It seems that all my most exciting parent observations happen at Chick-Fil-A. I truly think it is because people feel at home there and can just be themselves, letting others glimpse both the good and the bad! Today I got to spend some one-on-one time with my youngest daughter. Given the choice between Moe’s and Chick-Fil-A, my daughters will always choose the latter. I really do love this place. There is no other restaurant that can beat their customer service. You would think that at a place where it is always their pleasure to refresh my beverage that everyone would be at their friendliest. Not so today.
My daughter was playing in the play area along with another little boy who was two years old. His grandparents and I were sitting just outside the glass door, watching where we could swoop in and rescue them at a moment’s notice. Though I may sounds like a helicopter parent, I am not. As you will soon read, I believe with my whole heart that children should experience the consequences, however big or small, of their actions. The price tag only goes up as they grow older so now is the best time to learn the lessons – while the price to pay is minimal. Not too long after she began playing, three older kids sauntered into the play area. When I say older kids, all that really matters is that in their sauntering, they walked past the cow holding the height restriction sign, heads bobbing well above the arrow indicating 54 inches. They were probably 10, 12 and 15 years old. The youngest made a bee line straight up the slide (everyone knows this is on the no-no list). The 12-year-old made her way up the steps and the oldest ran through the little toddler area, around the steps and enthusiastically chased his brother up the slide. My daughter and her little friend just stared blankly at the commotion. As they entered I groaned a little more loudly than I realized because the boys grandparents sitting next to me groaned in agreement. No words were necessary; we all agreed. The older kids were too big to be playing in there, especially with toddlers.
So here, we were left with some choices. As I mentioned above, I realize there are consequences with every choice – even my own. If I swoop in and take my daughter out of there, she will miss out on play time. Chick-Fil-A, until today, had become a place where I could sit and get my beverage refreshed while my kids played behind sound-proof, glass walls. I wasn’t quite ready to leave my mini vacation yet. Another option would have been to go and notify the manager that there were three rowdy kids in the play area. I didn’t feel I could risk leaving her in there while I notify the manager. Though there may have been other choices, I went with a third option. I opened the door as the oldest was making his way up the slide and crouched down where the slide let out and said, “Hey guys, I really think you three are too big to be playing in here while there are little kids running around.” That was it. I didn’t even ask them to leave. I partly wanted to give them the chance to make a choice of their own, but also felt that my statement was just shy of actually telling someone else’s kids what to do! With grumbles they acknowledged what I said and began making their way out.
As I went back to my seat, I gave the boy’s grandparents a look that indicated I wasn’t sure what was going to happen. Just as I was sitting down, the older kids’ mom was approaching to enter the play area. I always feel it is better for parents to hear about conversations I have with their kids from me first so when mom made eye contact with me, I said with a smile, “I told your kids I thought they were a little too big to be playing in there with little kids.” Before I could finish my sentence, with a voice loud enough for the whole restaurant to hear and finger waving in my face, she exclaimed, “How dare you tell my kids what to do! NO ONE disciplines my kids.”
Thinking back on the situation, I realize she and I aren’t really as different as I felt at that moment. We were both acting out of the protective instincts God gave us. I was trying to protect my daughter, she was trying to protect her children. I may have reacted differently than her if the situation were reversed but her reaction came from the same place mine did. I have thought all day about what her life may be like. Has she had it rough? Have her kids been through things that I could never imagine? Hearing her say, “NO ONE disciplines my kids,” I was thinking about how they were missing out on the blessings of boundaries. Rather than saying that, I fumbled through an apology and tried to explain that I was concerned for the little kids but she was not interested in hearing anything I had to say. She quickly got her kids, got her food and went to eat outside. The little boy’s grandparents were in just as much shock as I.
So, was it in my place to say something to the older kids in the play area? Under the right circumstances I think anyone could justify it, even if there are other ways of removing my daughter from the situation. Really, it’s not a question of what was going to be best only for my daughter. What happened to me today is a sad indication of where a lot of families find themselves. I was able to brush off rather quickly being scolded in public by another parent. The lasting effects of today’s run-in at Chick-Fil-A are going to take their toll on the three kids who missed out on a teaching opportunity from their mom. I certainly do not want other kids to learn their lessons at my daughters expense. The cost now might have been a few bumps and bruises for the little ones and some temporary guilt for the older. The cost later on could include hospital bills and years or remorse. I have no earthly idea the impact of my actions on those other kids. Their mom might not really be bothered by their carelessness around other people. Or, perhaps as they were sitting around eating their spicy chicken sandwiches and waffle fries, a conversation was happening that might have been neglected otherwise. I can handle an irate mom, complete with finger waving in my face. If, indeed, no one disciplines her kids, she will have much worse things to be angry about later on.