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ASK MOM: Guilty Mom Wonders About Screens and Restaurants

Jan 01, 2021 06:00AM ● By Mary Follin & Erika Guerrero


I’m feeling like a hypocrite. When my son was a baby, I used to get upset when I saw a parent plant their toddler in front of a screen at a restaurant. While the grown-ups are talking among themselves, the kid is zoned out, staring at a cartoon or playing a game. Now that my son is 3, watching a cartoon is the only way he’ll sit still. Gulp. That’s me, now. Sitting in a restaurant, plugging my son in, and (mostly) chatting with everybody but him. I don’t know how to unpack my mixed-up feelings.


I think the first issue we have here is “mom guilt,” which happens when you compare yourself to others—for better or worse. It sounds something like this: “Her kids are so bossy. I would never let my son act like that” or “She made brownies from scratch? I didn’t even know you could do that. Well, goody for her.”

Observations—er, judgments—like these often indicate you’re feeling unsure of yourself. Whether the scenario casts you as a good mom or bad mom, something about it feels “yuck.” (Kudos, by the way, for recognizing you’ve done this. Many people don’t.)

There are only two things you can do with mom guilt. Get used to it or get over it. Not easy, I know. But for now, can you set it aside? We have more time-sensitive work to do. Using a screen as a babysitter is so darn tempting, it’s critical to consider what the implications are.

When my kids were little, there were only a handful of portable screens. Children were invited (expected!) to engage with siblings and adults—around the dinner table and at restaurants. Social skills take years of practice. Why not focus these few short years when your children are small to challenge them (and yourself) to create real-world experiences? How else will they develop a natural ability to talk to people? Who would you have grown into if your social engagements as a small child all felt like Saturday morning cartoons?

Give this some serious thought. And if you’re still braving restaurants during this time of COVID, make your decision, then please let other families do that for themselves.


Sometimes we moms do things we never thought we'd do because we don't realize the circumstances that lead other parents to do them.

It's hard work to train a toddler to sit for a meal. My little one is always on the go, and when we eat out, he has a short attention span. While you may feel like a hypocrite, that's okay. It's okay to admit where you were too judgmental in the past. It's okay to think, "Wow, I never understood why parents did those things until now."

We all know that too much screen time isn’t good for kids. But to use it on occasion so they won't run around screaming in a restaurant is fine. Perhaps you could offer it as a reward for a short amount of good behavior (e.g.: "If you can sit here for three minutes, I'll let you play on the tablet for three minutes.”) Put yourself in their shoes. Sitting at a restaurant with nothing to do but watch people eat and talk is boring.

Another option besides screen time is to let your kiddos bring a small toy or a coloring book. I find that when I do that and include my kids in the conversation, they have more fun, and they behave better.

If you have a question for Mary and Kristi, we’d love to hear from you! [email protected].

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