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A child at a restaurant and watching cartoons, a telephone at the table is pretty useful

A child is sitting at a table in a restaurant, watching a cartoon on a tablet or a phone. Your first impression? Is something wrong with this family? Is this acceptable? Is this bad parenting? Are the parents taking the path of least resistance? Can’t they deal with raising a child? Or, perhaps, you are showing more empathy and are more understanding towards the people at the table next to yours?

At first, it is worth admitting to it and eating humble pie – before we became parents, we were both in the group of people who were asking all of the above questions except for the last one. We were even wondering whether a child at a restaurant was a good idea at all. A child won’t stay focused on eating for a longer while, won’t raise the level of comfort of other customers by running around the tables, even the parents would have a hard time enjoying their meal. Tons of cons, isn’t it? When it comes to parents who are sometimes embarrassed and sometimes resigned, and merely occasionally relaxed, it is much easier to reach such conclusions than show empathy. A thought such as: “Are they supposed to stay with their child at home all the time?” usually springs to mind much later. Sometimes, actually, much, much later, only when you find yourself in the same situation as the one of the above parents at a restaurant...

We perfectly understand those people who, while coming to a restaurant, wish to enjoy not only their meal, but also the atmosphere of the very place. Peace and quiet, relaxation, talking in whispers... Poland is no Italy, or Greece, where in every eatery there are not only children’s high chairs, but, most of all, a lot of people smiling at our little troublemakers (our little ones quickly gave up the idea of high chairs, though. They want to sit on the same chairs the adults do. Nela came to this conclusion still before her first birthday). As the restaurants are often bustling, those youngest voices don’t usually drive anyone round the bend. And we’re not writing this so as to emphasise that the situation in our country is much worse – because we are proud of Poland and we praise our country whenever possible, encouraging the people we meet on trails to definitely come here. But in Poland, the situation is simply different. We’ve never seen such a friendly restaurateur who would bring a crying child a balloon in our country, just as it happened in the case of Żywek at Lago di Como. In addition, he gave Żywek a handful of grissini, i.e. delicious breadsticks, and then invited us over, even though we were only walking past his garden. Sure, he sensed that we could stay for dinner (which eventually happened; the spaghetti was excellent, and the pizza was baked in a fantastic oven), but we get the impression that in Poland a family with two children is not considered to be the most-desirable customer. Of course, we’re talking about those restaurants everyone is free to go to, and not the ones specialising in serving meals for families with children, with the “At our restaurant, every child is welcome” slogan put on their banners.

How to reach a reasonable consensus and find a solution in a situation (we’re consciously not using the word “problem”) where you’re at a restaurant along with your child? It is precisely then that watching cartoons seems to be an ideal way out. And we all win. In our house, Żywek and Nela are not allowed to keep looking at a tablet, a telephone, or watch TV continuously while seating at the table. We have taught them how to enjoy their meal: firstly, while preparing it, and secondly, due to the very fact that time is being spent with their family. That is why a cartoon at a restaurant is merely an attraction – an attraction which gives you the possibility to calmly bargain over something more. While entering a restaurant with our children, we promise them that if they well-behave while waiting for their orders (colouring books are often helpful here) and eat their dinner without complaining (this, on the other hand, is not a problem, there are no fussy eaters at our house), they will be allowed to watch their favourite movie. Żywek and Nela don’t spend much time in front of the TV, that is why this incentive is all the more encouraging. Therefore, if they have eaten whatever they had ordered, we see no harm in them watching their daily, 30-minute-long dose of cartoons at the very table at the restaurant. Of course, they don’t watch them at high volume, but they stay focused, all the more that we take extra care so that the cartoons were of educational value. “Dora the Explorer” and “Team Umizoomi” are the latest hits, and when our children are watching them they memorise many English words and numbers, while every episode of “Andy’s Wild Adventure” brings forth lots of interesting questions every parent could be glad about. Such titles as “PAW Patrol” and “Fireman Sam” aren’t of that many educational values in our opinion, but since our kids sometimes choose this exact repertoire, there’s nothing to speak of here. Even though we hold interesting discussions in high regard and consider conversations with our children to be the best way of spending family time at a restaurant... Quite often it all works out just fine, especially if we’re sitting in a garden of some eatery located in a new, interesting place and there’s a lot going on around us, but we must admit – sometimes, when there’s no other way, cartoons are our best bet. Every now and then, when children grow tired of sightseeing, instead of waiting for too long – which may result in a couple of minutes of crying – we let them watch a cartoon on a smartphone and enjoy the time spent together, just the two of us, and take delight in the place we happen to be at the moment. The critical looks from the tables nearby – they are really easy to notice – don’t affect us at all. All the more as there are much more children watching cartoons on tablets around us than couples who would condemn such an approach towards raising children. Or who would even condemn the fact that some parents dared to take their child to a restaurant.

Żywek was 9 months old when together with Ela – who was already pregnant for the second time – we went on a previously booked trip to Skiathos. A small child and another one on the way meant that strolling around the island and taking culinary routes found in-between its narrow streets became more of an attraction for us than the beach itself, where there were not enough attractions for such a family as ours (a swimming pool was a better idea). As it turned out, our little son’s behaviour while at the charming Greek eateries was exemplary: he was soaking up the world around him, sometimes napping in a pram or on a comfy couch, he was trying to communicate with the waiters, at the same time truly endearing himself to them – it’s impossible they were pretending. Today, we hold a belief bordering on certainty that the time spent in Greece shaped Żywek’s personality – in consequence, he is an outgoing child interested in the world around him, he likes talking to people and isn’t afraid of strangers. The same goes for Nela. And we really don’t see any reason to limit the way our children develop and stop going to restaurants. The fact that our children watch cartoons while dining out quite often translates into our batteries being recharged and our whole family being much more eager to see even more of the world arounds us – in real life, not through the screen of a mobile phone.