The first time my wife and I took our newborn to a restaurant, time seemingly stood still. Sweet elderly ladies “oohed” and “aahed” over our little bundle of joy. Waitresses stopped by our table to take a peek, amazed by his long eyelashes and quiet manner. Heck, even a few rough-looking grown men—the type you don’t want to cross—cracked a smile.
It was, in one word, “wonderful.”
Fast forward two years, and restaurant visits were no longer the highlight of our week. Yes, our son, Graham, was still precious, but instead of sleeping, he was randomly putting pepper shakers in his mouth. Instead of calmly drinking a bottle, he was stubbornly tossing macaroni on the floor, wondering why Mommy and Daddy were stressed and the people at the next table were laughing. Then there was the time when we ordered our food and he immediately began pitching a fit. Unable to calm him, we boxed up all of our food, hopped in the car and drove home.
Not every instance with our then-2-year-old son was taxing, but there were enough tough moments that we began evaluating what we could do better to make visits to restaurants more enjoyable.
My family views “eating out” much the way people viewed meals during Jesus’ life—as a time of leisurely fun and fellowship. We’re not there simply to eat. We’re there to talk and enjoy one another.
So, can a family of small children eat out regularly without chaos ensuing? Yes.
Here are a few tips that helped us … and may help you, too:
My 4-year-old daughter Maggie has always been a bit studious for her age. She knew colors when she was 2, was reading the entire alphabet when she was 3, and by the time she turned 4, could read a digital clock.
So I was a bit surprised when my wife told me toward the end of last year that Maggie had failed a holiday pop quiz. The question from my wife was the same one that Charlie Brown shouted to all of his friends: What’s Christmas all about?
Maggie’s answer: “presents.”
I’m sure she said it in an oh-so-sweet voice, and I bet she even had an oh-so-precious smile on her face, but she also was oh-so-wrong. Christmas, my wife told her, is about Jesus—even if presents can be part of innocent holiday fun. By the end of the day Maggie had watched a cartoon about baby Jesus and had been read a book about baby Jesus, and it’s safe to say she went to bed that night knowing that Christmas wasn’t all about dolls, dollhouses and pretty pink necklaces.
Of course, it’s easy to teach children about Christmas, with its spotlight on a sweet tiny baby surrounded by animals and shepherds on a clear, starry night. It’s such a “sterile” and “clean” story that even non-Christians are attracted to its power.
But what do we do about Easter? Instead of a baby, we have a bruised and bloodied man. Instead of shepherds in worshipful awe, we have mocking, hate-filled onlookers. Instead of a stable, we have nails, a crown of thorns and a cross. And instead of a story about life, we apparently have a story about, well, death. How do we teach our children that?