Allow me to preface this article by stating that, despite not (yet) having a child, I know what it is like to be faced with screaming, unruly children while out and about, enjoying an otherwise peaceful day. Before becoming a writer, I was a nanny/au pair for children of all ages, including those with special needs. While this does not qualify me to understand being a parent, it does qualify me to understand having to run basic errands or enjoy a hot cocoa at a coffee shop with one or more toddlers whose sole purpose for those twenty minutes is to push you to suicide. I get it.
That being said, the fact that having to deal with your obnoxious child is especially unfortunate for you does not excuse you from the task. Because it is unfortunate for every person within earshot, and it is your responsibility to them to either get your child into some kind of functional order or vacate the premises as quickly as possible.
We understand that it is not your child’s fault. Your child is likely too young to know better (though trust that if your child is above the age of seven, we’ll be judging the shit out of them, too, because come on). But you, as the parent, should be better than this. You should be respectful enough of those around you to understand that when out in civilized society, everyone has to abide by the same rules to make leaving the house a fun and enriching experience for all involved. Just as I cannot rip off my clothes and run around the coffee shop in circles singing “My Shiny Teeth and Me” from the Fairly Oddparents and smearing my latte foam all over the mirrors (no matter how much I want to), your child cannot do that either.
You may first have to start by accepting that there are just some places where children are not invited. Adult movies, especially ones later in the evening? Not a place for little Tommy to do his nightly screaming. A fancy, quiet restaurant where people are paying good money to eat their lobster bisque and drink their martinis in tranquility? Not where baby Sarah should be having her punishingly odiferous poops. No matter how badly you want to go to these places, if you are not in possession of a good babysitter to take the little ones off your hands for the evening, it is Ice Age 437 and Applebee’s for you. Sorry. I know that it sucks, but you are not special, and cannot foist your children on polite society before they are ready to abide by its stringent rules.
If you are in a place at which children are considered a reasonable presence, however, the challenge now becomes maintaining a level of dignity and respect for your area. I know that the people working are just lowly waiters or baristas and who cares what they think [robotic, upper-class cackle], but seriously. Spare them having to spend 20 minutes after you leave picking up a veritable Starry Night of cracker crumbs and spilled juice. Manage your presence, and keep ungodly messes to a minimum. Just because your child is young does not mean that he/she (and by extension, you) are exempt from having to be reasonably neat when out and about.
Should your child begin screaming, you either shut that shit down or you take it outside. There is no third option. Continuing your conversation while the rest of the establishment bombards you with murderous looks and remarks under your breath about how much you are ruining their lunch — BECAUSE YOU ARE RUINING THEIR LUNCH — is not sufficient. No one should have to suffer through that. Same goes for children who are running around, messing with things that are not theirs, putting their dirty hands on glass surfaces, and generally being disruptive and disrespectful. Aside from just generally making everyone in the proximity hate you/children/the human race, imagine what would happen if cute little Katie who just loves rocking the light fixture back and forth were to injure herself when it falls? Whose fault would that be? Would you sue the coffee shop? If you’re the kind of asshole parent who lets their kid do things like that, chances are high that you would.
The point is, aside from just being unpleasant to be around, you are teaching your child that they do not have to be respectful. You are teaching them that the world is there to cater to them, that everyone else’s experience means nothing, and that whatever rules may exist do not apply to them. Horrible brats (and the horrible, service-industry worker-abusing adults they become) are made, not born. You are actively creating terrible people, and making sure that everyone suffers in the process. You have roundly shown that your world is far more important than anyone else’s, and the respect we’d all like to be afforded doesn’t matter if charming Charlie wants to run around and throw spaghetti on the floor.
If you insist on allowing your child to be an utter abomination while out in general society, just know that everyone hates you and is actively wishing you would spontaneously burst into flames so we could enjoy ourselves. Know that every person who has to wait on you during one of your child’s uncorrected tantrums is weighing the pros and cons of quitting on the spot just to tell you to go fuck yourself. And let us hope, above all, that someone is spitting in your lunch, as you so deserve — for they are doing the Lord’s work.