Suzanne Tobias

All ages OK if parents keep kids in check

Suzanne Perez Tobias
Suzanne Perez Tobias The Wichita Eagle

My husband and I and a few friends were having drinks on the patio of a local watering hole one recent afternoon, enjoying a spring breeze just days before it decided to betray us all and burn parts of Kansas to a crisp.

When a couple walked in with two young children and sat at a nearby table, I didn’t think anything of it. Our friends felt otherwise, which led to a fascinating debate:

Should youngsters hang with their parents at primarily adult gathering places – sports bars, brew pubs and the like?

I voted yes, noting that people of all ages socializing together tends to be a good thing. The patio had an almost European atmosphere that afternoon, I thought, with the kids there playing oversized Jenga while their parents sipped beers and talked.

A couple with a dog sat at a neighboring table. Passers-by waved as they walked or rode their bikes past.

Kids don’t bother me, I told our table, as long as they’re well-behaved and appropriately supervised.

But there’s the problem, someone said: They’re not always well-behaved or supervised at all, much less appropriately. Our friend recalled instances where toddlers ran free, getting underfoot, then falling and screaming.

“It stresses me out,” she said. “I don’t need that here when I’m trying to relax. This is a place for adults.”

Much has been written about the etiquette of dining out with young children. Last year my colleague Denise, prompted by the story of a Maine diner owner who lost her temper and screamed at a 20-month-old child, asked local restauranteurs and parents how they handle misbehaving kids in restaurants and got a flurry of responses.

I myself have taken such controversial stances as noting that you shouldn’t change diapers on restaurant tables. Contentious, no?

Our recent debate illustrated a fascinating rift between parenting philosophies. I recalled an NPR story about global parenting habits, and how so many of them aren’t likely to ever catch on in the United States.

Danish parents, for example, leave their kids in strollers on the curb while they go shopping. Japanese children as young as 4 ride the subway by themselves. Spanish kids stay up late. French children eat foie gras.

But more than differences in parenting styles, the conversation demonstrated how one parent’s actions affect us all.

Most of the Midwestern adults at our table – some parents, some not – agreed that screaming babies or scampering toddlers call for swift action. When moms and dads ignore misbehaving kids, people’s overall tolerance for children wanes and everyone suffers.

Fortunately, our recent outing maintained the inclusive, all-ages, Parisian cafe atmosphere I advocate for. All the children, like the dogs, just chilled in the sunshine, eating snacks and relishing the company. And the mood, like the breeze, was pleasant and calm.

If only it could be that way always.