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.