As I grow older and less connected with children, I fervently hope I can stay sweet, kind and approachable to the kids I encounter. I want to show interest in them. I want them to know I value them, I'm interested in them, that they aren't an annoyance to me. I get so mad when I catch myself becoming grouchy at their noisy presence at restaurants.
Deep down, I understand how tough it is to be a kid trapped in a restaurant booth. You can't run around. You are trapped between your mom and a wall. The food doesn't taste like Mom's and somehow, you aren't sure how, the rules changed and you're liable to break one without knowing. You act out to get attention and to test to see if the rules still apply and you're confused as to why everyone thinks you're cute - except mom and dad.
So I guess I'm not really upset at the kids even when the two year old across the aisle yells intermittently just to hear herself yell or when the three year old boy bounces on the seat behind me making my already tired head spin and my pre-arthritic joints ache. I get most upset at the parents and their disciplining efforts - or lack thereof. I wonder why Dad doesn't do anything about the screaming two year old or what the four year old boy did so wrong that Mom threatens to take away his toys when they get home, a threat I'd be willing to bet dessert on that she doesn't keep.
"Why can't you behave?" she finally demands.
Um, ma'am, have you defined for him what "behave" means?
I do feel compassion for the parents. They are probably eating out because they are tired and don't want to cook. I remember my days as a parent of little ones. I had these pipe dreams of so longing for a nice evening out with the family. I felt so pinned in with my kids at times that I just wanted one evening away from the house where everyone was happy - then wondered why nobody was happy.
Still, I hear moms making threats they fail to carry out and don't hear dads take an active role so often that I began to despair about the parents of today. Does anyone know parenting skills anymore? What is this generation coming to anyway? Are we going to raise an entire generation of out of control hoodlums? My, my. I am turning into a cranky old biddy.
Then I sat at a table with a young family at our church's midweek meal and my faith in the parents of today returned. While Mom held the baby, Dad took charge of the four year old. He initiated getting the boy to take bites of his salad. He cut up a boy size helping of lasagna into small bites. He praised the boy for trying the new food and wasn't overbearing when the boy wiggled on his chair.
As the boy's attention wandered, dad redirected him back to his plate. Dad was consistent, even handed, calm and attentive. It was a pleasant time for all of us at the table because Dad was willing to get involved.
I so want to find that dad and tell him, "Good job. You are doing a great job, Dad. You are acting like the head of the household ought to act. You're involved with your kids. You're taking the initiative to make sure that little boy does what is right but you're keeping in mind what he is able to do at his age level and not expecting too much out of him. Keep up the good work, Dad."
It's tough to be a parent in today's world. All of us who have been parents know all too well that none of us were perfect in our parenting. We do the best we can and pray hard that our mistakes didn't cause too much lasting damage or that too many people were watching. A little bit of praise and encouragement sure did help us lift our shoulder higher and try again.
Do you know any parents who could use a pat on the back? I think I found mine.