My friend Samantha at the Mother Company just posted an insightful article about some intense incidents she witnessed recently at Westside restaurants. When eating out with her four-year-old son, Sam watched as tempers flared and almost turned into physical altercations — twice in one week! — over the issue of unruly kids in public. As I posted in the comments, I’m astounded at people’s reactions. I completely agree with her about parents’ responsibility when such interruptions happen:
Don’t get me wrong – I also believe that if your kid is making a whole bunch of noise in a restaurant or other place meant for quiet, it is the parent’s responsibility to remedy the situation, or leave. But sometimes life isn’t that neat and tidy. Sometimes you have to get out of the house with your 6-month old! Sometimes you have to treat your older son to a night out, and that’s the most important thing. Sometimes your best laid plans for a lovely family night out devolves into a family disaster area.
And how much WORSE does it feel when it’s YOUR KID causing all the commotion? (I’ve had that sinking feeling before, but never to this degree!) Sam steps back and tries to get a wider perspective on WTF is going on here. Why do some (presumably) otherwise reasonable adults think it’s OK to yell at a someone else’s child, or aggressively reprimand a parent who is dealing with a difficult kid in public? Why are people guileless about assuming and saying they know BETTER, no matter how inappropriate or insensitive the context?
In trying to be perfect parents — or at least good enough parents, at least that’s my mantra — it’s all too easy to critique others’ parenting. Or assume the other party is entitled parents who can’t control their kids. Regardless, Sam’s point rings true: Rabid judgment of parenting styles has reached epidemic proportions. This runs deep in both the non-parent community and the community with children. Lord knows I’m guilty of that offense. And I’m also saddened by the mean, petty, intractable flame wars that often result over these issues.
I haven’t seen this kind of emotional explosion happen since 1979, when I midjudged the physics of a ketchup packet. The contents squirted up into a perfect arc, landing right on the shirt of the guy at the next table at a fried chicken joint on Bevelry Blvd. The dude insulted me and threatened to kick my father’s ass in the parking lot. My dad tried to diffuse the situation and offered him money to clean his jersey shirt, while my face burned with shame. I’d like to think we’ve evolved a little further than that. Apparently not. As Sam pointedly asks, Where’s the empathy? Where’s the village?