Picture this. You’re out enjoying a pleasant meal and a few drinks with your other half when a family of four plants themselves down on the table next to yours.
The children will not sit still, and frequently attempt to dive under your table, they stare at you eating your food with mouths wide open, and they cry and scream for their parents’ attention.
The parents struggle to speak over the noise of the kids, so their volume gets amped up and up as they attempt to debate what the children will eat without a fuss.
You then witness as the parents attempt to eat and drink with one hand while juggling the two kids – who change their minds about which lap they want to sit on every 30 seconds.
The noise and the spectacle is exhausting just to watch.
So how does it make you feel? Are you glad its not you, or pissed off that these runny-nosed invaders have ruined your trip out?
We were “that family” last week.
We dared to attempt to go out for a late afternoon dinner with our two kids, who were both having the fussiest of fussy days. I had deliberately not given them too many snacks that afternoon either, so both were also hangry (you know, when you’re so hungry that you get angry) when we arrived.
But our children are one and three now. I expect trips out to be a bit stressful and just crack on with it. I choose food that I can eat with a fork only and I don’t care if people judge me for sipping on wine while in charge of my kids. It’s a couple of glasses, not a boozing session inspired by a Club 18-30 holiday!
And yet I do not like the feeling that I’m spoiling other people’s pleasant adult time out. We went to a local restaurant where there’s always loads of kids and they have their own menu.
On this visit there was just one other child – a newborn who was being so well behaved I swear even he was glancing around the room with a smug look on his face.
So it was us who became the loudest and most disruptive in the room. We were the ones who at first glance didn’t appear to have any control over our children’s behaviour.
When you’re painfully aware of being “that family” it makes you want to make excuses to the entire room.
“I swear they’re not normally this feral.”
“We only go out once in a blue moon.”
“They’re just excited about being somewhere new.”
I’m only human, so although I know I have as much right to be there as anyone else, I still feel awkward at the noisy scene we are creating in the centre of the room.
Being embarrassed is just part of being a parent. But there are a few things you need to remind yourself when your toddler yells “I need a poo” at the top of their lungs just as fellow diners are tucking into their meals.
Children are a fact of life. Even people who do not have kids, need to accept that they are a part of society.
Is it right for children to be shut away at home where they can’t “bother” anyone?
Absolutely not. Because then they aren’t learning about what behaviour is appropriate when in public places (I swear we are trying to teach them).
They aren’t being exposed to different places, strange people and new foods.
Taking your children out of their comfort zone is good for them, and there’s only so much they can learn about socialising from running around like a lunatic at soft play.
People who choose not to have kids may not be being hands-on with the next generation, but it’s still something they have to deal with. And, not wanting to get too deep here, but the next generation impacts on us all. They’re our future earners, contributors and carers. Look at them with scorn all you want as they dribble all over themselves, but one day that soggy toddler may be helping to wipe your mouth as you tuck into dinner.
And most importantly of all, parents deserve a bit of timeout. We can’t stay at home watching CBeebies all day, it would drive us bonkers, even if Tom Hardy agreed to appear in every show.
Parenting is hard, hard work. So if we fancy a break from the norm, and decide to dare enter a place where fellow adults are enjoying their downtime, I think we should be welcomed with open arms.
I don’t know about you, but when I’m out for a meal child-free and see a family, I think “good for you”, but I’m glad mine are at home.
So if you find yourself being “that family” next time you’re attempting a pleasant meal out, be proud that you’ve plucked up the courage to take the little darlings out in public, and drink your wine with your head held high.