The Internet’s Great Parenting Wars
The scene last week was Marcy’s Diner, a small restaurant in the sleepy state of Maine in the US. Maine is an out-of-the-way place near Canada where people intentionally go to avoid the world’s gaze. But thanks to the Internet, nothing is really out of the way. So humble Maine recently found itself ground zero of the Parenting Wars.
At issue this time, a disruptive two-year-old throwing a tantrum allegedly so severe it drove the diner’s owner, Diane Neugebauer, to respond in kind. Neugebauer claims the tantrum went on for 45 minutes, and, having heard enough from the unruly child, kicked the family out of her restaurant with her meltdown. (As an aside, I highly doubt this estimate of time. As any parent can attest, time slows down to a crawl during a tantrum; a mere minute feels like an hour.)
Regardless, the battle lines were drawn, the tantrums hurled by each side. But this should have been the end of it, right?
For years, parents and non-parents have been in close combat over the coolest public spaces, particularly restaurants. Non-parents hurl looks of disgust and contempt at small, precious children, their eyes launching missile strikes with every head turned and conversation stopped. Parents ram their giant, double-wide strollers through the front door, dangling diaper bags and moving like an unstoppable column of tanks across a plain. Non-parents respond by passively placing obstacles in the way to keep kids out of their section. Parents use chemical warfare in the form of unchanged dirty diapers to annoy those selfish adults who see no future in the human race and refuse to do their part for our species.
And on it goes.
These used to be silent scuffles on the margins of history. But today we are blessed to have the Internet, an echo-chamber memorializing every intemperate interaction we ever have. The horrified parents, instead of simply leaving with an unpleasant experience, took to the public airwaves to drag the restaurant into the mud via bad reviews. They reported the interaction on the diner’s Facebook page, letting us, the unruly mass, have the last word. Diane Neugebauer, not one to be cowed, replied to the post with her own, blaming the parents for failing to control their child and claiming all other patrons were much happier after she chased them out. Both sides have received social media support. And the battle rages on.
Me, personally? I am thankful we are past the point in time when random tantrums erupt like lava from a menacing, dormant volcano. Today, my wife and I can gauge our children’s moods well in advance and scuttle any public trips before they can embarrass us in front of people we’ve never met. We have long known our children to be adept hostage-takers, getting away with a lot in public because of the gallery of strangers looking on. When we make a mistake and take them out when we shouldn’t, my wife and I have also always been the parents who will immediately pull the plug on an outing and go home.
It’s a no-win situation once a child starts thrashing about on the floor. If you, the parent, say nothing, you are that tolerant parent who encourages terrible, bratty behavior. You know, the one who lets a child rage widely with a bemused look, or worse, with pure indulgence of their monstrous ways. On the other side, is there anything more horrifying than watching an adult scream at a child over something petty, like a refusal to eat? It ruins any outing, especially if the children are complete strangers to you.
The way I see it, other people in a restaurant or at a Sunday brunch never paid to hear me and my children go several rounds of threats about their dismal futures without any electronic devices if they “don’t shape up immediately.” My compromise has always been that I respect any establishment that banishes children up front. Tell me how you feel before I enter. If the place tells me it does not want children, then I can take my business elsewhere, and we’re all happier that we never met. The owner, the other patrons, the parents and the children. Otherwise, I think a restaurant has to accept that sometimes people with children need to stop and eat food, and that some of those children may have a tendency to scream their displeasure instead of calmly explaining it. Owners have to accept everything that comes with those type of customers, including tantrums, dirty diapers, and a messy table to clean after. The parents, in turn, have to make at least an effort not to turn the restaurant into a larger version of their home kitchen.
Ultimately, the one thing I learned from the Battle of Marcy’s Diner: Any outburst is going to make its way to the Internet. All the more reason to just order a lousy pizza and eat at home.