Monday, 17 May 2010

Children are people too

Cross posted

Over at Feministe, there's a monster thread concerned with policing children's behaviour. According to some people on the thread, children shouldn't be allowed. Our public spaces should be free of them for fear of them ruining the grown ups' day.

That's a bit of an exaggeration. But only a bit. Mostly it's about children being kept out of restaurants and movie theatres, and how parents are necessarily bad parents if their children cry, or run about, or create any kind of disturbance. In short, if they behave like children.

There's a lot to not like in the thread, and given that it's now over well over 300 comments long, I wouldn't bother with it. I think the thing that disturbs me most is the assumption that many people make (both in the thread, and in real life), that my children will be noisy, and disruptive, and they need to be KEPT UNDER CONTROL. The effect is to treat children as though they were smelly, slimy bugs that have crawled out from under a log, and are objects of disgust.

It's a commonplace way for children to be treated. Years ago, because another child had cried during a wedding ceremony once, we were told that we could not bring our 13 month old daughter, from whom I had never been apart for more than a few hours, to a wedding ceremony. The assumption was that she would cry, and that I wouldn't have the sense to take her out. One of the local inexpensive family restaurants we go to on occasion serves drinks to children in nasty plastic mugs, not even mock glasses. We have to ask specially for our sensible and careful daughters to be given glasses. When we got onto a plane with the kids, people roll their eyes, and look put out and angry to be seated beside children. Yet our girls are quite capable of managing a few hours in a seat on a plane without creating any more trouble than any other passenger.

I do not understand why my children, and any other children, are treated with suspicion. Not all the time, by any means. Not everywhere, by any means. But often enough, instead of making the same basic assumption that applies to adults in public spaces, that is, the assumption that the adult will comport her or himself in a way that makes the space easy for everyone to be in, the reverse assumption is made. People assume that the particular children they see right in front of them will do something that disturbs the adult, before even giving the children a chance. It's a nasty prejudice. And yet it's one that many people (see that thread at Feministe for example), seem to embrace. It seems that it's okay to say, "I hate children."

And even if the children do "misbehave", so what? Lots of adults do that too. They take calls on their mobile phones and sit bellowing at the restaurant table so everyone can hear them, they talk at the tops of their voices full stop, they fart in crowded lifts, they neglect to wash, they abuse the waiting staff. And yet, they are still allowed to go out in public.

Enough with hating children, with treating them with contempt. Children are people too.


A Nonny Moose said...

My partner and I, child free by choice, have done our fair share of eye-rolling and grumbling about Kids In Public, but we're not that clueless or rude to make a fuss out of it. We keep our jokey-grumbles to ourselves, and we have enough kids in our lives/sphere to have empathy for parents in that situation.

I see it as like the "Keep women bitching at each other and they won't have enough time to worry about the bigger stuff"; instead its "Keep the childless at the throats of the parents, and they won't have enough time to worry about the bigger stuff".

The dichotomy of being a kid *sigh* Sexualized and expected to act like a "little adult", yet infantalized when you attempt adult things (see: boy racers; drinking).

stargazer said...

oh goodness, i was just having a conversation this morning about how my tolerance for small children seems to diminish with age. it's not that i don't see them as people, and certainly i don't believe in the slightest that children should be kept out of public spaces. but i do find that my own tolerance of the noise, the messiness and the busy activity that comes with small children is increasingly difficult to take. i think it's a lack of habit, now that my own kids are older, of having to deal with these things.

and i struggle to deal with my own attitude given that i agree with the feministe post (i think i read up to about 150 comments a while back) that it isn't acceptable to hate on children, or to have the attitude that you just don't like kids. so i'm just not sure how to deal with it all or to get over myself! any tips would be gratefully accepted...

Boganette said...

This reminds me of this spin-out I saw of this Bogan chick who screamed at this Bogan mum because she'd brought her kid to an outdoor gig. I don't get the rage personally.

I don't know if it's a trend or not but at AC/DC earlier this year there were heaps of kids. And at Rock2Wgtn there were heaps of kids dressed up KISS-style. My friend was actually pregnant at the time and we painted OZZY on her belly.

