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I Had My Children To Ruin Your Pleasant Dining Experience

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It was my husband’s birthday, so we decided to celebrate by taking our family out to lunch at a downtown Denver restaurant famous for their dairy-based desserts. Our six kids were very well-behaved, and one of our fellow diners complimented me when I stood to take our toddler daughter to the bathroom.

I thanked the woman. Then she said, “Do you beat your children?”

The look on my face prompted her to add that she was just joking. But I didn’t believe her. It was a little too late and a little too brusque.

We are used to people asking to change tables in restaurants if they are seated near us – even when we are at “family friendly” places. We’ve watched entire tables rise, move their drinks, napkins, bread plates, and menus before we’ve cracked open the menu. We’ve witnessed waitstaff arguing over who has to take our table, not knowing we are really, really good tippers because we require a little more attention. I’ve often left tips and thought of the scene in Pretty Woman when Vivian goes back to the store that snubbed her to tell them they made a big mistake. Big.

Most of the time, I don’t let these things bother me. I realize the world has low expectations of children as smelly little ill-tempered oafs. I don’t expect everyone to love or even like my kids, but when people go out of the way to avoid us we feel about as welcomed in the world as a wad of hair in a hamburger patty.

Is there any other class of people where it is perfectly acceptable to express such obvious disdain?

Being asked if I beat my children into good behavior is deeply insulting, even if it’s only a joke. I feel baffled by anyone who thinks you get the best out of people by hurting them. Our children are well-behaved in restaurants because we’ve eaten out at least once a week since our first baby was five days old. They are well-behaved in restaurants because with six kids in our home, we do our best to encourage order and thoughtful behavior. There is a time to party like it’s 1999 and a time to act like ladies and gentlemen. Of course, the kids have their moments – especially when the food is long gone and we are waiting for the check, or my husband and I are talking too much. They aren’t perfect, but neither are the adults who audibly groan when we deign sit in their sphere.

I’d rather be seated next to a table of fifteen children than two middle-aged adults who honk the entire contents of their noses into cloth napkins. I’ve endured self-important adults blathering on cell phones about real estate deals or about needing to get a mole removed from their neck. My kids also get to hear bathroom talk from waitstaff who think they’re out of earshot.

To be fair, we’ve had some truly fantastic, friendly, quick, and intuitive servers over the years, including the person who served us on my husband’s birthday. Her name is Mandy (you rock). We’ve had people compliment our children on their behavior, and mean it. This simple gesture of telling children they are doing well is the most effective way to reinforce good behavior. The kids remember compliments. They beam. They sit up a little more straight.

And so do I.

Have you ever felt slighted when out in public with your children?

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  • comment avatar horoscopicallyblonde March 19, 2008

    My kids are also complimented generally.

    The problem is that is comes back to haunt me when I try to correct behavior at home and receive, “But I am so good in restaurants.”

    They are sometimes manner monsters, able to leap cloth napkins in a single bound, only with the sparkling grin which is ever-accompanied by the gleam and the melodic ‘twing’ sound.

    If anyone asks me why they are so well-behaved, I tell them, “I know where they live.” Apparently that’s enough. They laugh and walk away.

    I really do know where they live, though finding where that is precisely– under the socks, Littlest Pet Shop and Legos– is another story.

  • comment avatar Goslyn March 19, 2008


    I have only two children – well behaved, at that – and I’ve had entire tables move when my family sat down to eat. I’m glad your server was good for the birthday dinner, though.

  • comment avatar Adventures In Babywearing March 19, 2008

    Oh my goodness! I can’t believe someone would even THINK to ask you such a question. We mainly get the “you have your hands full” comments and eye rolls. And I just say “better full than empty.” Will be interesting when baby #4 is in tow! I can say from personal experience that I really look forward to having dinner with your family again someday! : )


  • comment avatar Jamie March 19, 2008

    Wow. I can’t fathom how anyone could actually pose such a question to another person, and so conversationally. Don’t people have any sense of what is within the bounds of polite small-talk and what is inexcusably rude?

