Last week, I took my three boys to dinner and they were expected to behave. We ate at a fancy restaurant and I was there for work. My boys are eleven, seven, and four and the dinner lasted about two hours. There were only two other kids at the dinner; the rest of the people were professionals. Collectively, my boys ate more bread than was polite because they were hungry, talked about vomiting, performed the “boarding-house reach” to get more bread, complained their chair was itchy, passed food across the table for each other to sample, put their fingers in their root beer, and gave me attitude when I told them they couldn’t have any more soda.
I was mortified.
We work with my boys to have manners at every meal at home. We even have “dinner rules” which consist of (1) no discussion of bodily functions or violence at dinner, and (2) no light sabers allowed at the table, just to name a few. (Don’t judge me. Do you eat dinner with three boys under the age of twelve on a regular basis? Trust me. These rules are necessary.)
I left the dinner tired and worried my boys had not made a good impression, even though the other adults at the dinner complimented my boys on their behavior as we made our exit.
I didn’t need to worry. Here is what the others saw: my boys said please and thank you, they looked at the wait staff when they ordered their meal, they didn’t spill anything, they didn’t drop anything, they contributed to the conversation, they played tic-tac-toe, and basically held it together for the entire meal. (Did I mention this meal lasted two hours? I thought so.) I even received a wonderful email after the dinner complimenting my boys on their behavior (the compliment came from someone who sat at the opposite end of the table and out of ear-shot of the vomit comment, but still).
Here’s what I need to learn: how I see my boys’ behavior is not the same as others see it. From an outsiders point of view, people saw three brothers who got along well over an extended amount of time. They ate their food, they didn’t chase each other around the restaurant, they talked with each other, and they shared with each other (even if it was their food). A friend of mine has a theory of parenting which (sort of) applies to this situation: Don’t judge your parenting by how your children behave with you, judge it by how they behave with others. That night if I could have looked at how they were behaving in public, with adults, rather than worrying about all the tiny things they were doing, I would have had a much more relaxed meal.
My kids aren’t perfect, and I know that if I look for negative things my children do, I can always find them. That email praising my boys was a good reminder that when I look for the positive actions, I will find plenty of those as well.