Solo Parenting: Taking the Kids Out to Eat

Filed under: Activities: Babies, Amazing Kids, Amazing Parents, Cabin Fever

There's a funny paradox about parenting solo. When my husband goes out in public, minus me and accompanied by all four of our children, he is lauded, praised, and admired.

"What a great dad you are!" "All on your own with four kids! Amazing!" "Mom's morning off, huh?"

Now, when I schlep around town on my own with the four kids, nobody blinks an eye. I'm just another mom. Oddly, this bugs my husband more than me. He is a great dad, and is more than capable of caring for our children by himself, does it often, and doesn't consider himself "special" for doing so.

But here's what I think: the more praise the merrier, and any parent on a solo outing deserves kudos for bravery. Because, let's face it, whether you're a mom or a dad, solo parenting small children in public is a recipe for humble pie. So, why bother? Why take your children on any but the most necessary outings?

Because, believe it or not, public solo parenting can also be a recipe for togetherness and cooperation: trust your kids and they will reward your trust by rising to the occasion. Brace yourself for the unexpected. Cabin Fever is packing the diaper bag and taking four children out to eat. Without dad.

We've enjoyed a quiet day indoors, but the situation is deteriorating. Talk about cabin fever. Dad's working this weekend. It's four o'clock and the fridge is empty. Impromptu family meeting: What's for supper? We could order in. The four-year-old remembers a restaurant within walking distance. The older children chime in: They love Thai food, too!

Thai food it is. We need to get out of the house: that's my executive decision. The children are ecstatic, and on my suggestion each chooses one item to bring along for entertainment purposes at the table (the eight-year-old grabs a pencil for doodling on paper napkins; the seven-year-old brings her book; and the four-year-old picks a random toy she spies lying at her feet).

But our youngest is giving me pause. At a year and a half, he's approaching The Worst of All Ages for Restaurant Patronage. (Seriously. One of our children, at 18 months, knocked over an entire restaurant table laden with bowls of hot noodle soup. I can still see them flying through the air. We didn't go out again for years). A parent must have consideration for the other customers. Then it occurs to me: who the heck is going to be eating at four thirty in the afternoon? We've chosen our time well.

Increased cooperation is already apparent in the front hallway: boots and coats and mitts donned without pushing. Someone helps the toddler find his hat. Everyone uses the bathroom before we head out, strolling uptown, a merry pack on a rare mission. Eating out is a treat in our family, and we're all a little giddy.

At the restaurant, we're shown a table at the back (thank you, wise waitress!), and we choose our meals with no second-guessing. For beverages water will suffice -- fewer bathroom breaks, and the toddler won't covet what he can't have. Everyone agrees and understands. There's a sense around the table, particularly among the older children, of responsibility and maturity. They get it. They know that only one parent is present, and that at any moment they might be called upon to help out.

We enjoy a real conversation, discussing the artwork on the walls.

I text my husband our whereabouts. He replies in astonishment: "Good Luck!"

Food arrives. We eat. We share! Toddler stays in his high chair, gnawing on shrimp.

The restaurant is getting busier. Toddler points to a group of young men seated nearby and says, clearly, "Daddy!" Laughter from both tables. "Uh, you've got the wrong guy, kid."

Wisely, we skip dessert and wave for the bill. The children are happy with the candies brought by the waitress (whose tip is growing larger by the minute). And at the very end, as I'm packing up the stroller and everyone is getting on coats and hats, I receive a sweet little public parenting reward. A group of elderly women has just been escorted past our table.

"Look at that young woman," I overhear one woman say. "Out on her own with four children. Isn't she brave!"

No complaints here. That felt good.

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.