Drunken babysitters. I guess you don’t have to be a parent to do stupid things with kids

Apparently Monica Wellito, 27, didn’t think that the fact she was supposed to be babysitting her two nieces (ages 1 and 4) should get in the way of her drinking. And she didn’t. In fact, she drank so much that she passed out, leaving the two girls to wander around unsupervised.

Police in Farmington, New Mexico were called in when a neighbor spotted the 4-year old outside by herself. Her year-old sister was found a while later–fortunately in good health–in an unfenced irrigation ditch a few feet from the trailer where Wellito was supposed to have been watching the kids while their mother was at work.

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A Nice, Relaxing Dinner Out? Yeah, Right.

Dear Mr. Dad: When I was single, I hated it when noisy kids were allowed to run around in restaurants and spoil everyone’s meals. Now that my wife and I have two children, ages 4 and 6, we’d like to occasionally go out to eat with them, but we’re worried that they’ll do something to embarrass us. How do we keep them in line while we (and everyone else in the restaurant) enjoy our time out?

A: One of the most amazing things about becoming a parent is that no matter how many loud-children-in-a-restaurant (or movie theater or opera house) horror stories we have, we tend to be immune to the noise our own kids make. But other people’s kids? Well, that’s a different story.

There are some hardliners out there who say young kids shouldn’t be allowed in places where adults come to enjoy some peace and quiet. For example, just last month, McDain’s Restaurant in Monroeville, PA banned kids under six from its premises, saying they’re too loud and disruptive to adult diners.

Then there are more moderate voices—like mine—that argue that children should be welcome pretty much everywhere, as long as they’re well-behaved. Although the loud, screaming, unruly brats make the biggest impression, if you think about it, you can probably remember plenty of kids the same age who were downright angelic. So in my opinion, an outright ban isn’t fair to those kids or their parents.

At 4 and 6, your children are still young, but not too young to be taught good manners and respect towards others in public places where they’ll need to be quiet. If they can follow age-appropriate rules at home, chances are they’ll be able to follow them outside of the house as well.

Here are some guidelines for you:

  • Pick carefully. Make sure the restaurant you’re considering has booster seats, kids’ menus, crayons, and other distractions. Places where you know lots of families go are a good choice. Restaurants that have crystal wineglasses and white linen tablecloths, or where people go for romantic meals or business meetings are not.
  • If the restaurant doesn’t provide crayons, bring your own, along with coloring books or other small toys that will keep your kids (quietly) occupied.
  • Before you take your children to a restaurant, tell them it’s a special treat and let them know that you expect them to sit quietly at the table, speak in a low voice, and not run around, scream, or throw food off their plates. But don’t belabor the point, otherwise it’ll sound like a list of suggestions.
  • Let them choose their own meal from a children’s menu. If you order something they don’t like, they may spend the rest of your dinner complaining about it—loudly.
  • Watch the clock. Expecting overtired kids to follow rules—especially in public—is a setup for disaster (and embarrassment).
  • If, despite your best efforts, your children misbehave in a way that draws complaints (or dirty looks) from people around you or the restaurant staff, get your dinner to go, and leave. You can use this opportunity to tell your children that because they didn’t obey the rules, you have to leave and you won’t be taking them out again until they can prove to you that you can trust them to behave appropriately.

Most kids love to go, out so chances are that they’ll eventually learn how to behave so that your family—and everyone else around—can enjoy what they came for: a nice, quiet meal.

Being a Stay-At-Home Dad Is a Manly Job

Dear Mr. Dad: My wife and I decided that we want one parent at home with our child full time—at least until he starts preschool. Since she earns more than I do, it looks like I’ll be a stay-at-home dad. What am I in for?

A: Deciding to be a stay-at-home dad is a big decision, one that will affect everyone in your family. There are wonderful benefits to you and your child. But before you pull the trigger, you and your wife need to consider the following questions:

  • Can you take the career hit? This is big, since earning power and masculinity are inextricably linked in so many people’s minds. (If I’m not making money, I’m not a good man/father, the thinking goes.) You may be able to keep a finger in the work world by consulting or starting a home-based business. But if you return to the workforce later, the gap on your résumé could cause problems with potential employers.
  • Can you handle the pressure? Some people will come right out and tell you that you really should be out there bringing in some money. After all, that’s what guys are supposed to do, right? But even if you don’t hear the actual words, you may feel the need to demonstrate that even though you’ve chosen not to earn money, you could if you really wanted to. Some of that pressure is external, some comes from within. Traditional sex roles do a real number on us, don’t they?
  • Do you have a job description? What are your responsibilities? Will you be doing all the laundry, shopping, and cooking? Some of it?
  • Can you handle the isolation and the workload? Staying home with a child can be a tough, lonely job. It can also be a little mind-numbing (I say this from experience). Sometimes, no matter how much fun you’ve had with the kids, you’ll crave some adult conversation at the end of the day.
  • Are you selfless enough? Say goodbye to personal time, and get used to putting your children’s needs above yours. Always.
  • Is your skin thick enough? Women—whether they’re moms, nannies, baby-sitters—tend not to welcome men into their groups wherever it is that people take their kids during the day. You’ll have to get used to the funny looks and stupid comments from people when you’re out with your. (“Hey, are you baby-sitting today?” is one that always bugs me. “No, bozo, I’m not baby-sitting, I’m a dad and I’m taking care of my children.”) And you’ll have to deal with people’s criticisms and critiques of your parenting—the kinds of “advice” and comments no one would ever make to a woman.
  • How thick is your wife’s skin? When you’re the primary parent, your child will run to you when he wants a hug or has a skinned knee. If mom tries to provide that hug or apply a BandAid, he may push her away. I’ve been on both sides of this, and can tell you that it hurts. A lot.
  • Do you have a reentry plan? It’s good to have a plan for how long your at-home stint will last, and what you’ll do afterwards.

In reality, you won’t be as alone out there as it might seem. At least two million stay-at-home dads are doing it every day, and the number is rising all the time. You may have to dig, but there are a lot of great resources out there, including athomedad.net and slowlane.com.