I’d been meaning to address this issue for a couple of weeks now, since the news came out about this restaurant in the U.S. that bans all children under the age of six. Yes, I know: they aren’t the first, and they won’t be the last; they have a right to run their business in whatever way they can, to please the best customers; kids can be screaming balls of uncontrollable energy and mayhem in a restricted space such as a restaurant, and especially a higher-end restaurant; some parents just can’t handle their kids these days; etc..
So here’s the thing, in my opinion: It isn’t the uncontrollable kids (under six or not) who should be banned; it’s the parents of the uncontrollable kids. Why? Because it’s the parents who should be making the decision whether to stay when it’s good, or to go when it gets tough.
There must exist a trusting relationship between parent and child, whether in a restaurant or anywhere else. A parent must trust a child to A) act appropriately, as requested, in certain places and situations, and B) to signal (with words, cries, screams, and what have you) in a true and suitable way, when that child is no longer capable of behaving as expected. But equally, a child must trust that her parent will A) respond to those signals, and B) not put the child in a situation where it is not reasonable in the first place for the child to act like anything but a, well, child. Simply put, parent says, “I’ll bring you here if you can handle it”, and child says, “If I can’t will you let me leave?”
To get to my point: When the Girl was not yet 2 1/2 years old, we brought her with us to a nice French restaurant. And of course, by “nice French restaurant”, I mean proper tables (no booths), cloth napkins (no paper), and décor and service for adults (no high chairs and no crayons). Were we wary of having her in that situation, especially at that age, and worried that we’d get kicked out if she acted up? Of course. But we’d also known her well enough by that time to know that it was something that she, and we, could handle. We didn’t want to deny her the experience of fine food (she chose her own meal, a creation of puff pastry with brie and vegetables) just because of her age. At the same time, we were prepared to take her for a little walk outside in the warm evening, or in the foyer, if she signalled that she couldn’t handle the quietness and the propriety that was expected of her in that space.
In the end, we were proud that our toddler could handle being in a gourmet restaurant, and prove us right: that no child should be banned from a restaurant merely because of her age. And the best part of the evening? When the server and owner of the restaurant came to our table at the end of the night and said, “We’ve never seen a child behave like this in here. And to appreciate good food!”
Put a little faith in the under-six crowd, and sometimes they prove you right.