Palo Alto Counseling, Psychotherapist in Palo Alto and Menlo Park, CA, California - Carol Campbell, MFT
706 Cowper Street, Palo Alto, CA 94301 • (650) 325-2576
License MFC 28308
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Palo Alto Counseling, Psychotherapist in Palo Alto and Menlo Park, CA, California - Carol Campbell, MFT
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Why Do Parents Take Babies to Fine Restaurants?

by Carol Campbell, MFT

A recent blog raised a national controversy over how a high-end restaurant should handle a situation in which a young couple brings their screaming baby to dinner, rather than pay a stiff cancellation fee when their babysitter bailed on them at the last minute. Let's think about this situation from a psychological point of view, specifically with respect to the emotional factors that might be important to the parents.

Faced with the unexpected abandonment of the babysitter, the parents could easily be feeling betrayed, powerless, frustrated, disappointed, angry, and perhaps hostile. That's a lot of unpleasantness in one's inner world for anyone to tolerate. If it happens that these parents are not people with a reasonable capacity to tolerate and deal with difficult feelings, their only option is to find a good, solid defense to protect themselves from overwhelm. Denial is often the defense of choice in a situation like that. So the parents then deny that there is actually a significant problem in bringing a baby to an expensive, adult environment, and tell themselves all sorts of self-serving stories to make it OK to keep the dinner date and take the baby along.

Along with the defense called denial might come the defense called projection. Instead of owning the fact that bringing a baby – crying or not – to a fine restaurant is discourteous to the other patrons and the staff of the restaurant, these parents will think that the other diners they are bothering are the ones who have a problem. The responsibility for the troubles gets projected onto someone else, defending the parents from awareness of their own bad feelings. So the parents can comfort themselves with grumbles about how the other diners glaring at them are rude whiners, or maybe selfish baby haters.

Another possible emotional factor could be that the parents have issues with narcissism. In layman's terms, this means that at their core the parents suffer from very painful feelings of not being good enough; to fool both themselves and other people, such folks cover over their sense of inferiority with a presentation of bluster, bravado, self-absorption, and entitlement. There's no need for empathy for the other diners and staff at the restaurant, because no one else's feelings matter all that much anyway to a narcissist. When someone who is narcissistically wounded is inconvenienced, he or she has no problem with passing the inconvenience on to someone else. So they might think the restaurant has no right to charge the cancellation fee.

What can the restaurant do? Not what I wish they would: Suggest that the parents need to get some psychotherapy to deal with their issues before they pass them on to their children. A licensed marriage and family therapist would be able to work gently with these parents to improve their ability to face reality and enjoy smoother relationships with everyone in their lives.

Therapists are skilled at finding non-shaming ways for their clients to learn how to develop the ability to look at problems from multiple perspectives. One of my favorite tools for doing that is to introduce clients to the Enneagram, a system for appreciating the various different styles of organizing one's attention that have evolved as options for human beings. Essentially there are nine personality types; with therapy we can learn to see the world through the lens of each of the types, not just the one that we are most intimately familiar with.

Increased empathy for others tends to result from that awareness and insight, as well as compassion for the childhood difficulties that played a role in determining one's personality type. Once the client has compassion for herself for what went wrong early in her life, then internal mental and emotional space opens up in which to develop motivation to have things be different and better in whatever time is left. Then there is less need to turn to denial or projection or other defenses, because the client will be much less afraid of just feeling unpleasant feelings and processing them.

So how would mature, non-neurotic parents handle the crisis of the no-show babysitter? First they might make an attempt to find a friend or family member to bail them out by babysitting. Assuming they strike out on that one, then they just need to face reality and manage their disappointment. They could find something else to do that didn't require a sitter, talk about how awful it is to have to forfeit the cancellation fee, and maybe next time consider having a back-up sitter for such a special occasion. But there is no permission granted to just dump their problem on the restaurant or on the other people there.

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Calls regarding appointments are welcome at my private voicemail: 650-325-2576.

Carol L. Campbell, MFT, is a licensed marriage and family therapist providing psychotherapy and psychoanalysis for individual adults and couples in Palo Alto, California. She has degrees from Brown University and Santa Clara University and has been licensed since 1991. Carol is a graduate of the Palo Alto Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy Training Program sponsored at Stanford by the San Francisco Center for Psychoanalysis and was a candidate at the Psychoanalytic Institute of Northern California in San Francisco from 2010-2011. She is also a clinical member of the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists and the Northern California Society for Psychoanalytic Psychology.

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