    I’m sorry that your family is routinely treated as though you are carriers of the Black Death. What a shame, and what an unfortunate commentary on our society today, where the family–and clearly, especially large families–are not valued.

  • comment avatar SB March 19, 2008

    Actually, yes, there are a lot of people whom it is perfectly acceptable to treat with disdain in restaurants. Fat people, for example, and people of color or mixed race groups often get treated extremely badly both by waitstaff and fellow diners. In other words, anyone who is not a standard white, middle class package. I wish in general that people in the U.S. were nicer to each other, but large families are not the only groups that are treated badly in public in the U.S.

  • comment avatar Sarah Garcia March 19, 2008

    I have two children and they are good in restaurants. I wouldn’t be offended if someone said that to me. I would think its funny. Don’t be so sensitive.

  • comment avatar Gretchen White March 19, 2008

    Sarah, I appreciate your point of view.

    Note I wrote that normally comments don’t bother me. I have six kids and am used to stares and stupid questions wherever we go. It’s a part of our lives.

    But don’t ask me if I beat my kids to make them behave—especially if my kids are right there. They don’t understand joking like that. I don’t either, frankly. Shrug.

  • comment avatar amy March 19, 2008

    Honestly, what else could she have meant? It had to be a joke, and I feel like since it had to be a joke, why take offense? It’s really a compliment, if you think about it.
    As for restaurants, I think if it’s a family friendly restaurant, then patrons are supposed to be family friendly too. On the other hand, if a child (even mine) is having a breakdown, I think that the parent needs to take the other diners into consideration and possibly even exit with said child.

  • comment avatar Laura March 19, 2008

    We have five kids, including two sets of twins age 4 and under – so we get the stares and comments as well. One of our four-year-olds is autistic, and that adds a whole new element to the dining experience! We generally only go to buffet restaurants, for two reasons – so that they can eat immediately, and so that we don’t bug people too much, because there’s so much chaos usually going on anyway! Once in awhile our boy will let out a shriek, and it’s almost surreal, seeing an entire restaurant turning their heads in our direction, all in one choreographed move. Haha! My poor children are probably going to grow up not realizing that some restaurants have menus. LaLaGirl – Twinfinite Chaos

  • comment avatar Laura March 19, 2008

    Whoops, I forgot to add our one terrible experience – I was on my own, at a MCDONALD’S PLAY AREA, trying to reign in my autistic boy. He was only about 2 1/2 at the time, and just a little overwhelmed – anyway, a lady about my mom’s age put her hands on her hips and said, “Uh, time for a spanking, Mom.” I was so upset and overwhelmed myself, I just packed up everyone and left in tears. I so, so, so regret not taking the opportunity to educate that rude, thoughtless woman a little bit, but … that’s how it goes. I’ll admit saying a little prayer on the way home that she would wake up with a cold sore the next day or something.

  • comment avatar jen March 19, 2008

    I often feel like I’m on display with my kids, and we only have two. But I know how they can be sometimes and I’m ever wary. But I will tell you, the greatest compliment I ever received was from a middle aged man/angel who complimented me on how well behaved they were as we ate at Noodles & Co. ( I was solo with them). I will never forget that, because, as I said, I often feel like we’re on display.

  • comment avatar Minnesotamom March 19, 2008

    Gretchen–that’s awful!

    How hard it must have been to bite your tongue!

  • comment avatar gretchen March 19, 2008

    I am so glad I read your post. I have felt the same way you do! Adults often behave more disrespectfully than any child at restaurants. We have 3 children, and like you, take them out to eat at least once a week. In order to teach your children, you need to live real life with them. I am learning to remember that it doesn’t matter what the world thinks or says about me or my children. What matters is that I use these moments to teach them and show them Christ’s love in action! Thank you for sharing.

