Her Bad Mother

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Illuminated Crowd

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. They are not pets - a comparison that I once saw in a letter to the editor of a newspaper - they are people. Little ones, and ones that sometimes wear diapers and are prone to outbursts, but still. Those descriptions fit many members of our society who we don't leash up outside of cafes and put in the baggage hold of airplanes.

So there. If I want to dine four-star with my two-year old, I will.

I said that I believe that this right comes with responsibility. It does. My right - and my child's right - to eat at a public establishment of my choice is limited by responsibility to ensure that my child does not wreak havoc in that public space (just as it is my responsibilty, with myself, to not become drunk and disorderly in public spaces. And yes, toddlers can sometimes behave like very small, drunk and disorderly vagrants. We know this.) So I'm not claiming some right to be able to eat at Balthazar during the 8pm rush with a shrieking pre-schooler. I am claiming that I should be able to do so under reasonable circumstances, i.e. if and when I have some reasonable expectation of my child's decent behaviour and am willing to adapt and/or retreat if things begin to go badly.

I've been lucky, in that I've rarely confronted what a close friend once called 'child-haters' in public; you know, the people who give you the stink-eye when you push your stroller into a cafe or buckle your child into the airplane seat next to theirs (though I once endured the latter for the duration of a 45 minute flight, my heart breaking as Wonderbaby endeavoured gamefully to catch the eye of the evil bitch sitting - stiff and miserable and plainly hostile - next to us, refusing to return Wonderbaby's smiles.) And I didn't really encounter any hostility during our recent trip to Montreal - a city that is, in parts, decidedly child-unfriendly, notwithstanding its candy-distributing elderly and shops full of cute sock-monkey hats. Not really.

I did encounter fear, though. And it was almost as discomfiting. Maybe it was more discomfiting, because I didn't know how to respond. It was more discomfiting.

It was at breakfast, at the continental breakfast served, gratis, to hotel guests in the Hotel le Germain's fine dining establishment. Wonderbaby and I were such guests, and we were determined to avail ourselves of the pain du chocolate and crepes and espresso drinks on offer. I knew, given the style of the hotel - this a hotel so hip that I mistook the bellhops, trendily scruffy and clad in black and leather, for members of my husband's TV production crew - that we would encounter a dirty look or two from disgruntled patrons expecting to have their peaceful breakfast ruined by a manic toddler. But I didn't care. Wonderbaby and I had every right to our breakfast, and were determined to have it. And I had every expectation of Wonderbaby's good behaviour: she loves restaurants, and cafes, and is usually so pleased to be 'having coffee like Mommy' that she can be expected to sit, working, very seriously, a tiny espresso cup full of milk and a cookie or croissant, for extraordinary lengths of time.

But my confidence in her good behaviour did not change the fact that what the hostess saw, when we walked in the restaurant, was a three-foot tall potential menace, clutching a soft, odd-shaped lovey.

She was unflaggingly polite, I'll give her that. But the fear coming off of her was palpable. Was this creature going to hurl croissant everywhere? Would it emit loud noises and pour milk on the floor? Did she, the hostess, have time to put away all the china before the creature moved into the room? I half-expected her to ask whether we wouldn't prefer to eat in our room. And the truth of it was, I was so thrown by the look of panic on her face, felt so badly for her obvious terror, that had she indeed asked us that question, I very probably would have retreated. I recovered quickly enough, though, and took charge of getting ourselves seated and escorting Wonderbaby to the spread of food to select something more substantive and healthy than the pats of butter that she had expressed interest in having for breakfast, with a side of milk and sugar cubes. And as I did, I got angry. and frustrated, because the hostess's fear had made me feel ashamed in way that no child-hater's hostility ever could. I could feel her wide, worried eyes on our backs as we toted our latte and milk and croissant - Wonderbaby carrying the spoons - back to our table, and felt self-conscious in a way that I almost never, ever do with Wonderbaby. I could feel the weight of her expectation that some disaster was imminent; I could feel it outweighing my expectation that the worst that could happen was a little spilled milk, and was keenly and shamefully aware that her definition of disaster might very well include spilled milk.

I wanted to feel angry, but I was having trouble faulting her. She was, after all, remaining polite and helpful and as superficially welcoming as she could be under the circumstances. I can't demand that someone be happy and comfortable in the presence of a toddler, any more than I could demand that others be happy and comfortable in the presence of any person who is different - less attractive, less able, less youthful - from themselves. I might wish it were so - I do wish it were so, in that optimistic, eutopian corner of my heart - but I can't make anyone feel differently than they do. All that I can expect is that is they behave tolerantly. And on that front, she was impeccable. It was just, you know, the fear in her eyes.

