Play Areas and Irate Moms at Chick-Fil-A: Spicy Chicken and Spicy Tempers Collide!
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.
We all like second chances. Today we went to the Spring Hill Country Ham Festival. All sorts of booths and vendors were set up. Many had little games for the kids similar to those you find at a carnival or a fair. When I play games like washers or hit the balloon with the dart, I always feel like I am going to do better the second time around. I heard a kid today ask if he could have a second chance at a game he’d not done so well on. When he continued to have some difficulty, he asked again, “Can I have a second chance?” I guess sometimes we need third chances…or fourths…
Krista and I decided a while back that in order for things to function well in our house, every now and then we need to be allowed by each other to have bad days. This does not mean we give each other free reign to disregard the feelings of family members. It simply means that every now and then, you have a bad day and an extra measure of grace is needed to simply get through.
With our children we decided we would start giving “Do-Overs.”
It’s probably not hard to believe that in the house with a kindergartener and a 2-year-old that we get the occasional scream between sisters. They are both quite good at it and didn’t seem to need much practice to perfect it. Often our curious toddler will decide to push the buttons of her older sister and the response is ear-deafening. Though we don’t always respond with a good example this is a prime situation to offer “Do-Overs.” We say to our five year old, “Wow, I am so sorry she treated you like that. Would you like a do-over on how you responded.” Our daughters know that we are much more likely to intervene if they have tried to work it out on their own and have been unsuccessful. We simply like for them to give it a go first. Perhaps we are catching a little back talk after we have asked them to do something. Simply asking, “Would you like to try that response again?” shows that we disapprove of their first response without them feeling like they are incapable of getting it right.
We feel this extra measure of grace every now and then is a good concrete way of helping them to understand something about God which is very abstract. I certainly do not understand everything about God’s grace. Giving “do-overs” to our girls gives us something that we can refer back to and even incorporate scripture. 2 Peter 3:9 says,
“The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. “
If we were to reword this as parents, it might read:
“Your parents are not slow in helping you succeed in life. They are patient with you, not wanting you to suffer, but to arrive at the right way to handle things.”
Usually if given the option of a do-over or a consequence kids will choose a do-over. It’s a great chance to share the great news of Jesus with them in the process. He has given you do-overs!