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Comment: When tantrums are a crying shame
The festive seasons is all about families, about being together and catching up on news and being in each other’s company.
In our case, though, it’s also about something else valuable – allowing the children to spend a day in the company of their grandparents, and for us to quietly retreat to another corner to allow that bonding to happen without the distraction of parents.
Yup. You read between the lines, didn’t you?
We get to drive off in search of a little post-Christmas peace and quiet and leave my parents in charge of the children.
There’s been a night away, a trip to the cinema and a couple of meals.
It’s stuff that rarely happens during the rest of the year, so you grab it when you can, and you enjoy every moment.
And so there we were in Devon, in a branch of Wagamama, gently tucking into a bowl of noodles and a raw juice.
The restaurant was relaxed, the food good, the Sunday papers spread out around us.
Which is when the door opened and a screaming child came in, accompanied by grandparents (stressed-out) and parents (remarkably indifferent).
While they waited for a table, the child continued to bellow, pausing only to take deep gulps of air in order to inflate those healthy lungs.
And, with a grand predictability, they were seated right behind us.
Now I’ve been in this position.
You cannot bring up three children without knowing what it’s like to have one of your offspring starting to have a meltdown in a public place.
It’s what little children do, sometimes with legitimate grievance, and sometimes because they’ve discovered it’s a supremely effective way of taking command of any given situation.
Little children can be sly.
If they’re screaming their heads off at home, then you can leave them to it.
If you’re in a park, then go to a quiet bit where you’re not scaring the ducks.
But if you’re in a restaurant, a cinema or, on one particularly painful day, a Christmas carol concert, it’s time to pick up the child and get out.
Because let’s be clear.
Nobody in the world wants to hear someone else’s baby throwing a tantrum.
If it happens to you and the people on the next table are smiling sympathetically – don’t fall for it.
They’re just being polite.
Behind those smiles, they want that screaming to stop as soon as possible.
A baby’s cry is so loud precisely because it requires a response and needs to cut through the hubbub of everyday life.
And that’s the right time for a parent to grab a child and head for the exit.
So that was me, a few years ago, wandering around a deserted churchyard, calming down my son while the carols were sung inside, or walking around a car park, trying to calm an enraged baby.
It’s part of the job of being a parent to protect the rest of the world from the tantrums of your own offspring.
Yes, it’s very stressful when your beloved little person is ruining your meal.
It’s irritating and agonising when all you wanted to do was sit down, stop worrying and eat some food.
But that’s what you sign up for. Parenthood, bluntly, is hard.
There are plenty of restaurants where you can get away with a bit of shouting and bawling.
Child-friendly places where they give you crayons and colouring pictures and kids’ things.
Believe me – I’ve been to them all, and they’re great.
But even there, the etiquette of parenthood is clear – don’t spoil everyone else’s time.
That’s not complicated, is it?
Except, except … that these people hadn’t got the message.
They sat down and allowed little baby Rambo to scream his head off.
Raaah. Raaah. RAAAH.
And in response – emollient, pointless words of balm and a request for a high-chair.
What to do in such circumstances?
Should we have told them that they were selfish, fundamentally bad people with disdain for the rest of the world?
Perhaps a little confrontational.
Or should I have made a joke along the well-worn line of “nothing wrong with his lungs”?
Should we perhaps have just sat there, with the stoicism for which the British are so renowned, and just carried on as if nothing had happened?
Maybe just a tut here or there?
Or should my wife and I have started bellowing as well, just to make the point? Nope.
We did none of these things.
Simultaneous with the people on the next table, we brought our meal to a premature conclusion, called for the bill, and left.
“How was your meal,” said the manager. “Great, until the hurricane arrived,” was the answer.
Let me say it again. I’m about as child-friendly as you can get, and I’ve been down this path three times.
But a plea from the heart – if your little treasure is about to blow his or her top – go outside.
Get some fresh air, watch the ducks, go for a drive and do something to take their mind off the fury.
Sort them out. Invest some time.
But please – be kind.
Yes, your afternoon might be ruined, just as generations of parents have seen their afternoons ruined before you, but leave it at that.
Don’t take everyone down with you, or one day you might find your baby isn’t the only person having a tantrum.
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