How can one get angry about the look in someone's eyes?

That experience stayed with me for the rest of the trip - even after a few more breakfasts in the dining room with charming waitstaff who cooed over Wonderbaby and who held not the slightest trace of fear in their eyes when she insisted upon carrying her own plate of croissant to the table. It stayed with me as we explored the city, causing me to hesitate in the doorways of art galleries and to avoid entering the swankier boutiques. And I hated that. I hated that I had absorbed some of that young woman's fear, some of the belief that children can be fearsome (they can, of course. But only their parents truly understand the parameters of this fear, and know that whatever fear they can inspire should have very little bearing on the carrying forward of our lives and life in general, including life in nice shops and restaurants.) I hated that I was feeling - if only a very little bit - ashamed of my insistence upon bringing my toddler everywhere with me.

Wonderbaby can be a handful - she can be an army of handfuls - but she is, to put it politically incorrectly, a good girl. Not all children are this, I understand, but I choose to believe that most are. And I choose to believe that most parents are skilled at managing their children, and prudent enough to make wise decisions about how and when to escort them in the public spaces that - here's the political philosopher in me - they need to participate in if they are to grow up with the social skills that underline good citizenship. They can't learn how to behave in public - how to be meaningfully and positively social - if they are confined to daycares and playcentres and the company of other children exclusively. They need to spend time in the public sphere - in as many corners of it as possible - if they are to learn how to flourish there.


And, I suppose, they need to learn how to cope with the fears and intolerances of others. Wonderbaby seems to be doing better on this count than I am.

(Apropos of absolutely nothing that I've said here, except for, maybe issues concerning justice and mealtimes: have you seen what we're up to over at the League of Maternal Justice this week? It's meaty. Check it out.)

83 Comments:

Blogger heels said...

Sadly, it's my HUSBAND who has this fear of our son in public places, even though our son is wonderful and charming and so well behaved. The problem is that, when my husband is around feeling so high-strung about all of this, my son somehow senses it, and is less and less his otherwise fabulous self. I've tried to explain to my husband that he is creating a problem from nothing, and that even if our son made a mess or was "too noisy," we could fix it or leave and it's NOT THAT BAD.

And really, what's the worst a kid could do? It's not like he's whipping off his diaper and crapping on the table.

5:37 PM  
Anonymous Sabrina said...

I have that fear of taking my little one to certain places. It's completely unjustified since she is a good baby. I think, for now, I'm allowed to be afraid of a potential meltdown (since I'm still fairly new). I'm getting better at it. I still cringe a little, but I'm beginning to have more faith in her ability to not freak out and my ability to parent.

About the woman on the plane- I get it. There was a woman like that behind us when we were in line to see Santa. Eliana smiled so much and just wanted this woman to smile back, but she never did. In fact, she made mad, grumpy faces the whole time. I may be wrong, but I'm pretty sure that's the mark of a bad person.

6:03 PM  
Blogger Kate said...

I've worked hard to raise portable, functional, presentable children, myself. It takes them only a short time, maybe a year and a half or so, to learn that while they can get away with certain lapses of behavior at home, their public behavior will not embarrass me. I've proven that I will actually leave, or whatever the appropriate response would be, because I'm a firm believer in natural consequences for behavior.

For anyone's behavior, really. You behave badly in a public place, you're asked to leave. It's just that when it's with your mother, you run the risk of a permanent blog entry, too.

6:19 PM  
Blogger kittenpie said...

I say the same about children in the library - they should be able to come, I want them there, but their parents have a duty to teach them how to behave properly when they are there. There exist different codes of behaviour in different places and circumstances and, as you say, they need to learn those things to be able to be in those places and circumstances as grownups.

6:29 PM  
Anonymous Maddy said...

I'm tempted not to comment, especially reading the other comments where all mums [and presumably dad's] are doing their very best to raise 'portable, functional, presentable' children [I just love that]

I suppose all I would say is that on the whole, American people are much more accepting of children in public and in restaurants than they are in the UK.
Best wishes

6:41 PM  
Blogger ewe are here said...

We had a flight attendant on our recent trip across the pond who took one look at our wee boys and just grimaced. Child Hater, without a doubt. And she continued to give us grimacing looks throughout the flight, even though our boys behaved beautifully, absolutely beautifully. It really ticked me off.

7:33 PM  
Blogger Alisonian said...

