Aditi at Scog's in West KirbyBefore my daughter was born, my husband and I were like any other middle income professionals in England. We ate out a fair amount. It was mostly in pubs, and local eateries, and on special ocasions, we splashed out on fairly expensive restaurants and dinners. We ate lunch at restaurants, almost every day of the week, thanks to an abundance of lovely and low priced places close to our work. We loved the ease of heading out at short notice, and finding new places to eat. I wouldn't call us foodies in a broad sense that its used today, but we knew what we liked, and we enjoyed the experience.
All this came to a rather grinding halt when we had Aditi. Like any new parent, I was a bit shell shocked by having this new person to look after, a responsibility that wasn't going to go away... oh, for at least eighteen... years. I assumed, again, like many new parents, that my days of eating in trendy restaurants was over, and it was going to be Pizza Hut or... shudder... McDonald's in the foreseeable future.
That is, until I realised that having a child did not necessarily mean that your life has to come to a halt. So, Aditi had her first fine dining experience at a lovely family run restaurant called Julian's in Hoylake when she was barely ten days old. Darn child slept through it all, and I, fresh out of surgery, squirmed through it all. (Julian was so lovely though, when I realised I wasn't going to make it through dessert, he actually packed it up for me, so I could rush home. I ate that divine chocolate orange dessert in the bathtub, haha) Our experience at Julian's was such a great and positive one that we thought that this was going to be great, in a have child will still eat out way.
Which, incidentally, we didn't end up doing a lot of anyway, as work, child and life came in the way. And the UK, by then, was being lambasted for being child-unfriendly. Reading articles in newspapers about how mothers were being kicked out of cafes for breastfeeding, children were unwelcome in fine dining establishments, parents were constantly being told that there were lots of 'child-friendly' restuarants (yes, read Pizza Hut and McDonald's here) and they shouldn't be disturbing child-free people eating out in restaurants... all these negatives took a toll on our initial enthusiasm about doing all the things we did pre-child. We still frequented our local cafes and restaurants, and we were lucky enough that there were a few lovely ones that adored children (our favourite was the Golden Orchid, the maitre'd Chok loved Aditi so much, that we always almost ended up having a quiet dinner, while she toured the kitchens) so that we didn't miss the whole experience of eating in fancy restaurants that much + we were almost too tired at the end of the work week, that all we wanted to do was relax.
The big move:
When we moved to Canada a couple years back, I was really excited. Here was a chance to try out restaurants in a brand new city in a new country. I was also excited because I had heard so much about the child-friendliness of Canada, and I couldn't wait to get out and do all these child friendly things that my books said were going to happen. Eating out was a breeze they said, and the only places barred to children were licensed bars. I could live with that, even if in England we were able to take Aditi to pubs (until 8 pm anyway)
In order to get integrated into a city and its life, the first thing I start doing is reading the local newspapers. I read the Globe and Mail, the Edmonton Journal and the local Metro pretty much religiously every day (this is in addition to my addiction to British newspapers/ websites like the Guardian and BBC Online)
So in my fervent browsing of these newspapers, I come across many things that equally infuriate me, and make me think hard about my life. There were two articles in particular that stuck with me. This one, and this one. It was not the articles themselves that made me think. It was the comments below them that really stuck in my craw, so to say. Yes, this was in Canada, that bastion of child friendliness that I was told it was.
When did we, as a society, become so uncaring? So entitled? So selfish? So unfeeling of our smallest members? We all talk about a generation of children who are growing up to be entitled brats. We talk about riots that happened in Vancouver and in London, and how they were a result of overindulged kids, and selfish parents. However, when I read the article above, the only thing that stood out for me was how, as adults, we were so intent on protecting our child-free lives that we were prepared to ban children from places, because, god forbid, they are loud. Or they cry. Or... they are not adults.
Except that we then expect them to suddenly behave brilliantly whenever they go out. And exactly how are they supposed to do that if we don't take them to places in the first place? How do they know how they are supposed to behave if they have no experience of behaving? We expect kids to be miniature adults. We have probably already forgotten our childhoods haven't we?
