Thursday, January 31, 2008

Kids: Love Them, But Sometimes Leave Them

There's a conversation going on over at Her Bad Mother that--how can I put this politely--bothers me. It bothers me so much that I can't keep out of it, and since I can't go on forever commenting on her site, I thought I'd bring it over here and see what you all think.

HBM begins the conversation like this:
Here's something that I feel strongly about: the right of parents to take their children pretty much anywhere in the public sphere that they see fit. I also feel strongly that this is a right that carries with it considerable responsibility - as do most rights - but there it is: I believe that if a parent needs or wants to take their children to the theater, to nice hotels, to restaurants that don't use vinyl tablecloths or distribute crayons with their menus, that's their right. Any perceived right by other members of the public to move about in public without exposure to children is just that: perceived. There can be no such right in a liberal human society, because children are members of such societies.
You can read the entire post plus all the comments, mine included, here. The gist of it is that HBM had several unpleasant and/or unhappy experiences when she was with her daughter recently. One was on an airplane when another traveler refused to respond to the toddler and shot her some nasty looks. The other was at breakfast in a fancy restaurant when the hostess evinced some panic, albeit unspoken, at the sight of the small child toddling in. These events, and the feelings they evoked in HBM, led to her post.

Okay? Okay. First of all--my disclaimers: I have spent much time in all sorts of restaurants with all sorts of small children of all ages. These kids were all related to me; I loved them and I loved the fact that they were with me in said restaurant.

However, I feel equally strongly to HBM that parents do NOT have the right to take their children anywhere in the public sphere that they wish. That does not mean I don't like children. It does not mean I don't agree that they profit, as does ultimately our society, by being included in a wide range of activities. What it means is that I don't think they are appropriately included in any and every activity.

Case in point: This past weekend, I was involved in an organization honoring a group of womenat a country club luncheon . One member of the organization wanted to bring her 3 year old. Her mother was coming and this member like the idea of three generations being present. We said no. "That's a terrific idea in a couple of years, when she's five and can sit through an hour of speeches. But right now, she's too young. It would not be fair to the several hundred women who paid quite a bit of money to attend an adult luncheon."

The idea that babies and small children have full and equal access to the public sphere because they are human is--I dunno--based on some social philosophy that doesn't resonate with me. The idea that full grown citizens have no right to enjoy child-free arenas is--I dunno--nuts. What have we come to when the desires of one group, the parents, supersedes that of all others. It's smacks of the Mommy Gestapo.

Okay, that's extremely harsh, but really, Moms: get a grip. The world at large does not begin and end with your child, even if yours does. We can all love children (or not) without wanting to have them around 24/7.

Perhaps this debate and others like it that roil the feminist movement occur when groups of women get polarized around their individual philosophies about children. It's a spectrum of beliefs we have, from the woman who is totally and completely invested in her maternity and her children to the woman who has made the decision not to have children. Getting stuck into one end of a debate, whichever it is, helps neither individuals nor society, and those in the middle get lost in the totalizing shrieks of each end. Not only is reason abandoned in the need to be right, quite frankly, it's not very sisterly.


  1. I've been following the topic over at HBM, too, and the thing that gets me is how much of the ill will towards children is percieved, not actual incidents. I'm a mom of small kids, and I've spent the last few years NOT taking my son places because his behavioral issues made it too damn disruptive.

    Do I think kids should be allowed into restaurants and theaters and such, even the nice places? Yes, because I've seen children at such places behave wonderfully. Would I take MY kids to those places before now? Nope, because one of them could not understand the rules yet.

    Basic common sense, right? Sure, amny many people think the sun shines out of their kid's bottom and may not control the kids appropriately in the public spere, but I can even live with that.

    It's the premise that people are wrong to behave in a negative way toward children that bothers me about that discussion.

  2. There is a time and a place for everything. Every person, regardless of their position on families, mothering, feminisn, parenting needs to consider whether the particular venue is appropriate for children. I have seen children up at all hours of the night at movies, restaurants, etc. What the hell are they doing up? I have seen children screaming through the mall as their parents spend the day there. Developmentally there are limits to what any child can tolerate. That should be the first thought one has before a child is brought anywhere-

  3. velma: Yes, the idea that people are not permitted to evince some distaste for a child's presence smacks of totalitarianism. Positing that children are a beleaguered minority requiring special protection makes a mockery of civil rights laws. The tone of the whole debate over at HBM, which continues in a second post, is unfortunate, to say the least.

    denise: the developmental inadequacy is exactly right. But save considering whether their kid hits a milestone, that doesn't seem to be a consideration here.


So--whaddaya think?