And at Alice Cooper this little baby had big red headphone protector things on and a little Alice Cooper onesie. I almost died and really wanted to steal it.

Kids are awesome and I love seeing them at concerts. I like that they're getting their rock education early.

Every concert I've been to that had kids at it has had a kind of unofficial kids section. The drunk bogans stay away from the bogan mums and dads and everyone has a good time. And the kids rock out and everybody wins. I don't get where the hate comes from.

And funerals are (in my opinion) always better with kids. My little cousin yelled out "See you later Nanny!" really loud when Nanny was taken away and it kind of made everyone feel better. And all the little ones spoke at the funeral and the babies were noisy. It was great. But then I come from a very big extended family so maybe that's why I'm used to kid noise. And why I like kid noise.

Hugh said...

While I wouldn't describe myself as hating children, let alone thinking children aren't people, I am generally pretty eager to avoid children. They have nothing to say to me that I find interesting or rewarding and I certainly don't have anything to say to them. Generally I feel the same way about children as I do about flat earthers - they live their lives, I live mine, and as long as we're not brought together against our will, nobody's worse off. I think it's entirely reasonable for somebody to ask people not to bring children to their wedding - it's their wedding, it's about them, not about their guests.

Unfortunately a lot of parents equate people trying to avoid contact with their children as a criticism of them for having children in the first place, which is kind of baffling to me - I try to avoid analysing it since it rarely leads me to anywhere complementary about the parents.

I think people who have been annoyed by children, or who have extended trust to children in the past and found that trust abused are entitled to be wary or cautious around other children they don't know. I realise it's unpleasant to feel that one's own well-behaved children are being associated with other people's children, but presuming every kid is well behaved until they start behaving badly seems to be prioritising the right of the parent not to feel criticised over the right of the person to guard themselves from obnoxious behaviour.

Personally I'm often judged based on what other people with whom I share an age/gender/race with have done that I wouldn't personally emulate. It sucks, but I don't feel those judging me have no right to do so.

Mindy said...

@ Stargazer

I don't have a problem with people not liking kids, or not liking my kids. It's just how it is. But it's the tutters and the sighers and the makers of rude remarks to their spouses or friends in my hearing who really annoy me. They are the ones who need to get over themselves. If you don't want to sit near my children, feel free to move away and I will feel free to roll my eyes if I want to. But (tutters, sighers etc) don't sit there and moan about how I have sat near you with my children, especially if it is somewhere like a shopping centre food hall where you would expect children to be, and you should expect to be busy.

Trouble said...

"it's their wedding, it's about them, not about their guests."

Really? Why bother with guests at all then? A wedding is a social occasion that's as much about joining families as celebrating romantic love, to most people.

Kids come in for a different level of public hating than other people who might cause similar social disruptions, for example people with intellectual disabilities. That's not to say the latter don't suffer discrimination, just that people will publicly own up to hating kids, not so much the other.

Anonymous said...

I hate the belief inherent in a lot of these sorts of comments that, if a child is behaving inappropriately, it is always within the parent's capabilities to immediately stop said behaviour and if they don't it is due to laziness. Teaching kids how to behave is an ongoing process with very few quick fixes that requires lots of practice.

Hugh said...

Trouble, some people don't invite guests to their weddings. So it seems it's pretty consistent with what I'm saying.

The reason people have guests is because they want to have them. If they don't want guests who are also children, I don't think anybody is really entitled to criticise them for their choice.

Deborah said...

I can see your point about wedding invitations, Hugh. But at the time our daughter was still an infant. Not taking her with us would have entailed leaving her with a stranger (the wedding was not in a town where we knew anyone), and paying a babysitting fee. We elected not to go to the wedding.

Hugh said...

Well I'm sorry you didn't get to go the wedding, Deborah, as I'm sure your friends were. But it seems like a situation where different priorities led to a solution that wasn't satisfactory for everybody.

Not to say that there aren't situations where people are discriminated against for having children. This just doesn't strike me as one of them.

Deborah said...

