Observations From A Coffee Shop – ‘Just Say No!’

Parenting has never been easy. It’s not a skill that you learn at school but one that you develop over many years, not always getting it right first time. Much of what you do as a parent is based on how your parents dealt with you. In fact I can remember  a time when I was ‘moaning’ at my teenage sons when I suddenly thought to myself, I’ve been here before. I’ve heard these words before! Of course it was when my dad had been trying to communicate with me when I was a teenager – history was repeating itself. The problem nowadays is not that parents are any better or worse than I was, or my parents were, but rather there appears to be a real shortage of common sense.

I was having a quiet cup of coffee when a family occupied the table next to me. Mum, dad and three children between the ages of 2 years and 6 years old. As mum went to join the queue to get the drinks dad tried to get the children to sit down. He failed miserably. No sooner had he persuaded one to sit at the table when the other two started charging around the place. It was as if they had a prepared, coordinated, plan of action to ensure that whatever dad said, didn’t happen. They were successful. At no point did dad look as if he was in charge or ever likely to be. His softly spoken, reasoning words, were being totally ignored.

Mum could see that dad was struggling so left the queue to take charge. The problem did not improve. Mum’s approach, similar to dads, was equally ineffective. Only now the problem had got worse. Dad was at the queue and trying desperately to communicate with mum, via hand signals. He was out of his depth – he knew that he wanted a latte but what on earth did the children want. The two older ones immediately sensed dads unease and rushed to join him at the counter. Even from a distance you could see that an argument was developing, whatever food and drinks that had been put on the tray were not to their liking. Dad, inevitably, capitulated and the children returned to the table with that look on their faces that indicated, once again, how successful they had been.

The children eventually settled down when dad returned with a tray laden with goodies. Mum gave him a, “What have you done now!” look but he just shrugged his shoulders as if to say, “What else could I do!” As mum and dad settled to their coffees the children tucked into a mixture of crisps, sweets and high ‘E’ laden drinks. There was more than enough fuel here to ensure that they continued to create mayhem for at least the next three hours!

Mum and dad looked exhausted. The children had probably started this campaign very early that morning. Looking at dad’s face I was not sure that he would last the day. You could tell that he was looking forward to being back at work soon. Relishing the thought of that difficult board meeting coming up, or the volatile meeting with the awkward member of staff and her militant union rep. He knew that in both cases he had a fighting chance of being successful. Whereas today he was a beaten man.

It wasn’t that they were bad parents. It was just a case that nobody had prepared them for the battles. They didn’t know how to say ‘No’ and mean it. They knew that letting their children run around the coffee shop with lollipop sticks sticking out of their mouths was both dangerous and unacceptable, but how did you stop them. They were more than aware of the importance of healthy diets, but how do you get them to eat fruit instead of crisps. They knew that you shouldn’t just give in to your children – but they were so tired, so very tired!


  1. Joanna K Neilson

    This is really well observed. Why the hell do they give them more sugar and caffeine!

    Just as bad as this sort of ineffectual whispering are the horrible parents who scream at their kids and at anyone unfortunate enough to be looking on in horror, ensuring that every twitch from the kids is followed by a screech loud enough to make you drop your coffee. I’ve been trapped on a bus with people like that before. I hate watching them nattering on the mobile phone, only pausing to start screaming at the kids. Very relaxing!


    1. Mike

      Thanks for your comments Joanna.
      I couln’t agree more. Those screaming parents have lost control completely. Quite often their constant shouting, which gets louder and louder as the child refuses to do as they are told, can be quite embarrassing for those in close proximity having to watch and listen. Doesn’t help their blood pressure either.


  2. reflectionsinapuddle

    I sympathize with the parents – children can be totally intractable sometimes. When my son was 8 years old, we went to a department store, and he wanted me to buy him some toy, and I said no. So, he simply ran off, and I was running around – a crazy mother who had lost her child in a crowd. After a few minutes of frantic search, I managed to find him, standing somewhere in a corner and crying, on a different floor. My son’s stunt scared the crap out of me. So, I made a point of holding his hand at all times when we were anywhere with the slightest chance of him getting lost.


    1. Mike

      Thanks for your comments.
      Our youngest was like that, he seemed to have no fear. You needed eyes in the back of your head when he was a toddler and even then he sometimes managed to disappear. Very frightening.


  3. Colline

    Parents should learn how to say no – and mean it. And both mom and dad should be on the same page. Growing up we would never have dared behaved wildly at places outside of the home. Many children in today’s society do not have that hesitation. It is a good thing that children are no longer fear the wrath of their parent – but they are in need of boundaries. And it is up to the parents to set these boundaries, no matter how difficult it seems. What would I have done. I would have left the coffee shop with the children with the explanation that their behaviour has resulted in the end of their outing and their treat.


  4. Mike

    Thanks for your comments Colline.
    It seems such a difficult word ‘no’ for some parents.
    In my 35 years as a primary school teacher and head teacher I was often amazed at how children, even young ones, played up for their parents. Perfect angels in school, little horrors at the end of the day. The main difference was that ‘no’ meant ‘no’ in school.


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