Should children be tolerated, welcomed or banned from public places? So asks the Daily Post’s ‘Weekly Writing Challenge.’ Read on for my thoughts on the matter…
There is a little plaza in the village of Fornalutx, Mallorca, where an ancient fountain bubbles away, a backdrop to the sound of the local children’s high Spanish voices squealing and laughing as they play around the old tree in the centre of the square. Their parents sit outside the tapas bars, sipping a beer or café con leche in the shadows cast by the dipping sun, talking about grown up stuff and occasionally looking over to ensure everyone is safe and behaving themselves. The atmosphere is convivial and full of humanity, a hub of community life ticking along as it has done for centuries.
In Sheffield where I live, things are a little different. For the entirety of my eldest daughter’s life, I have eaten in restaurants with her on a frequent basis. Sharing a meal out is a great opportunity for families to spend quality time talking to each other and to escape the ubiquitous mobile phones, TV’s and laptops that encroach on almost every other aspect of our lives. Because I have taken her out to dinner from just a few months old, she has always displayed good table manners and knows exactly how to behave amongst adults in a busy restaurant. When she was smaller, she would dress up in a Cinderella or Snow White costume when I took her out; now she puts make up on, wears a dress and high heels (mine, usually) and looks stunning. I am always extremely proud to walk in to any restaurant with her, knowing that her behaviour will be nothing less than perfect.
Now that I have a six-month old baby, she joins us when we eat out at restaurants. Down the road from where we live, there are a few places to eat of Mediterranean origin, and we usually choose those over more English, traditional venues, owing to the fact that we are a family with a baby. Mediterranean cultures celebrate children, and include youngsters in the conversations and social interactions that take place in restaurants and other public places. One particular aspect that I love about those cultures and the way they embrace little ones, is how the men fuss over babies and young children in such a relaxed and comfortable way – a social norm that is rarely seen in English culture. Mediterranean men seem so at ease with their masculinity and place in society, that they have no qualms about cuddling babies in public, kissing their children openly and generally demonstrating their paternal love for their families whenever they see fit. I love that!
I have never witnessed a badly behaved, bored child who is desperately trying to seek their parents’ attention, when on holiday in Mallorca, Spain or Italy. The children there are a part of whatever is going on; they are valued participants in social gatherings of any kind, and join in the conversations with adults as equals. Or they are just allowed to let off steam, chasing each other round a big tree in a plaza, or splashing water scooped up from a fountain, until they are tired and happy to join the grown ups and their more sedate chatter. Children who feel wanted and loved do not (generally) behave badly, and children who know that they are accepted and welcomed by society as a whole when they visit public places, usually meet the expectations they understand have been placed on them, and act accordingly.
Eating out should always be about friends and family coming together to share conversation and laughter, and to cement relationships. Children are as much a part of the social equation as adults and should be treated as such by everybody. When children are listened to and respected as human beings, they are a source of endless fun and interesting banter, often more so than many of the adults to be found in restaurants!