Dear Everyone Out in Public:
Hi. I’m Kate. I have three small children and I’m scared to death to take them out to eat in a restaurant.
See, I’m a pretty good mom. I’m far from perfect, but I read to my kids, I tell them not to yell or put their feet on the table, and I don’t let them watch too much TV. I care about the kinds of people they are becoming.
They’re pretty good kids. But they’re almost three, so they can be messy, screechy, surly, whiny, and sweet, often all at the same time. They talk back. They interrupt. They sometimes refuse to say “please” or “thank you” for no discernible reason. They’re learning. That’s their whole job right now, and they learn by doing. Testing. Trying. Pushing the limits and pushing my buttons and pushing each other. It’s what kids do.
So what I’m asking of you is to try your hardest to refrain from judging me and my parenting for the hour or so you’ll see of it when I haul my big, unruly family to a restaurant so my little girls can have a treat for their birthday. They stay home a lot. It’s not their fault that it’s a lot of work just to get them all out the door and into the car. They may whine and fuss about something ridiculous, or spill their milk and glue a placemat to the table with syrup. Those things are de rigeur for pretty much all of our mealtimes. They don’t mean to annoy you. They don’t mean to be too loud. I try to teach them manners the very best that I can, but it’s a process, and they’re still figuring it out.
I want you to know that I am filled with anxiety at the prospect of taking all of them out to a restaurant because we will be on display, set up to be judged by the clientele who are trying to enjoy their mimosas and eggs in peace. I promise not to let them run around, or throw food, or have a temper tantrum in the middle of the floor. I’m just saying please, please don’t think I’m a bad parent if I bribe them with little packets of jelly. Or if I can’t keep them especially quiet. Or if I make empty threats out of desperation just to get through this outing without any disasters.
Maybe you think I’m being paranoid, and you could be right, but let me just say this: It feels like everyone in the world, whether or not they have children, thinks they know how to parent. Everyone thinks they have the right to judge and criticize parents on the job they’re doing, often based on no more than a few minutes’ observation while the parent and children are out in public. And yeah, I get it. Some parents suck. For sure. But so many of us are trying really hard to be good at it, even though we know how impossible that can sometimes be. Parenting is a difficult job that goes on and on and on. Just when you think you’ve got something figured out, the whole game changes, and you have to come up with a new strategy. Kids are great, they really are. But they’re also exhausting. And demanding. And infuriating. And sometimes, in spite of all of that, they deserve to get out of the house and do something special, even if they haven’t fully mastered manners.
I’m not a doctor. I’m not an electrician. I’m not a hairstylist or a game warden or an administrative assistant. If you are any of those things, I won’t judge you on how well you do your job, because I have no idea what it’s like to do your job. It’s actually pretty easy for me not to judge you because you don’t generally have to practice medicine, or wire up a building, or highlight someone’s hair out in a public space, with an audience.
My job is being a parent. I have to do it anywhere my kids are, weekdays and weekends alike. If I take them out in public, I have to do my job in public, and that puts me in a pretty vulnerable position. So please just be kind. Be open-minded. Realize that you have no idea what it just took for me to get my children and myself out of the house, on time, in a state of appropriate dress and cleanliness. Maybe you could do a better job of it, but also maybe not.
Thank you for your patience and your kindness, and for realizing that I’m trying to raise people who will be patient and kind, but may not totally get it yet.
A tired mom who would like to take her little girls out for pancakes on their birthday