DEAR ABBY: My wife and I have a disagreement about when a person should be allowed to get up from the table. We have an 8-month-old son whom we both want to grow up to have good manners. We know he'll soon be out of his high chair and become squirmy and not want to stay seated.
My wife was raised to stay seated and be excused only after everyone is finished eating -- holding everyone hostage until the last person is finished and extending dinnertime up to an hour or more. I feel it's excessive, and a child would have a hard time sitting still that long.
When she was little, her parents tied her to her chair so she couldn't get up until everyone finished eating. I was raised to ask to be excused after I was finished, but was welcome to stay and socialize if I liked.
In my opinion, dinner should last about 30 minutes so there's time to finish chores around the house. I agree that coming to the table and leaving after 10 minutes is rude because the cook has taken great care to prepare the meal and may feel insulted if the diner gets up too quickly. Long dinners may have been acceptable in Jane Austen's day, but not in today's fast-paced world. -- HIGH CHAIR HOSTAGE
DEAR HIGH CHAIR: Your wife appears to be extremely rigid. On the plus side, she appreciates the importance of family dinners in the home. I agree that children should be taught table manners, however, tying a kid to a chair is considered child abuse these days, and I don't recommend it.
Modern parents recognize that small children have short attention spans and compensate for it in various ways. When a child is old enough to understand, the rules should be spelled out. If the children are in another person's home or a public place, materials should be provided so the child can entertain him- or herself while the adults make conversation. If the child needs to get up and move around, he or she should be accompanied by a parent so other diners won't be interrupted.
If a meal at home is going to be a long one, the child should be allowed to be excused from the table as you were. And because you are an adult, you should have the freedom to leave the table if you wish, too.