  • comment avatar Kagey March 19, 2008

    I’m often pleasantly surprised when I go to a restaurant and am seated next to a large family. I will admit, however that when my husband and I manage to get a night out alone, we will request a different table if we’re next to a large family. Is it rude of me to do this? After all, I don’t know that the kids will act up. Yet, when we’re all dressed up, finally getting a night off from our three kids, I would rather not risk it. Our “date nights” average once every three months.
    Of course, we’ve never asked to be moved if the family is seated second.

  • comment avatar Janet March 19, 2008

    I have 3 1/2 year old and 2 1/2 year old daughters. When all five of us go out, please stare at us as well. I haven’t had the experience of other diners moving to other tables, but have gotten the glares. When we get onto an airplane, that whole sigh/look “please don’t sit next to me” thing comes out too. Although, my kids are great at restaurants (no flying food, no running around, and high chairs!!). We are in a restaurant for 1 1/2 hours too. Our children always say thank you and please, never are loud, and can entertain each other. Some people need to get over themselves and enjoy seeing children having fun.

  • comment avatar Megan@SortaCrunchy March 19, 2008

    I don’t think you were being overly sensitive at all, Gretchen. You are intelligent and intuitive enough to know when another adult is joking and when she is not. And what if you had “joked” back, “Yep! I sure do!” Even if you were only joking, someone could file a CPS report over that kind of kidding.

    I guess I just don’t think child abuse is funny. Maybe I’m sensitive.

  • comment avatar Beck March 19, 2008

    That wasn’t funny of her at all. People are just STUPID about people with big families – we only have three reasonably well-behaved kids and you should hear the comments we get!

  • comment avatar Shay March 19, 2008

    I am a black woman and my fiance is white. Our son is much lighter than me. Much closer to his dad’s complexion. While pushing my son is his stroller a woman stopped us to say how beautiful he was. Then asked, “So you’re babysitting?” I was appalled.

  • comment avatar Lizzy March 19, 2008

    While I haven’t seen anyone move because of us I have seen the temper rise in the waitstaff (like I’ve brought my children there specifically to punish them), I’ve seen annoyed people roll their eyes, and I’ve felt like changing the next poopy diaper on their table just so I would actually deserve all those looks. We often get compliments too and my children do love them. And, yes, we too will tip generously to a waiter or waitress who knows how to serve a large family with a smile and extra napkins.

  • comment avatar Lizzy March 19, 2008

    when you are out on a date I suggest you inform your waiter that you would prefer not to sit next to children or large loud crowds BEFORE they seat you, that way you won’t offend anyone. =)

    I’ve had lovely romatic evenings ruined by large groups of adults who think that being loud, vulgar, and obnoxious is fun for everyone.

  • comment avatar Jess March 19, 2008

    The grocery store is the worst for us. I could leave the kids at home, but I’m usually up for being together and I figure, we should be able to do this, (I have a 5, 4 and 2 year old) and hey- it might even be fun and educational. Usually, I’m right – but sometimes that’s just plain lunacy. I can’t tell you how many evil looks I’ve gotten in the grocery store from other women who are irritated by my wide load cart, with my kids because they are making noise, and with me for trying to find the cheapest brand of elbow macaroni. I want to make a T-shirt that says “Can you please cut me some slack – this cart weighs a TON!”

  • comment avatar Nina March 19, 2008

    I think that the “Do you beat your children?” comment was probably meant as a compliment, but that and the typical “You’re very brave!” or “You’ve got your hands full!” that I get with my three (who are 5, 3, and 1) are very back-handed. Why, yes, thank you for assuming that my children are rotten little brats until they prove otherwise. Usually, they’re pretty good, and I think it’s because we, like Gretchen, have always gone out to eat. I do appreciate comments from fellow diners, but not back-handed ones. Last night, a man sitting next to us shook my 5-year-old’s hand and told him how good he’d been, and like Gretchen says, that kind of positive reinforcement does wonders for behavior training!

