Treat your kids politely if you expect the same from them
In this week's column: Keeping the little monsters semi-civilised in restaurants may be as simple as, well, not treating them like monsters. After all, we set the example.
A few weeks ago, at the suggestion of our friend and fellow foodie Florence Fong, I took the family to lunch at Wolfgang’s Steakhouse. While I knew about the restaurant – I had popped my head in before dining at another establishment in the same building – neither my wife nor I had eaten there.
It was definitely not a place I had considered taking the kids to. Steakhouses, in general, are both expensive and a tad formal. And while my oldest loves beef, we had yet to bring him or his little sister to a proper steakhouse.
Nonetheless, with repeated warnings to "behave or else”, we prepared for a Sunday lunch at this rather posh restaurant. That also meant making the little ones dress up a bit. Honestly, that’s usually only an issue for T1.
T2, princess-in-training that she is (in her universe, at least), is almost always overdressed. She has a strong (that's actually putting it mildly) preference for wearing what she calls “party dresses” at all times. And while we did try to explain to her that sometimes, other clothes are more appropriate, all the work unravelled when my mother-in-law told her that her mama was exactly the same at her age.
Hearing that toddler mama also only wore dresses and refused all other outfits gave her the conviction to fight us whenever we try to introduce other styles of dressing to her.
Our son, on the other hand, like many Singaporean males, is happiest in a soft T-shirt and shorts with elasticised waistbands. Getting him into a pair of pants and / or a shirt takes bribery and stern cajoling, and sometimes, threats.
We were welcomed enthusiastically by the Wolfgang’s staff, who paid particular attention to the kids. The little ones were accorded the same, if not, more attention than the adults. This kind of warm, cheerful yet proper service continued throughout the meal. It made both children feel a little more grown up, and it went a long way in encouraging them to be on their best behaviour during our time there.
It helps, of course, that the burgers are top-notch and huge. Our son, who often has no problem polishing off a whole burger at other top burger places like Black Tap, Burger Joint or Wolf, could only eat half of his. Our daughter got through about a third before giving up. While I finished all of mine, I was so full that I barely ate dinner that evening.
But, before I get too distracted with the food and digress too much, what I wanted to focus on are the expectations we have of our kids when eating out.
As parents, we put a lot of pressure on the little ones to behave their best. Both Su-Lyn and I are similar in that we have a penchant for old-fashioned etiquette (T1 gets annoyed when I make sure he opens doors for people, and lets women and girls in and out of elevators and rooms first).
When we were both younger, and ironically, before we had kids, we enjoyed gifting copies of Kate Spade’s Manners and Tiffany & Co’s Table Manners For Teenagers. Both books are light-hearted and engaging treatises on proper behaviour, and much more palatable for young readers than Emily Post’s Etiquette (which we also have at home).
We have tried and continue to try our best – as I am sure most parents do – to teach our children to behave, especially when outside the house. Dining out is always worrying because of all the potential manner land mines. I have nightmares of my little ones launching Tater Tots across crowded restaurants.
What our lunch at Wolfgang’s reminded me is that you get back what you give. Because the staff at this steakhouse treated T1 and T2 like a young man and little lady respectively, they responded appropriately, behaving (for the most part) very well.
All too often, as parents, we forget to treat our own children politely. We forget that instead of berating or scolding our kids, we could treat them the same way we would like them to act. After all, they model their behaviour through observing us and other adults.
We forget that instead of berating or scolding our kids, we could treat them the same way we would like them to act.
And sometimes, we get lazy. Instead of taking the time to talk to our kids, to explain why they need to sit properly, make conversation, or not to play with their food, we foist them off onto our smartphones and iPads.
The problem with that is that these portable electronic nannies don’t actually teach our kids to behave at all. They just distract the kids, so that we can have some peace and quiet. Which is great for the short term, but not so good in the long run.
Of course, I am guilty of this myself. There are times that parenting can be exhausting, so instead of doing the right thing, I hand over my smartphone or tablet. But more and more, Su-Lyn and I have been trying to avoid this. We want kids who turn into young people with good manners, who value conversation around a dinner table, and whose eyes aren’t glued to devices 24/7.
Wolfgang’s, I will admit, stuck in my memory because of the rarity of the situation – both the exemplary service by the team and the good behaviour of my kids. I guess, sadly, we are conditioned in Singapore to expect mediocre to tolerably okay service in most restaurants. The service we experienced at lunch was more akin to the kind of hospitality found in five-star hotels or when flying upfront on Singapore Airlines.
Good manners is an on-going dilemma for all parents. And, as I said, we often forget to treat our children the way we expect them to treat everyone else. I’m grateful that this reminded me of this. Plus, we got to have some mighty fine burgers as part of the experience.
Chubby Hubby, Portly Papa is a regular column about adventures in fatherhood from Aun Koh.