Except that a judgement was made about what my particular child's behaviour would be like, and mine too, for that matter, based on some (mistaken) idea about babies / children as a group. It took the form, "This person is a member of this group, therefore she will behave like this, so I should treat her this fashion." It's classic discrimination.

It's a tricky one, because a wedding is a private event, and it really is up to the people getting married to say who they would like to have there. But their reasons for not wanting our daughter there were not sound i.e. they were based in the idea that because some children, some times, behave in a particular way, all children should be treated with suspicion in that context.

So yes, I agree that, obviously, people get to choose who comes to their wedding. But I still think their reasoning was flawed.

I suppose that underlying my thinking about this particular incident is an idea that up to a certain age, and I'm not sure what that age is, it's not reasonable to expect that parents will not bring their infant children with them to social events (especially important in the case of breastfeeding mothers). But I haven't thought through my ideas about that, and I don't have a coherent, reasoned assessment of the idea. I'm really just trying to recognise that I have an assumption floating around somewhere there, and as yet, it's unexamined.

Azlemed said...

we got asked to not take our 4 month old daughter to a wedding, but kids over 2 were allowed to go, apparently our daughter would have been disruptive.... 4 month olds are nothing compared to a 3 year old running around. it was in Melbourne so Hubby attended the service and i spent time at the back packers with our girl... it annoyed the heck out of me....

I have 4 children and I take them to restaurants etc because they need to be socialized about correct behavior when out, and we dont take them late in the evenings or anything... and if things get bad then we go home.... children behave if they know that is what is expected of them, hating on them doesnt help

Hugh said...

Deborah, you say their reasons for not wanting your baby there are sound, but it seems to me that you don't feel there are any valid reasons for not wanting a child to be present at a wedding. You say their reasoning was flawed, but do people's personal preferences need to be considered to meet a reason-based test for other people to respect them? I might have an irrational dislike to a certain adult person and not invite them to my wedding on that basis - does that mean my non-invite deserves similar criticism?

To me disliking children is similar to disliking people who hum out loud or crack their knuckles or something like that. It is, in a sense, discrimination, since the dislike is not based on anything real, but that doesn't mean it's the place of dislike-er to just suck it up, particularly when it comes to their own spaces (for instance, a wedding).

Trying to banish children from shared public spaces is obviously a different matter and I agree that that's pretty obnoxious. But I think in a wedding or a similar situation (a private party, a dinner with friends, etc etc) it's legitimate to say 'you are welcome but I'd prefer if your kids stayed home'. Similarly, if you feel you don't want to associate with people who don't also want to associate with your children, that's quite valid and might be the best solution for everybody concerned.

Anna S said...

I have two little kids, and I'm really happy to be invited to events where there are no kids allowed. But I think I'm in the minority. I think gen x is a bit nervy of babysitters, possibly because there isn't much family support around for lots of us, and babysitters are expensive, and the lack of family support means that lots of us are perhaps are not that used to going out at night and leaving the kids behind.

Tui said...

Except actually, Hugh, it's more like taking a dislike to someone's partner. Who is also dependent on them. Because zie has curly hair and you just don't like people with curly hair. If you invite your friend to your wedding, and then specifically say 'But don't bring your partner, because I've met other people with curly hair and they always get super drunk and obnoxious.' Or if I wanted a wedding, say, where I invited all my female friends, but didn't invite men because I think that men are boring at weddings. That would be transparently bad behaviour, it would be rude, you just wouldn't do it. You might wish that you couldn't invite someone's partner - especially if they're someone who you actually *know* to be obnoxious - but I submit that it would be fairly unusual for someone to actively disinvite a friend's partner, and it would probably be fairly uncontroversial that that behaviour was rude.

And even then, at least your friend's partner would have no trouble taking care of itself for a day. A baby, on the other hand, you basically have to pay someone to do it or beg a relative (especially if the wedding is overseas, etc.) And if it's a relative's wedding, it means that all the other relatives are already going to be there - one person's gonna miss the wedding taking care of the kids, because you know, how dare they procreate. (And guess what the gender of that person will be?)

