used to get annoyed at families with noisy children - until I discovered what it was like to be that parent. Until I realised how hard it is to "manage" a child who is out of routine, in an exciting new environment, probably hungry, and not accustomed to sitting around a table waiting for food to appear. 

There is a slight suggestion in the article that parents just shouldn't take their children to restaurants if they're likely to be, well, children. Is that fair? What if the meal is for a birthday, or pre-arranged with other people? What if exceptional circumstances like a house move or being on holiday mean a meal out is the only option? What if the parents would just like the opportunity  to go out and enjoy something they used to do without a second thought?

As nice as it must have been for the couple in the article, rewarding parents for having "well-behaved" children (and, as I've mentioned, that concept is ridiculous when applied to a baby or young toddler) is a subtle way of stigmatising parents whose children don't fit the restaurant manager's ideals. Is it really for a member of staff at a restaurant to say whether your child is being "good" or "bad"? And is it right for them to make families feel unwelcome if their children like to stretch their legs and make some noise?

Frankly, on the rare occasion that we take Eleanor out and have a nice, quiet, undramatic meal, our reward is just that - having a nice, quiet, undramatic meal! How about a restaurant that acknowledges that taking a child out for dinner is a potential nightmare and acts with compassion towards the poor parent who is letting their food go cold while they try to entertain, calm and feed their over-excited, over-hungry, overwhelmed child? How about we show a bit more understanding towards each other?


  1. I agree, my first reaction on seeing the post title was WTF?! Babies and toddlers will only learn how to behave in restaurants if they go to them, and sometimes they may be having a bit of an off day or maybe the whole idea of sitting quietly is just beyond them. Grrr.

    1. Exactly! It's symptomatic of this bizarre Victorian attitude society seems to have, that children should be seen and not heard. It can be hard dealing with a child in a public place, especially if they're full of beans or not in a great mood, I wish people would provide support in those situations, not judgement!