Longtime lurker, first time commenter. I work in a restaurant; one that even has crayons and a kids' menu. And even though I love children (longtime babysitter, former nanny, cousin to many, sister to one, aunt to one), sometimes I grimace when a child of WonderBaby's age comes into the restaurant. More often than not (sadly), a child at one of my tables means more work for me (picking up the crayons/fork/food/etc. when the child drops it, sweeping the detritus of cheerio crumbs or spilled scrambled egg, or over the weekend, VOMIT), and it often means less tip since kids' menu prices are dirt cheap and kids' drinks are free. I'm far from a child hater, but there's also a reason I don't have children. I'm sorry that the hostess made you feel unwelcome, and I strive not to act that way at my job. But it wasn't personal--some children ARE nightmares in restaurants. Thanks for raising one that isn't.

7:38 PM  
Anonymous Ree said...

How sad that people act this way. If I were to have a youngster next to me on a place, I would relish the time that I have to play with the child and share smiles rather than sit and worry about everyday things facing me.

7:51 PM  
Blogger John J. said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

7:59 PM  
Blogger Jaelithe said...

This reminds me a lot of this time my husband and I took our son to a very trendy sushi restaurant in the city. We had actually taken him there once before, but it had been as part of a large birthday party group with reservations, and I suppose under those circumstances he had gone mostly unnoticed.

This second time we took him there, though, the waitresses did indeed look at us with terror in their eyes. And I found it so FRUSTRATING, because my son is quite seriously the best behaved three-year-old I have ever seen in a restaurant 90% of the time. (I mean, aside from the fact that he won't eat anything unfamiliar, but that's none of the wait staff's concern.)

When we're out at a restaurant, my son sits without a booster seat. He doesn't rock his chair. He doesn't get up and try to run around the place.

He orders his own food, politely, saying please and thank you. He uses napkins. He heeds requests to quiet down. He doesn't break the dishes. He doesn't scream or cry.

And he acts like this BECAUSE we take him to restaurants. We take him to restaurants, therefore, he knows how to behave when at a restaurant. (And, he knows that if he doesn't behave, I WILL take him out to the car and wait there until everyone else finishes their meal.)

8:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I had an experience on the other end of the spectrum this past weekend. My friends and I, all in our twenties, unmarried and childless, went to a cafe for brunch. We knew before hand that it was a popular spot for young families and very kid friendly. The place was absolutely full of toddlers doing their thing, which was fine, but we were placed at the table next to the play area. I admit that I grimaced and commented to my friend that I thought we should give the table to a family with kids. I know one of the mothers heard me, she caught my eye and gave me a smile that was tinged with an apology and fear. I immediately wanted to retract my statement or explain or apologize for making her uncomfortable. Unfortunately you can't adequately do that in a public place so I am doing it here.

I wasn't afraid of the kids. Nor were they bothering me in the least. I am just not used to children. It is not the children I fear but my own behaviour around them. They were at elbow height. I was drinking hot tea. I was terrified to move my chair for fear of hitting one of them.

You say that children need to spend time in the public sphere to learn how to interact with society and I agree with you. Unfortunately not all the members of the public know how to interact with them either and the acceptable learning curve to pick up such skills is much kinder to the children than it is to the adults.

I can understand why you are angry on your child's behalf, but not all the childless are childhaters. Sometimes the fear in our eyes is for our own shortcomings not your shortstuff.

8:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ack, I am afraid that I may have been the "bitch" beside you on a flight...But in fairness to me (or if it was not you, I am now concerned someone else feels this way about me) however I was flying to my dying father and looking at a happy toddler was too painful for me.
We all have our baggage to carry

8:06 PM  
Anonymous Laura said...

Your post has captured my feelings exactly. As a new mother to a ten-month old, I too feel that sense of right and responsibility. I don't want to give up the things that I enjoy -- going to museums and restaurants among them -- and I want her to learn how to behave in these places and society in general. Thank you!

8:32 PM  
Blogger slouching mom said...

Amen.

8:38 PM  
Anonymous Redneck Mommy said...

I love fine dining. My grampa used to take me to swanky hotels and restaurants with the express purpose of teaching me etiquette and social skills, starting when I was a wee toddler.

I loved it, and I have continued this tradition with my own children, even Bug who was happily oblivious to most of his surroundings.

Sadly, I have received the stink eye you write about.

But more often than not my children are complimented for their social graces and their manners.

(What people don't notice is I tie them to their chairs...Wink, wink.)

Great post Catherine. As usual.

8:39 PM  
Anonymous motherhood uncensored said...

People judge based on their own experiences. That's not just when it comes to sweet little ones coming for breakfast.

There are certain places I wouldn't take my kids right now (mostly Drew who is a holy terror) because when it comes down to it, it's not enjoyable for me at all.

