One mom expressed frustration over another young mother who allowed her 10 month old to cry incessantly at dinner, seemingly unaware of the other restaurant patrons who couldn't hold a conversation due to all the noise. My friend felt that it was in the best interest of the child and the other customers for that mother to take her food to go and get the noisy, unhappy child out of there.
The other mom, in a separate conversation, shared how she was recently at a restaurant with her young son and nephew when the table of adults next to them asked to be moved to another part of the restaurant because of the noise the boys were creating. To be fair, she did say there was one small outburst from the younger boy, but all in all they were well-behaved and having fun. Unable to explain why the other table was bothered to the point of needing a new place to sit, she shrugged her shoulders and said, "Some people just aren't kid people."
I don't take my 15 month old out to eat very often, partly because it's more affordable to eat at home, and partly because it's more relaxing to eat at home--he's an active little boy who loves to be vocal and rub marinara sauce all over himself and throw his sippy cup across the room to get my attention. Taking him out to eat requires a bag of tricks including toys, snacks, books, and games to occupy him enough that he's not inclined to grab a stranger's coat with his ketchup covered hands, and inevitably I end up taking him out to the lobby to run around while we wait for the bill to be settled because sitting still that long is nearly impossible. I don't partake in much dinner conversation, and the days of leisurely enjoying dessert or a post-dinner drink are behind me for now. I do, however, enjoy going out to eat (not having to cook and clean up, particularly) so when I have the opportunity, I prepare myself and hope for the best.
I relate to the perspectives of both of my mom friends. That being said, I relate more to the second mom. I stress myself out trying to keep my child from being a nuisance to those around me, but he is just a kid. He's going to be noisy sometimes. He's going to ignore me when I say "no-no." A third of his meal will probably end up on the floor. This is my reality right now, and while he's growing up and learning the rules of interacting with society, it might be inconvenient to those around me. I can either stay home with him until I'm certain he will behave as I would like him to, or I can keep trying to live life and hope those around me will show us some grace.
On the other hand, I relate to the first mom, too. I have been places where a child was "out of control" and I wondered why they didn't just take him home. That's likely how I would deal with an incessantly loud child, both for the sake of those around me and for my own sanity.
There are lots of different ways to handle our children in public. Some moms would leave a grocery cart full of groceries behind to tend to their tantrum throwing toddler, while others would drag him along through the check out because they've come too far to quit. Some strangers see that tantrum throwing toddlers and roll their eyes, while others smile and nod an understanding nod, as if to say, "Don't give up. This, too, shall pass."
As the mother of a young one who is quite vocal about his displeasure, the overwhelming feeling I have when he starts to scream and stomp is embarrassment. I'm not embarrassed of my kid--he's a baby. He's learning. I'm embarrassed for myself, like I must be doing something wrong, because if I was a good mom, my child would be sunshine and rainbows all the time. Of course, my head knows that is not true, but my heart is harder to convince, and catching flack from people around me doesn't help.
People take a lot of pride in their kids. I think that's awesome--we made a human! We've figured out how to feed it and change it and all that! We should be proud!
However, I regularly hear people taking pride in their child's behavior.
"Strangers always compliment me on how quiet my children are."
"My child wouldn't dare act that way in public."
"She behaves so much better than the other kids."
While I totally understand where that sense of pride comes from (it's from a good place, definitely), I don't think it's fair. We are taking credit for their behavior, patting ourselves on the back for a job well done, as if a child who behaves "properly" when in public is better than a child who is rambunctious, and implying that the parents of the less "properly" behaved are doing it wrong. That's not always true! Great parents will set expectations and give guidance to their children, but at the end of the day, each child is different and will respond differently. If you're like me, you're constantly wondering if you're doing it right. I'm wondering why my son doesn't sleep through the night, if he's too old to nurse, if I let him eat too much sugar or watch too much TV, etc. Do we really need one more excuse to compare ourselves to others? Are you a worse person if your kiddo has a meltdown in the middle of communion? Are you failing if your toddler keeps stealing toys from other children? Of course not! You're being a parent, and your child is being a child, and you are growing together.
Counting on our children to represent us as excellent parents isn't healthy for our kids, either. Instead of an overstepped boundary being a teaching opportunity, it becomes an encounter with a disappointed parent. I once watched a minister verbal abuse his son before church for "embarrassing him" by not listening. Rather than addressing the issue (you need to listen to your elders), it turned into criticism (you are an embarrassment). In a culture that takes competition to an unhealthy level, I can't help but wonder if we feed this competitive mindset by telling our children they are only acceptable if they are behaving properly, without giving them room to be kids, make mistakes, and remain a constant presence of love and good in their lives no matter what.
I'm new to this parenting gig. I certainly don't have it all figured out. But I think that if we are going to have any pride about our children, it should be about who they are, not how they behave.
I take pride in my son. I'm proud of him. I'm proud that he was given to me. I'm proud that when God created his beautiful soul, He trusted me to take care of him. It's such an honor. I'm truly humbled.
My pride in him isn't based on what he does. He's a cheeky little boy, full of affection that often presents itself aggressively. He thoroughly exhausts me most days, yet I still miss him once he goes to bed. He'll make plenty of mistakes in life. He'll hurt people, make bad choices, behave badly both in secret and in public--we all do these things. He'll be good to people, make good choices, do the right thing even when no one is looking--we all do these things, too. That's how we grow. That's how we learn. No matter what he does, he's mine. I'll always be proud to be the mother to that beautiful soul.
Isn't this how God loves us? I hurt people, make bad choices, and behave badly both in secret and in public. Yet no matter what I do, God claims me. God's pride in me is certainly not behavior based, and I'm forever grateful for that!
You need to discipline your child however you see fit. You were given your child for a reason, and I would never presume to know better than you on how to raise that child. Just remember that you aren't a teacher in a classroom, a boss at a job, or an instructor at obedience school. While your role might encompass a little of all those things, first and foremost, you are a parent. You are a nurturer. You are your child's reference of what love looks like in this world. Whether you think it shows more love to take your child out of a public situation when he's misbehaving, or if you think it shows more love to guide him through it, or you've found a a better solution I haven't encountered yet that shows more love still, make sure love is your motivation. Not pride, convenience, or even discipline--while those are all fine motivators that may factor in, they are not the most important one. Let's lead our children towards love, so while they are growing, testing their boundaries, and making mistakes, they never doubt how highly valued they are, and how blessed we feel to be their parents.
Let's lead each other towards love, too.