You want to go out to dinner and don’t have a sitter for your toddler. So you pack a bag with things to keep them entertained in the restaurant. You pick a place where you think you will get seated quickly and decide what you are going to order before you get there to save time. Your baby has had a nap and so you don’t expect him to be tired and cranky. You believe you have considered every possible contingency and so off you go to have a wonderful dinner.
An internet search revealed that no one wants to say how long an appropriate attention span is for a child. Some said 5 to 12 minutes for an elementary school aged child and some went so far as to say 3 to 5 minutes per year of age. During my training as a child therapist I was taught to add 4 minutes to the age of the child and that was the expected attention span. Use whatever amount of time you like. But even the most precocious child under 5 is not going to be able to focus on anything for more them 12 minutes.
Meanwhile, back at the restaurant. It takes about 5 minutes for you to be seated and they bring crayons and a paper to the table. Baby colors for about 2 minutes and is finished. So you take out a toy you know he likes. Another few minutes. The waitress hasn’t taken your order yet. You’re looking around. What’s taking her so long? The baby is finished with the toy and you now give him a bottle. Ok. Quiet for another 5 minutes. Finally she takes the order and you ask if she can rush it. The baby throws the bottle and hits the man at the next table. He smiles and hands you the bottle. Cute baby he says.
The baby wants to get down and so, as you have previously discussed, daddy takes him outside for a few minutes. When he comes back you ask him why he didn’t stay out longer. Daddy says he got tired of running around with the baby. Now it’s your turn. You take the baby out and tell him to find out why they’re taking so long to bring dinner. By the time you come back dinner still isn’t there. You’re getting angry and start looking for the waitress. Oh there she is. The order has arrived. It took about 15 minutes but feels like an hour. You put the baby back into the baby seat and start eating. The crayons, toy and bottle have already been used and the baby wants down. You put some food in front of him. You’ve even ordered a side order of macaroni and cheese just because you know this is his favorite. A couple of bites take a couple of seconds. The dish goes flying into the man again. He isn’t smiling now. You apologize. And feel a little uncomfortable. You make a nasty face at your spouse like it’s his fault. He doesn’t like the look and says something about it. You answer with attitude. Now you are both angry at each other and the baby is still throwing things. You feel a little indigestion starting.
You are both rushing to finish while you tend to the baby, argue with each other, say nasty things about the waitress because she took so long and get a little rough with the baby. No time for dessert. You ask for the check. You throw down some cash and storm out of the restaurant. What a great meal. We’ll do it again next weekend.
In my experience with couples, that’s exactly what they do. And they have the same experience over and over again.
Stop doing that. You and your spouse need quiet time together. You need to get out away from the kids once in a while. Get a sitter. Call grandma. But small children do not belong in sit-down restaurants. You fought with your spouse, got short tempered with your baby, got indigestion, were embarrassed, and had bad thoughts about a waitress who could not control anything about when your food was ready. And I bet you stayed angry for quite a while. Why would you choose to repeat this fiasco?
It’s ok to leave your children home. You don’t have to take them everywhere you go. Even if they cry when the sitter comes it’s important for all of you to have some time apart. Try it, you’ll like it.