But I hate when people assume that when they see a kid get a little "rammy" that it's due to bad parenting. Kudos to you for being able to control your one year old. Just because I can't doesn't mean I suck as a person and a parent.

8:43 PM  
Anonymous Roz said...

I'm so sad to hear that you came away from Montreal feeling that it's not terribly child-friendly. Only having lived here a year, I've been delighted by all the options we have here. Clearly, the hostess' vibe really stuck with you. You so could have gone into whatever boutique or gallery you wanted. Old Montreal being the tourist trap that it is, is filled with polished shops, but had you come in the summer, you would've seen the place brimming with families.

I must have to admit to feeling the fear for the wait staff myself, and embarrassment at bringing my toddler to a hip establishment. I shouldn't, I know, but sometimes my girl is that messy kid that gives all the others a bad rep.

I must give props to Restaurant L'Avenue in the Plateau though. It's a hip and popular eatery especially busy at breakfast. I cringed going in there once, but the wait staff were so much cooler than I was, despite the greasy fingerprints on the high-backed black vinyl booth.

I actually avoid restaurants somewhat because of these experiences, but by the sounds of some of the comments, I guess I should be trying all the harder to get out there.

Hope you can come back again and find some of the family-friendly spots. Summer is especially fab.

9:34 PM  
Blogger Her Bad Mother said...

Alisonian - I totally get that children can create more work for waitstaff. Which is why we ALWAYS tip extra well when we're out with the WB. Which is also why I couldn't, in good conscience, get angry with the hostess in question. I was more angry at my shamed reaction, and the general state of things where children are more often than not unwelcome.

I get that kids can make people uncomfortable in ways that don't translate into child-hating. But I'm convinced that if more parents felt confident enough to move about in the grown-up world with their kids, so that more children spent more time in such public spaces, fewer people would be uncomfortable. And with good reason - because the more accustomed kids are to being in such spaces, the less reason there is for discomfort.

Unless they hurl poo, in which case, all bets are off.

9:42 PM  
Blogger moosh in indy. said...

It seems to me that child haters forget that they too were once fit throwing menaces to society.
Having been raised by a "child-hater" I am overly cautions about the moosh's behavior in public. It has served me well for the most part but has caused a lot of useless anxiety.

9:42 PM  
Blogger bubandpie said...

My husband is very uncomfortable taking the children anyplace that is not clearly designated as family-friendly. He was horrified when I suggested we might bring the children along to an open house, for instance, but they loved it so much (their only transgression being some over-enthusiastic enjoyment of the echo effects in an empty attic) that I've been taking Bub through model homes every Saturday afternoon lately. You can't convince hubby to do it, though - he stays home with Pie while she naps.

10:39 PM  
Anonymous Linda said...

But, with some children, that look of fear is justified. I have done everything humanly possible to help my four-year-old daughter learn how to behave in the public sphere, but there's a disconnect there. She doesn't listen, she doesn't care if she's disruptive and doesn't want to please her parents (or her kindergarten teacher). As a result, we try not to take her out very often. It's not fair to others, to us, or even to her. When we do go out, we plan for a quick errand and know that we may have leave promptly (and feeling embarrassed). WonderBaby sounds delightful; some children are not. I say this as a mother who fiercely loves her child, but knows that life with her -- especially in the public's glare -- is very challenging.

11:10 PM  
Blogger MommyTime said...

This is so articulately written that I almost just want to say, "yeah, what she said!" It can be tricky to find the right public places in which to help train one's children how to behave in public -- and for us right now this is particularly so with restaurants (though that doesn't keep us from them). With two kids (ages 4 and not quite 2), it's a lot to manage the behavior and volume and eating and manners AND do any eating ourselves. But we try it every weekend anyway because we want our kids to learn how to behave in restaurants, so we pick the very child-friendly, and we over tip to compensate for the mess on the floor, and we try to go out to lunch rather than dinner. You do the best you can, and if in general it's obvious that you have strong standards and the kids are trying to learn to meet them, then you are doing good work.

11:39 PM  
Blogger Gry said...

Urgh, I feel for you, I really do. I am personally awkward around children and didn't really think I'd have any of my own. Now that I do it really stinks when people treat your child as something that's contaminated.

Luckily I haven't had that happen in public, but last summer I had a friend over who brought her girlfriend along, and the girlfriend just wouldn't pay any attention whatsoever to my daughter, no matter how much my daughter wanted to interact. No "Hi" even at the door when they arrived. That really pissed me off. I mean, she's a member of this family too, you know? You don't just walk into someone's home and ignore a member of the family, do you?