I don't know. I feel pretty strongly that people come with their kids attached. Obviously you *can* invite whoever you want. But I don't think it's classy to disinvite kids.

And, note, I think this is especially true when it's someone *else's* event. I absolutely HATE people who get sniffy about babies, etc at other people's weddings. Seriously, FO. Ditto movies. If you don't want to be exposed to babies, just don't leave the house!

Hugh said...

Maybe it's just me, Tui, but if somebody said to me 'I want you to come to my wedding, but I think your partner's a bitch so I don't want her coming', well, I can't say I'd be the happiest camper but I wouldn't feel that they were doing anything immoral. It's perfectly acceptable for people to like a person and not their boyfriend/girlfriend/CUP/wife/husband - we don't choose our partners based on their acceptability to our friends, after all. If I didn't want to go anywhere without my partner, fair enough, but that's my issue, not theirs.

I agree that getting pissy about kids at somebody else's event is silly - you're there to support the person, and their choices are their choices. To me, in fact, respecting their wish to invite kids is pretty much allied to respecting their wish to not invite kids. It's their event, their choice, their decision, their consequences. The idea of not inviting men doesn't bother me, either.

I also agree that there may be practical consequences for people who want to come without their kids, but I'd say it's no more unfair to impose those logistical costs than it is to have a wedding overseas - that's asking your friends to sacrifice way more to attend than by asking them to arrange for a babysitter.

I've got to say your last statement kind of surprises me. Are you really saying that you feel that people have no right to construct child-free spaces outside their own homes? If you really do feel that way, I wonder if it's because you feel that dislike of kids is actually not a genuine dislike and is simply a result of prejudices/bigotry that people have the ability, and perhaps the responsibility, to rise above?

Anna S said...

Okay, so as I've said, I've got two little kids, but I do love a good child-free evening. My husband and I included all the guests' children in our wedding, I just love that scene where the little girls twirl about on the dance floor, and I feel that kids just add a great family atmosphere that I like.

But I also love weddings where there are no kids, and if it's wrong to get sniffy about kids at other people's events, then surely it's just as wrong to get sniffy if they don't want kids there.

You don't like the terms of the invitation? Decline the invitation.

I do think it's a bit disingenuous to say that kids come with the parents, and it's the same as excluding partners. Kids can be annoying, to some people, their wedding, their choice. I like the rambunctiousness of kids, but not everyone does.

You know, it is just really fun sometimes to be around adults, having adult conversations without children interrupting.

Brett Dale said...

My problem is not with the kids, but with the parents,sure everyone kids will play up now and then, ya just have to grin and bear it.

I think though there has to be a level of behaviour that is acceptable.

I went to the USA versus Germany, semi final of the womans under 17 soccer game at QE11 last year, there was a bunch of about six kids (ages 6-10??)with an adult male at the game.

For the whole second half the kids were screeching at the top of their voices "Americans are Poos"

I wasnt going to saying anything, I just turned around and their adult male care giver was just laughing along with them.

Now if kids are playing up anywhere, thats fine, because they are kids, but what sort of message was this so called adult giving them??

Kim said...

It's inappropriate to bring young children to adults movie at the cinema! Movie tickets cost over 15 bucks. When I saw "Boy" on a Saturday at 8.30pm last week a baby had not one but three crying sessions during the movie!!! Children are people yes, but in places like adults movies it is just appropriate, selfish and inconsiderate to bring a baby unless it is specifically a "bring baby too" session (I earn less than 100 bucks a week going to the movies is very rare for me and quite frankly the selfish individual who brought a baby to the adult movie at night time wrecked it).

Anonymous said...

My problem with Kids In Public is not such much about the kids themselves, but the adults that bring kids to an inappropriate event.

Most kids are relatively well-behaved, but if they are brought to an event which bores them, it is hardly their fault that they act up. Of course, whether an event is appropriate for children or not is a thing that varies from child to child.

However, if your kids are bored and making a nuisance of themselves, then it a good bet that this event was not one that you should have brought your kids to. It is just plain rude to bring your kids to some event where they are likely to disrupt others.