Recently, I took my two children, ages 5 and 6, to eat lunch at a sit-down restaurant. The kids were happy because they got to eat pancakes for lunch, and I was happy to have a break from my kitchen.
While we waited for our food, we planned an outdoor adventure for the rest of the afternoon and colored the paper placemats provided by the restaurant. There were a few moments of frustration over who won tic-tac-toe and who had the blue crayon, but overall is was a pleasant lunch.
When our meal was over, I asked the waitress for our check, but she told me that it was already paid for.
“What? Really? Who?" I stuttered. I was shocked. Before this, no one had ever randomly paid for my meal.
“They didn't want to say," she said but then nodded toward an older couple in a booth behind us.
Of course, I had to approach the couple and thank them. When I asked if they had covered my bill, the man responded with a sly smile, “Oh, I wouldn't do something like that... But, if I did, it would be because your children are so well-behaved."
And I thought I was shocked before!
My children? Well-behaved in a restaurant? Immediately my mind flashed to dozens of other restaurant experiences, ones mostly ending (or beginning!) in tantrums and tears and spilled sodas and thrown food.
I simply smiled, thanked the couple again, and then returned to my table. I encouraged my children to go over and thank the couple because they treated us to lunch. My children were full of questions, but waved to them and called, "Have a nice day" in their sing-songy voices.
Walking out of the restaurant, I was overwhelmed by the kindness of strangers. The fact that they paid for our meal was so generous and unexpected; however, their kind words meant even more.
I felt like I had won some sort of mom award. Someone actually thought my children were well behaved in a restaurant. My children. The same ones that used to throw french fries and refuse to come out from under the table. Amazing.
In the car, the kids and I plotted ways we could spread kindness to someone else. They spouted out some ridiculous ideas like, "buy Daddy a boat" and "buy someone Disney tickets!"
However, I already knew how I wanted to pay it forward. I won't pass this along to the mom with the well-behaved children. No, I'm going to pass this along to the mom struggling in the restaurant. You know, the one trying to feed her crying baby and grab the ketchup bottle out of her toddler's grasp?
You see, I've been there. I know that a little support can go a long way. But, since I can't treat every mom to lunch, I hope this at least gives many a glimmer of hope.
So, listen up...
... Mothers dodging spoons thrown from restaurant highchairs.
... Mothers attempting to fit an infant carrier into a too narrow booth while her toddler knocks down all of the sugar packets.
... Mothers using every available napkin to mop up yet another spill.
... Mothers kneeling on hands and knees looking for the green crayon that rolled under the table and is desperately needed to complete the coloring page RIGHT NOW!
... Mothers avoiding eye contact of every other patron as her child throws a temper tantrum in the middle of the restaurant.
... Mothers forced to just stay, "I'll take that to go" as soon as the food arrives because her baby just had a blowout and the diaper bag seems to be missing an extra outfit.
... Mothers gently tugging on arms and using threats of no screen time to the child who refuses to come out from under the table.
It will get easier one day. Stay strong. Keep going out.
Although it may seem pointless, continue trying to teach your children manners while dining out. Continue to resist relying too heavily on your cell phone or tablet for entertainment. One day you will want to have a conversation over a meal and this does not happen overnight. Like all good things, it will take time.
But, it will happen.
Maybe not right away. And, it probably won't be perfect for a long time. Although that kind couple may not have noticed, we still struggle in restaurants. My son may not pull all of the napkins out of the dispenser anymore, but he continues to avoid eating with utensils at all costs and spends most of our restaurant time picking the breading off of his chicken strips.
The changes in behavior will be gradual, and you may not even notice until someone actually notices for you—a compliment from the server, an absence of glares from other patrons or someone treating you to lunch.
When this happens, you will think you won the game of motherhood. Although you will not be handed a trophy, bask in the glory of the moment and accept the compliments with a smile. You deserve it.
Original story by Sarah Clouser for Moms & Stories.