As the father of 2-year-old twins, I'll readily concede that small children can be loud, unpredictable, distracting, mean, insufferable little tyrants. In fact, I'll concede it so readily that I don't have to be told as much by the fine diners smugly rejoicing over a touristy Monterey seafood restaurant's brave stand for its peace-loving patrons.
Truth be told, I agree that Shake's Old Fisherman's Grotto in Monterey has every right to expect good behavior by the small children at its restaurant and to ask those whose misbehavior unfairly taints others' experiences to leave. If it ended there — with the restaurant quietly posting a its policy and enforcing compliance as it would with any of its rules for diners — that'd have been fine.
But it didn't end there; it didn't even start there. Rather, the sign posted by the restaurant reads more as a shaming of parents than an attempt to convey a new policy: "No strollers. No high chairs. No booster chairs. Children crying or making loud noises are a distraction to other diners, and as such are not allowed in the dining room." Loud or crying children are a distraction? Thanks for informing the parents who actually live with these kids.
What has ensued — really, what this was in the first place — is a collective piling-on of modern parenting, a shame-fest that has unleashed all kinds of pent-up criticism on narcissistic parents who worship their little monsters. My colleague Michelle Maltais, a mother herself who praised Shake's for striking a blow for manners, wrote that she was "outraged that this is even an issue." I'm not sure who's making more of an issue of this: parents put off by the restaurant's admonition or diners upset that they ever had to sit within earshot of an unruly little one.
This criticism has been telling; it betrays a society today that harshly judges parents in the public and in social media. And let's be honest, the criticism here might explicitly mention loud, obnoxious children, but it really indicates a value judgment about the parents raising them — more specifically, the generation of parents that prizes instant gratification and spoils their children. (Maltais' piece, though well-written and thoughtful, is laced with this kind of generational criticism.)
This is not a fair assessment of the way children tend to behave today, but a projection of certain people's distaste of the habits and culture of today's young adults onto their offspring. I'm guilty as the next curmudgeon of despairing over the waning attention spans of iPhone-addicted GenYers, but in my two-plus years of parenthood I've noticed that the perceived cultural sins of my fellow thirtysomethings have spawned all kinds of unflattering assumptions about how we raise our children. At a restaurant some months ago, an older patron quietly complimented me for beating some evident urge to plop a "gadget" in front of my kids (presumably an iPad or a phone). His appreciation, though sincere and well-meaning, said more about him than me (or my kids).
Parents understand better than anyone the discomfort children can cause. We live with it, put up with it and — as a survival mechanism to forestall insanity — even learn to embrace it. Most of us understand that certain settings aren't appropriate for children, and we don't have the option of simply getting up and leaving when that playful Dr. Jekyll gives way to a screaming, food-throwing Mr. Hyde. We're used to unkind glances and mumblings (which isn't always bad — seats next to me on Southwest Airlines tend to go unfilled), but we're also heartened by the kindness, playfulness and understanding of strangers.
Some of that is in order now.