Put The Baby Down

29 Apr


Picture if you will a lovely restaurant: equal parts festive and posh, a place where you’re as likely to spot birthday celebrations as celebrities. The lights are dim, the tablecloth routinely brushed to hide your shame and the prices are calibrated to reflect all this. It’s a proper time of night to be dining; somewhere between post early bird special and post theatre. It’s late enough that generous amounts of skin and inebriation are on display. As are the babies. And by ‘babies’ we are not casting dispersions on the nieces/dates of men eligible for monthly federal checks and movie discounts. We instead refer to actual babies too young to sit, let alone eat solids. Why? Why are babies having their night feeding in an upscale restaurant (late in the evening)? The babysitter canceled at the last minute? Perhaps, but that would suggest that a babysitter was procured in order for the adults to have an adult experience. If that were the case, upon cancelation wouldn’t the take-out menus come out? It’s more probable that the baby makes three, in every conceivable way.

The particular baby in question was silent (to the point where someone who maybe had one too many french martinis would’ve thought it was a doll and the whole thing was a prank.) Yet the (assumed) father futzed and fussed over the infant seat throughout the meal. There were bottles, there was bouncing, there was picking up and walking about (for a silent baby.) There’s a pretty good chance that the person being comforted was the father. Not everyone is comfortable in social situations. There is quite a continuum between introversion and extroversion, and most people are a wee bit closer to introversion. Sometimes a little psychic or physical prop is all that’s needed to smooth the way. Smoking once served that purpose. One could take long breaks from patter with a drag a flick or a light. Drinking has always served that purpose (and many more.) Having a glass of champagne while dressing, meeting for a drink before dinner, or ordering a drink before dinner are all ways to smooth out the awkward edges. There are people who use their own appearance to distance themselves and/or gain comfort in social situations. Style can be used as armor or distraction or even take the place of conversation. A grown person who’s dyed their hair bright blue sends a message of “let’s just talk about my hair.” A person who’s dressed in baggy neutrals while toting a small person styled for her/his close-up, is saying “please just focus on my child.”

The child as “detractor” is at its roots more neutral than noxious. If we had to choose only one of two parenting approaches, focusing on the child rather than ignoring the child would win hands down. But somewhere past “focusing” on the child lies “using” the child and that’s just plain icky. Children are not accessories and should not pave the way for adults. Using your child to ease your social phobias is no more kosher than using your child to fulfill your waylaid dreams. Sure there could be other reasons that baby or toddler is at the restaurant, wedding, funeral (!) or dinner party. But it is challenging to imagine any explanation that is actually in the best interest of the child. Children (of any age) actually benefit from other’s care. Creating a fear of non-family members increases the odds that a child will ‘inherit’ social phobias. A babysat child learns that other adults are trustworthy and that the world is not comprised of strangers. The child gains knowledge and perspective from other adults, and the parent creates/maintains/nurtures his/her own identity and relationships, which is an important thing to model for a child.


Posted by on April 29, 2013 in Childhood, Cultural Critique, Well-Being


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3 responses to “Put The Baby Down

  1. Allen Craig

    September 9, 2013 at 3:47 pm

    Since leaving the US and moving to South America five years ago, one huge difference I’ve come to appreciate is that there is no division of “adult” space and “children” space. You have a child, and they are integrated into your life, not cordoned off for specific, “appropriate” times. Babies and kids are people, too. And truthfully, much more fun, sweet and enjoyable to be around people. Especially when allowed to be (respectful) kids and not artificially trained to be still and quite.

    Granted, there are times when adults may want a respite from the kids, and I agree that having a nice, quiet dinner may be one of those times. But to draw a line and say that the presence of a baby–especially a quiet one!–is not “appropriate” is so… so… American.

    When I think of possibly returning to The States, I look around and feel very sad at the prospect of having the sweetest and most enjoyable of the population sheltered away from public interaction. Because having to interact with only adults, who make such grand, pretentious efforts to be “adult-like” is very sad indeed.

  2. Julia Hendrix Miwa

    April 29, 2013 at 12:03 pm

    I am not disagreeing with many/most of your observations here, but I just want to point out that the ease of using a babysitter does vary quite a bit with the child. When my first was an infant she would go ballistic when left with sitters. The first week or so at daycare required daily visits from the director and the assistant director to give the four (!) teachers who (in pairs) cared for the six infants a break from her screaming. When I had to hire a sitter I made sure s/he had no expectations of a pleasant time with a sleeping baby. And if I had a choice I just didn’t have a sitter. If I couldn’t take her with me, I didn’t go. She was born shortly after the Louise Woodward trial, and I honestly felt like my child was a baby that a sitter might shake to death.

    We had plenty of well-meaning family members who felt strongly that we were indeed creating social phobias and dooming our child to a lifetime of – well, I’m not sure what but I know it was bad and we were screwing up big time.

    But fortunately kids do grow and change. By age 3 she was requesting specific sitters (“I’d prefer Meredith if she’s available”) and at age 8 she happily went off to sleep-away camp without a moment’s hesitation. She has spent time in NYC on her own and traveled across the country in the company of a friend and the friend’s mother.

    I do agree that fostering independence is our job as parents, and allowing our child to be cared for by others (family members, friends, sitters, etc.) plays an important role. But there are a variety of timetables that can all lead to happy outcomes.

    • brendatobias

      April 29, 2013 at 12:16 pm

      My guess is that there are others who have shared your experience. But the people I have observed seem to be dealing with something else. There’s bringing your child/baby because you have no choice (and having a nice dinner out would always fall into the category of ‘choice’) and then there’s utilizing your child/baby as a device (having a preschooler sit on your lap [vs his/her own seat] & using the child as a barricade, or handling the baby/child incessantly [vs interacting w/ other adults]. I see no cause for concern over a parent responding to specific needs of a child (like your own example) and much more about adults fulfilling their own needs through their children.


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