When in Rome- An Approach to Child Rearing

My kids cannot behave in the airport.  I don’t know what it is, but they literally cannot stand still and just wait for the Rugby Star to make his appearance after a weekend away.  Maybe it’s the pure excitement of seeing Daddy again, maybe it’s that they know, even at their young ages, that the airport is a magical place that often means getting to see friends and grandparents again in person.

Maybe it’s simply that they are two and almost-four and squirming and wiggling and running circles around me is just what you do at that age at the airport.
Whatever the reason is, it’s the only place that they truly embarrass me.  There are too many people standing still just watching their behavior.  And watching my behavior.  I feel judged.  I feel like people are judging my girls who are normally less-psychotic in public.  These strangers don’t know that my children say please and thank you without being prompted (well, the bigger one anyway).  They are unaware that just that day, The Ladybug said, “Excuse me, could you please pass me that random toy… thank you!” to a little girl she was playing with.  These Airport People don’t know that my kids can sit on a nine-hour flight without so much as the tiniest scream or kick of a chair.
All they see are the tiny, manic people circling me, singing their ABC’s at the top of their voice.  They see two little heads, one brown and one red, squishing themselves between the barriers and peering around the corner, waving at anyone who will look at them.  They see the little one leaning on the big one until she falls over, then crashing on top her, laughing hysterically.  And they see this momma, grabbing a tiny arm, pulling the little delinquents in close and hissing, “If you don’t stop, we’re going home. Right. Now.”
The truth is that, more than likely, no one is even paying attention to me or my kids.  There is a slightly different approach to child-raising here than how I grew up.  Children in this country are allowed to be children.  I have run across very few adults who have glared or given me a side-eye for a wily child running through the mall.  Most people smile and try to touch them or take a picture of them.  Women frequently ask how old they are and if they’re twins (not even close).  No one seems to mind when they peer over into their booth at a restaurant; in fact, most people play peek-a-boo with the girls, inciting loud, raucous laughter from both tables.
There’s a comfort in knowing that no one is judging your children or your parenting skills.  I think the Mommy Wars have instilled a sense of fear in most mothers- am I doing this right?  What if I’m not?  Who will tell me?  How will they tell me?  I feel lucky- in public spaces, there always seems to be at least a couple of kids who are behaving worse than mine and no one seems particularly bothered by any of them.  I take a certain satisfaction in knowing my kids are not screaming or deliberately running into people.  It doesn’t seem to matter either way- no one is paying attention here.
This is a culture of children raised by nannies- nannies who are afraid to discipline (or not allowed to) and parents aren’t really interested in doing it, so children are allowed to behave as children will.  There is something to be said for spending a meal time chatting with your friends while little Johnny and Suzie run through the restaurant, dancing, screaming, knocking things over and generally causing a ruckus and not caring.  Not even glancing up.  Coming from a ‘sit still and stay quiet’ culture, the ability to let kids have fun without being embarrassed or feeling like you need to yank them out of the public eye is almost magical.  As a parent, it’s certainly tempting to sit back and say, “When in Rome…” and let the little buggers have their fun while Momma sips her coffee and checks Facebook.
Look at the mischief in those eyes…
Maybe I should step back and let them just run and play.  Maybe if we let children be children, they’d stay children longer.  I don’t remember getting taken out to restaurants very often as a kid.  It’s probably because our parents knew we couldn’t sit still.  Now, with iPads and phones and games and Kindles, you can go out to dinner and everyone is entertained.  But is it even nice to force a child to do that- go somewhere and sit still in one place, quietly and wait for food?  Do they need to learn how to behave in that situation this young?  Can I let them climb over and under tables and chairs while we try to eat?  Parents here seem perfectly happy.  I see them chatting and lingering over meals and coffees.  It looks nice.  It looks peaceful.  It looks like something I could do- just let them be kids.
BUUUUUT… on the other hand, I don’t want my kids to act like hooligans.  I would like them to at least try to sit still when we’re out at a restaurant, for a few minutes anyway.  Pretend the knife and fork are friends who are just meeting for the first time.  Try and build a fort with a napkin or heck, just color in the kids menu.  Maybe even have a few minutes on the phone or LeapPad when the sitting gets too tough.  I would like to take them to the airport to pick up the Rugby Star without threatening to leave, oh, eight-ish times in the first ten minutes.  I would love for strangers to smile at them, not because they are so adorable (which they are) but also because they are so well-behaved.  Those strangers could think, “What well-behaved children!  Their mother must be fantastic at this parenting business.”
At the end of the day, they’re kids and they will act as kids do.  I have a moral responsibility to teach them to behave as non-crazy as possible when they’re out in public. And they have the responsibility to do just the opposite to the best of their ability.  Whether people are or aren’t judging me or my kids, well, that’s their business I suppose.  I’m doing the best I can and, for now, it’s definitely good enough.
**Evidenced by the fact that the Ladybug just came downstairs in her pjs and, when she saw me, smiled so big (I was out to dinner with L tonight).  “Momma, I saved you a pie so you could eat it when you got home.  Want me to get it for you?”  That, ladies and gentlemen, says I’m doing something right.
What differences in parenting styles have you noticed when you travel?  Are Americans too hands-on?  

2 thoughts on “When in Rome- An Approach to Child Rearing

  1. Your kids sound like normal, sweet kids. I reckon if I were to see them playing like that in an airport I would have smiled and pointed them out to my husband.

    But I totally see where you're coming from on not wanting two hooligans. There is a fine line between lively, energetic, playful behaviour and…well, whatever it's called when it tips over into irritating for all involved. It sounds to me like any parent who pays that close attention is likely not to have bratty kids, but will instead have bright and funny kids (who happen to be loud in airports!)


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