Eating Out With Children: Can You Stomach It?

by Tracie Grimes
Tracie is a monthly contributor to Kern County Family Magazine

A night off.  No planning, no cooking, no setting the table, no cleaning.  Just a relaxing evening that gives Mom, Dad, and the kids time to gather around the table as a family, catch up on each other’s lives, and enjoy some quality time. Sounds great on paper, right?  Unfortunately, there’s this little thing called “reality,” and the T-shirts are right – it bites.

As anyone who has children knows, the hidden truths of dining out as a family usually hit us dead in the face before we unbuckle the first seatbelt in the parking lot of our chosen eating establishment. There’s a reason why the “arsenic hour” usually occurs around mealtime.  It’s the time of day when whininess, messiness, and the flagrant disregard for decent personal space rear their ugly heads.  And, when you take that kind of show on the road, the promise of a relaxing evening out turns into a frenzied free-for-all, where even the most intelligent and patient parents get pulled into public debates over who gets to sing the last phrase of the Sponge Bob theme song or which princess would be able to escape from an alien spaceship.      

But, going out to eat just sounds like such a treat!  Granted, it’s less of a luxury when you have to pull the children from under the table to give them a time out, because they’re flinging spoonfuls of peas across the table at one another; have to take at least one child to the bathroom just as the food is arriving; or watch in horror as one of your little “darlings” spits half-chewed food back on the plate, because it is “too yucky.”  It’s still nice to have a night off from kitchen duty every once in a while.

Still, we as parents have to keep in mind that going out to dinner with kids does require the use of a little common sense on our part.  You have to know, for instance, that it is not a good idea to take a two- and a four-year-old to a place couples tend to frequent in search of a little romance.  The banging of silverware and loud belching (or, God forbid, other bodily noises) can really bring down the ambiance.  Even if you have babies that look like the one on the Gerber baby food jars, there’s only so much a restaurant full of star-crossed lovers can take before they will turn on you.

And, for those of you patronizing an eatery when a family of six arrives for dinner, please remember how it was when your kids were young. Take pity on these poor parents. They just want to eat a meal they didn’t have to cook or clean up after. Is that really so much to ask? Find it in your heart to ignore the food fight going on at the table next to you. Just grin and give a quick wink as the five-year-old appears like a disembodied head over the seat back that separates your booth from theirs.  Chances are, your kids, like mine, were once the ones striking fear into the hearts of fellow diners.

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