The question

I was out at lunch in a small neighbourhood café. A couple came in with their one-year-old who started running around and screaming. One of the parents picked him up and he just screamed even louder. I got annoyed and yelled out the word “Jesus” after their kid screamed right in my ear. They did not even bother to apologize. My friend who was with me acted like she did not care either. She even told the parents that she thought their kid was adorable. I just wanted to get out of there. However, my friend wanted to get frozen yogurt and eat it there. I got my yogurt and the kid continued his tantrum. At that point I was thinking that these parents just needed to get their order to go. I think small places need to have a blanket policy on no screaming children. What should I have done?

The answer

I’ve been on both sides of this transaction. And I admit: It’s a tough one.

It’s particularly difficult on planes. You know you’re bothering the other passengers with your caterwauling child, but what can you do?

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And on a plane, you can’t discreetly exit to give other people’s eardrums and frayed nerves a break.

But you can in a restaurant. And that’s what one should do if one’s child is bothering other customers.

Now, I know part of the idea of bringing children to restaurants is to teach them manners and to sit still and behave in public.

But if they can’t or won’t, I think it’s incumbent on the parent to whisk them outside until they settle down.

You see people do this all the time in church and during weddings and funerals. Why not in a restaurant?

Especially since your fellow diners may be paying top dollar for a pleasant meal and maybe a reprieve from the dishes (people talk about the inevitability of death and taxes, but to me dishes are hardest to avoid, and keep coming around like the refrain of a really bad song.)

And some may well be paying for a sitter, thinking “God this evening is costing us a lot of money, but it’ll be nice to get away from the kids for a while, reconnect as adults, as romantic partners, and who knows, maybe later we’ll even...”

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Just as a tomato-faced toddler runs past the table screaming, splashing chocolate milk on their dry-clean-only clothes.

Nix. Not fair. So, I think if parents are failing to curb their caterwauling child, you are within your rights to say something.

Diplomatically, of course. Not like one woman in a restaurant I was at once, who, passing the table of a pair of parents smiling indulgently at their child’s tantrums, terrorist-like demands and hissy fits, leaned over and said tartly: “You know, your child is only charming to you.”

Admittedly, a lot of us might have been thinking something similar, but that was a bit blunt.

And counterproductive, if I remember correctly, only serving to infuriate the couple.

But I do think you might have some luck approaching them and saying: “Listen, sorry to bother you but we’re having a hard time focusing on our conversation with your child making so much noise. Do you suppose you could take him/her outside for a bit until he/she settles down?”

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If they are decent members of that construct I still quixotically believe in, “polite society,” they will no doubt see the error of their ways, be mortified, apologize and do as you so gently request.

If not, if they respond with a rude retort and flat-out refusal—and I admit there’s a strong possibility it could go this way – then I think you can say something to the restaurant’s management.

I know quite a few restaurants have a policy about it these days and some even go so far as hang signs outside: “No screaming kids.”

If they won’t do anything, well then you’ve done what you can but I would tell the manager you don’t plan on coming back.

Because it isn’t fair. After all, there are plenty of “kid-friendly” places parents can go. True, some of them are like dystopian nightmares, with lights flashing, video games blaring, kids going nuts, soggy pizza and rubbery hot dogs.

But hey: Isn’t that one of the things they’re talking about when they speak of “the sacrifices of parenthood”?

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