    Our worst dinner experience? A waitress with no common sense set a bowl of steaming cream of spinach soup down in front of my husband, and he had the baby on his lap. Baby grabbed the soup and dumped the whole bowl onto his tummy, and understandably started shrieking. We got rude looks from all across the room as we were trying to get his onesie off of his scalded belly. I wanted to scream, “Sorry that my baby burning himself disrupted your evenings!” Instead, I started crying. At least the owner came over and asked if he could help in anyway, although I think he secretly just wanted us to leave.

    As far as plane trips, when the five of us got on a plane last summer, the woman sitting next to me looked at the baby on my lap and moaned, “There goes my nap.” All three kids slept the whole way and were perfect. The kicker? The woman got sick during descent, and she very meekly asked for a baby wipe for her face. I gave one to her, trying not to be TOO smug.

  • comment avatar JM March 20, 2008

    First off I applaud you at keeping your kids well behaved in restaurants, but I don’t think you have considered the other side of the coin. Why are people moving to other tables when kids are sat near them? Its probably because they have had their dining experience ruined by unruly kids.

    I think its selfish for parents to allow their kids to ruin the dining experience of others, autistic children included. Any child, autistic or not screaming in a public place is quite unpleasant when trying to enjoy a diner with family and friends. I agree some adult table manners leave something to be desired, but that is no excuse for others to act up.

    Also, why is paddling a child suddenly a cardinal sin in the last 10-20 years. Coddling children is not going to help them when they are older and society has no tolerance for acting up. Yes paddling shouldn’t be your first resort, but it is still effective and is far from child abuse.

  • comment avatar m_s_t March 20, 2008

    Sometimes 10 kids can act better than one child or even 2 adults 😉

  • comment avatar nutmeg March 20, 2008

    Well said, Gretchen. The hardest time for me was when I was pregnant with our fourth. People were constantly telling me I was crazy. People actually asked me, on a regular basis, if the pregnancy was a mistake. Nathan laughed it off, but this stuff hurt me. It made me feel embarrassed to be pregnant, like I wasn’t responsible. Sometimes I just hate strangers.

  • comment avatar Laura March 20, 2008

    Oh, man – I wish I would have thought of that YEARS ago: just don’t ALLOW my autistic son to holler when he’s feeling overwhelmed! ::smacks forehead::

  • comment avatar Bethany March 20, 2008

    I have a theory about the way people think, subconsciously, Gretchen. I think everyone believes that most people are like them and make decisions like they would.

    If they have one bratty, spoiled child, they assume that you must have six bratty, spoiled children. It shocks them when this is not the case.

    It’s refreshing to know your children are well-behaved in public, although, I really didn’t expect to hear otherwise. I think when you have a big family, it’s mostly survival skills to teach them to be well-behaved. Can you imagine six children, throwing tantrums, criticizing the food, making rude noises, throwing food, yelling at each other, and not staying in their seats? I don’t think you would leave the house!

    Of course, I’m sure if you only had one it would be well behaved. Just generally speaking, I haven’t seen many large families with badly behaved children (now rowdy and energetic? yes. Welcome to my house!)

  • comment avatar JoAnn March 20, 2008

    I’m speechless. How can someone come up with that for well behaved children. Shocking.

    If it was even a joke, it wasn’t funny at all!

  • comment avatar Jenni March 21, 2008

    LOL. Usually I am the one replying “we beat them into submission” when people ask me why my kids are so well -behaved. Or when they ask how I get them so quiet, I say “we remove their vocal cords until they are twenty-one”.

    It’s definitely offensive to have to hear it in the context that you did, though! I’m glad your waitress was so pleasant to you. The worst comment I ever got was from a waitress who said “I feel for you…” and I shot back “feel what? Jealous? You should.”

    She changed her tune pretty quickly, and we decided to give her a good tip anyway.

    People can be so very obnoxious.

