Kelly’s Blog: Devices at Dinnertime and Judgmental Looks

Family Eating Lunch Together In Restaurant

Judgmental looks.

Ah, yes.  See the happy family all smiling and looking at each other in the eyes, enjoying their dinner?  I’m sure we can imagine they’re having a lovely conversation about their day, about how much they love their meals – even their vegetables!  If only that was reality, which we all know it’s not.  Not for parents of typical kids and definitely not for us parents of special-needs kids.

Sometimes going out to eat is not ideal for the family but it is a necessity because mom didn’t get to the store, dinner burned in the oven, or everyone is just too exhausted at the thought of cooking and dishes.  Who knows?  In our family’s case, two of my boys love eating out even though one of my sons really doesn’t.  But it seems unfair to rob two of them from the experience because one of the three of them doesn’t like it.  And sometimes, let’s face it, I just need a break from cooking.  Don’t we all?

But eating out hasn’t always been easy for our family.  Thomas, our youngest with autism, has a strict diet.  Food is not fun for him.  Eating is a necessity, not an adventure.  And he is very sensitive to smells.  He will cover his face with his shirt if something comes to the table where the smell is overwhelming to him.  And the noise and the hustle of some restaurants can be a lot for him too.  When he was younger, he would often cover his ears in loud places.  And, sure enough, all this combined – the strange food, the waiting, the noise, the smells, this would undoubtedly cause a tantrum or an outburst at the very least.

So, to combat this, we would come prepared!  We would be known to bring every portable piece of technology we could get our hands on (or that was charged at the time being) with us to a restaurant.  An iPad, iPhone, Nintendo DS, GameBoy, whatever was fascinating to him at the time.  Not because we didn’t want to interact with him, but because we wanted to still be able to enjoy the experience with our other two boys.  Because they deserved it too.

It’s for all these reasons and more that when a friend of mine posted this article criticizing parents for giving their kids iPads at restaurants I felt my blood pressure rise more than a little bit.  Listen, I understand that kids have a lot of technology around them and we as parents need to do a better job limiting their access to it.  But I think we as parents could also do a better job not judging others for their parenting choices after only seeing them for an hour at a restaurant, and I’m not just talking about parents of special-needs kids either.

No one knows what kind of week any other mom has had, or what other parents are dealing with at home, or why another family is out to dinner on any given night.  Maybe this is that couple’s only time to talk to each other in days.  Maybe they are having a serious conversation and that technology their child is engaged in is allowing them to have a moment together alone.  Maybe that technology allows for the siblings at the table to enjoy a night at a restaurant when otherwise, they never would have been able to go (as in my family’s case).  Who are we to judge them?

I say, reserve judgment, try to first assume the best in people, and just enjoy your own meal.  :)