This is an open letter. A letter to restaurants that say they are child friendly — until children start acting like children. To the people that don’t have children — and think they come with an off switch (hint: they don’t). To the the people who have grown up children — and have completely forgotten what toddlerhood looks like.
This is an open letter to let you know about two year olds. Average, gorgeous, busy, squishable, frustrating, lovable, wonderful two year olds. It’s about my two year old.
He loves to “read”. He’ll sit for minutes on end (that’s a lot for a toddler) with a book in his lap, telling himself fragments of a story. He idolises his older brother. He tries to join the games he plays even though they are way too old for him. He will grab both my cheeks and squish them together before leaning in for a kiss. When I say “I love you”, he says “lub you too Mumma.” He has the most amazing blue eyes and the softest, almost-white curls. When he sleeps, he makes a funny little snuffling sound. I can’t put sunscreen on him without him running around and making it into a chasey game. He says funny little things like “I quite like that,” and “Oh deary gosh”. He always wants to share with his friends. He has a big smile that lights up his eyes and my world.
He likes routine. When something deviates from the routine he is used to, he can get upset. He doesn’t have access to all the words he needs to let me know how he feels. That gets frustrating. Sometimes he resorts to throwing himself on the floor and screaming because of that frustration. Sometimes there are too many emotions for a little body and mind to handle. Sometimes, not often, but sometimes he will get an idea in his head and not let it go. There is a certain dogged belligerence that only toddlers possess.
There are times when I try to reason with him. Which is unreasonable. He doesn’t posses the capacity to listen to measured argument. There are times I try to discipline him into stopping the tears. Getting angry at an upset child does very little to calm them. There are times I ignore him, hoping that he will settle himself, and it looks like I am being a poor parent. There are times when I try to hug it out with him. Sometimes he will tolerate that and sometimes he won’t. Most of the time, he just needs time. He just needs to feel listened to.
When my child loses it, because he isn’t getting what he wanted in that moment, he is not being a spoiled brat. He is not being an undisciplined monster. He is certainly not deliberately setting out to ruin your day. He is being two.
When a child starts a tantrum in a shopping centre or a cafe, believe me, the parent accompanying that child just wants the ground to swallow them whole. They are taking no pleasure out of their darling child transformed into a screaming banshee. They are wishing for the off-switch that you are glaring at them to locate.
When a parent stands up to a screaming toddler’s demands and doesn’t give in, even when they are making an embarrassing amount of noise, they deserve a standing ovation, not scorn.
When a parent gives in to a screaming toddler’s demands in order to achieve some peace of quiet for all, they have partially done that for you and they don’t deserve your judgement.
When you operate a child-friendly restaurant in a shopping centre that deliberately targets young mothers and values the mummy dollar, you don’t get to turf kids out for being kids.
You don’t get it to have it both ways. We live in a world that has children in it. Sometimes children don’t behave the way we want them to. Not because they are undisciplined or badly behaved or poorly brought up. But because they are children.
But you are not a child. You are an adult. With access to empathy. Please use it next time you encounter a screaming child who is certainly not doing it to ruin your day.