  • comment avatar edj March 21, 2008

    I can relate. Even though I only have 3, I have gotten my share of stinky looks and assumptions. I’ve also gotten complimented on them a lot, too.
    I have two thoughts:
    one, if that was a joke, that was way out of line. What a rude comment!
    and two, I must admit that sometimes I don’t blame people for reacting, because I have seen many children misbehaving in public. I don’t mean autistic kids or tired and overwhelmed kids either–I’m a mom, plus I have friends with autistic kids, and I know what those things look like. I mean the out-of-control kids jumping off the chairs and running around the waitresses who have their arms full, while the parents smile vaguely and ignore them.
    I totally agree that our culture, while claiming to be inhibition-free, seems to have gone beyond the Victorians to say children should not be seen or heard!

  • comment avatar Jess March 22, 2008

    Dear JM,
    A public restaurant should be a place where anyone can go and enjoy a nice meal and time together – even families with children having a challenging day or challenging diagnosis like autism. In order to ensure a perfectly quiet evening out with family and friends, I think you’ll need to go to a restaurant with the following sign out front, “Perfectly Orderly and Together People Only.”

  • comment avatar Stacey March 22, 2008

    Yeah, we get that with two kids, and that’s before the youngest even acts up. LOL!

  • comment avatar Brian March 24, 2008

    I’m shocked at the people who shrug this off and try and defend people who say stuff like this. I am the parent of twin boys. They will be 3 in May with one more on the way in July. With twins, you get the STUPIDEST questions from people all the time. I think overall, people don’t mean harm saying stuff like “Double Trouble”. Advice: Don’t EVER say that to a parent of twins. My boys are wonderful, loving and happy children. They are NOT trouble. Like I said, a very benign comment from their perspective.

    Asking if you beat your children? That is beyond the limits IMO. We do our best to keep our kids in line. And what I don’t understand is these people who feel that they know how to be a parent better than you. We had this experience at a place where the waitress asked the lady at the table next to us how her meal was. She replied something like “It was fine until they got here”. My wife heard this, I didn’t. She was very hurt by this. I admit, our boys weren’t having a great day, but I think people need to remember that kids are KIDS. What should be the determining factor is how the parents are responding.

    We do whatever we can to keep our boys focused. It’s hard to expect a 2 year old to wait for 25 minutes for his food to come out. Its not like we just let them get away with screaming and banging spoons around on the table. We try and keep them happy and well behaved. And yes, we’ve recieved comments from people that reaffirm our approach. Just remember, you were a kid once, and you were probably not perfect either — unless your mom beat you into submission, I guess…

  • comment avatar LeeAnn March 26, 2008

    We have 3, leading with twin boys. I think it is important to match the behavior with the type of restaurants. Too many parents do not do this, and that may be why people look at children in restaurants with distaste.

    There have been stages that we avoided restaurants at all costs because our twin boys were too active for any restaurant. I believe that as parents we have the responsibility to make sure our children can handle where we are going. There are times we go to McDonalds with a playland because that’s where our kids were at that night. (I hate fast food so that’s a sacrifice!)

    Most times, we go to buffets because they can eat immediately and are sure to get something they like. Then sometimes we go to some of my favorite “family style” restaurants and it is a wonderful experience. The rude comments need to end, but I guess that will happen when rude people are no more.

    (We never go to formal restaurants, mostly because they’re too expensive for 5 and because people dining there are often on a date night and don’t really want to deal with kids.) Shame on that woman’s comment about beating your kids into submission though!!!

  • comment avatar Jak May 16, 2008

    My girlfriend and I actually enjoy a family of 6 sitting next to us in an adult restaurant, about as much as having a root canal. If your kids HAVE six kids, and the trend continues, can you imagine what this world will look like in 200 years? We’ll just “roll our eyes at you” for a good reason. I mean, get real! They have procedures for birth control if the pill doesn’t work, ya know.

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