One Sunday in the April school holidays we had an early dinner at the Rose & Shamrock Village Inn in Havelock North. It's an unpretentious, bustling, faux English/Irish pub that's a great place for family dining as long as you're into onion rings, Sunday roasts and fisherman's baskets - and every so often this is exactly the sort of food we crave.
This particular evening, though, I wasn't focused on the cuisine but rather the unsupervised children who loitered around tables and played on the small flight of stairs leading to the elevated dining section. I watched other patrons (intent on not spilling their beers) good-naturedly swerve around the rug-rats and I noted that the waitresses were clearly well practised in the art of nimbly dodging these human obstacles.
And a few questions sprung to mind. Where were the parents? Why weren't they watching their children? And why do they have such little regard for unsuspecting diners and busy staff members? Unless these children all had a valid reason, such as suffering from a disorder, it seemed more than a little thoughtless and uncivilised.
My ten-year-old knows that once she's seated at a restaurant she needs a very good excuse to even look like she's thinking about leaving her chair before the meal is over and we all leave. The restaurant catching fire and the premises being evacuated would be one good reason. I can't think of many others.
We started taking her to restaurants when she was very young and the number one rule was that she didn't budge. I set those standards early because it was important to me that when she was older she could be trusted to behave impeccably so we could all have a relaxing meal out without disturbing others. I was determined that my child's behaviour would not be frowned upon by other diners.
I didn't actually frown upon those children at the Rose & Shamrock recently. They didn't especially bother me and, in fact, they were tolerated and well accommodated by everyone who almost tripped over them. My interest was academic, as if I was idly watching some nature documentary. I could imagine the voiceover: "When out of their natural habitat some adults of the species leave their offspring unattended so they can enjoy an outing unencumbered by parental responsibility".
The children themselves can't be blamed for this. It's up to adults to set the standards and clearly some people are content with fairly low ones. There are doubtless many reasons why this might be so. Perhaps they'd had a hard day and wanted to forget about parenting for a while. Perhaps they didn't know any better. Perhaps they didn't believe in discipline. Perhaps they think other people are delighted to be disturbed by their children.
These are probably the same parents who allow their kids to kick the seat in front of them on aeroplanes. It must be nice to be oblivious to the comfort of others, to switch off to the world around them and exist in a bubble where anything goes. It sounds very chilled out, if supremely antisocial. But surely it can't be truly relaxing if you can't see your children and aren't certain they're safe.
Because, manners aside, letting your children roam free in restaurants is dangerous - and not just to the adults who might trip over an ankle-height obstacle. It's also dangerous to the children themselves as waitresses often carry bowls of hot soup and pots of tea to the tables. Would those chilled out parents be so laidback if their child received burns or was otherwise hurt? Somehow I doubt it. Then they'd be sure to want some accountability even if the incident had been permitted by their own nonchalant attitudes.
And, of course, it's these parents who give other parents a bad name. Most of the children at the Rose & Shamrock that night were sitting down, eating their meals and generally behaving appropriately. There were just a few who were getting in the way, relying on the good-natured tolerance of others and generally hogging all the attention.
What's your view on children who roam in restaurants? Is it bad manners or would it be stifling their creative energy to make them sit like normal people?