The rant, and I apologise in advance if it offends:
I want to focus on my experiences as a parent with a toddler in dining places. As a food blogger, I love going to various eateries, not just to sample local food, but also to have a nice afternoon out with my daughter. And Aditi and I do head out fairly often, usually for lunch, and ocasionally for dinner. I say 'I' from now on rather than 'we', because my husband doesn't manage to make it into as many places and Aditi and I do.
I have been several restaurants and cafes that encourage children, and treat them well. I also came across many for whom children were/ are an inconvenience and they very subtly indicated it. I am naming no names, as, like I said above, this is not a post that is about being vengeful. Yes, I was hurt when Aditi and I were shoved into a corner and pretty much ignored through the service. Or when my daughter dared to be loud (once!) and we were pretty much cowed down by the tsking. I am not a brave person, and maybe if I was, I would have had the courage to stand up and walk out of the place and say I won't stand for such behaviour from so-called civilized patrons. But to my eternal shame, I didn't... and I even left a tip.
The incident shocked me out of my complacency, and this blog post is the result.
There are many people who will argue that taking a small child to a restaurant is tantamount to the parent being selfish.
I disagree. We all want to socialise our children, and bring them up to be good and productive members of society. If a child was tired and cranky, and the parents dragged them to a restaurant, well, that would be counter productive, wouldn't it? In that case, its down to the parent to understand their child's needs and act appropriately. On the other hand, I am not being selfish when I take my child to lunch at a restaurant or cafe that I've heard about, and want to try. We talk, browse through the menu, have a giggle, drink some juice and overall socialise like we would if we were dining with other people. It's an opportunity to give my daughter my full attention, while also introducing her to tastes and food that she may not be familiar with. In most cases, she's well behaved, relaxed and pretty a pretty good kid. Ocasionally she can be loud, and I explain to her that its not acceptable in public places. And we talk through that.
We enjoy the restaurant experience, when its a positive one. In fact, my daughter now actually asks to go to places like the High Level Diner, here in Edmonton (pictured below) because she knows that she (and I) will be treated with respect and not condescension. Children are smarter than we realise and they know when they are being patronised and when they are genuinely appreciated as customers.
I always say that I stopped judging people when I became a parent. Because, suddenly, I realised what I didn't in my child free days. That children are individuals, and sometimes, well, they can be little devils. So when I see a child behaving badly anywhere, I don't judge. I am sympathetic, and I offer to help if I am able. But judging someone because their child is having a bad moment, in my opinion, is the worst you can do.
Yet, so many people find it perfectly acceptable to tsk at kids in restaurants, and on one memorable ocasion, ask to change seats when they realised I was going to sit next to them with my daughter. How rude it that? In our politically correct society, we wouldn't dare do something like this if we were sat next to say, a black person or an openly gay couple. Yet its perfectly acceptable to do this to children? How low can we sink?
Yes, its the parent's responsibility to ultimately ensure that thier child is well behaved. But making it more and more difficult for parents to actually do this, is not the answer. And outright banning of children is certainly not the answer.
It saddens me today that people find it perfectly acceptable to 'ban' children from various places. It saddens me that a society which was/ is famed for its acceptance is now turning its back on its youngest and most vulnerable members. It scares me to think what we will evolve into being if this continues. The relationship between kids and restaurants is only the beginning. And if we don't stop being judgemental, we are ultimately going to be responsible for creating the 'selfish', self-entitled generation that we are condemning today.
I am not a parenting expert. Or a restaurant reviewer, for that matter. But I am a mother, and while I don't expect any sort of special treatment, I do expect the same courtesy that you would extend to me if I visited you as a single person, to be extended to me when I visit you with my daughter. Is that too much to ask for?
** Please note that this blog post is purely my opinion. I welcome your comments whether in agreement or disagreement with me on this issue. But please, as is usual, be respectful.**