*sigh*

12:36 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well said.

12:48 AM  
Blogger Jozet at Halushki said...

Adults are far more capable of far more obnoxious behaviors. And that's not even starting with their miserable cell phone etiquette. At least children come by it honestly.

Oh to have put on my wedding invitation "no loud wives, no surly boyfriends who get drunk and more surly, no new girlfriends who wear fur, no cell phones, no husbands who tell offensive jokes, no bitchy dates who dis my mom's dress, etc., etc., etc."

But no...we relegate children to miniaturized, sanitized, day-glo la-la worlds and wonder why they are so amped-up and fearsome to all when all we feed them as a society is junk culture.

1:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

We all live life on different sides of a myriad looking glasses. Here's my perspective, from someone who does not have children but really, really wants to have them.

I admit that sometimes I don't return a toddler's smile on a plane or bus. Because it's embarassing to sit on your own making silly faces; because their parents might think you inappropriate; because I don't have children and frankly it makes me sad; or, I admit it, because once you start pulling the faces, small children don't want to stop, however long the journey. Stopping = crying, and nobody wants to be the person who makes a child cry.

Doesn't make me an evil bitch.

As for intolerance towards childen in public places... I think the presence of children enhances a place. But sometimes, on a bad day, I might grimace, though I'd always try to conceal it. The reason? Truthfully, I'm jealous.
Sometimes parents with their lovely young children can seem smug (though I'm intelligent enough to know that they probably aren't). And the fact that they have these beautiful children AND enjoy expensive/hip establishments... well, on some days, it seems they have so much- everything- and I resent them. The parents, not the children. This is totally my issue I know. But it's a different perspective.

Life can be tough and complex for those without children too.

5:18 AM  
Blogger nomotherearth said...

I must admit I was surprised at the commenter who said that they just didn' know how to act around children and so was uncomfortable. They're people. You don't have to 'act' any way around other than you would to other people. Except maybe they're a better audience than most people - they smile and laugh more freely than adults. I'm not saying this as a mom. I felt this way before kids - and I didn't grow up with any experience with kids other than the occasional babysitting gig.

You can't expect kids to behave in public if you never take them out of the house.

5:42 AM  
Blogger landismom said...

Great post.

6:06 AM  
Blogger Avalon said...

I love toddlers. If I could change my career, I'd probably become a pre-school teacher. I tried to raise my own daughter always to be well-behaved and polite in public as well as at home.

However, if I decide to go out to a non-family style restaurant for a meal, I too grimace at the entrance of a family with a toddler. Not because I don't love them, but because it seems that many, many families don't seem to care about raising well-mannered children. Or about subjecting the innocent public to both their own and their children's lack of self-control.

They are probably the same people talking on their cell phones at the movies, and allowing their children to race around the store tearing items off the shelves.

When I do have an opportunity to witness a really sweet, well-behaved child, I try always to compliment the parents on their efforts.

9:01 AM  
Blogger Her Bad Mother said...

Just to be clear, the evil bitch on the plane wasn't an evil bitch solely due to the fact that she wouldn't return WonderBaby's smile - she was giving us dirty looks and leaning away and just emanating irritation and hostility. It was made PLAINLY clear that she was well fussed at having a child next to her.

Which to me is - or is experienced by me as - evil bitchiness. If she behaved that way toward an elderly or disabled or ethnically different person seated next to her, we'd all be appalled, wouldn't we? Well, I was appalled on behalf of my child.

9:06 AM  
Blogger Her Bad Mother said...

Also... Linda, I fully recognize that children can be holy terrors. Wonderbaby certainly can (read back a few posts to the day I burst into tears in a Zellers because she went hyper). A responsible parent, like yourself, like me (on good days ;)), knows her child well enough to know when and if certain kinds of outings are possible. If they're not, we don't do them.

What I wish is, that the default assumption with children and families would be 'innocent until proven guilty.' Adults act appallingly, too - sometimes, I think, more often and to a worse extent than children do. But we generally - most of us, I think - assume that adults will behave themselves, until they don't. Why don't we view children in this way?

9:11 AM  
Blogger Kate do Forno said...

Well said - as a young woman planning on having children in the near-ish future - as a young woman who is a part of a ridiculously loud family with many many children (believe me when I say many) your post encapsulates what I have been brought up to believe. It is our repsonsibility to socialize our children, it is our repsonsibility to ensure they become considerate, thoughtful, even generous citizens and your post speaks to everything I've been mulling around in this brain of mine while my husband and I plan for our future lovelies. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, I was happy to read as I'm happy to read everything you post.

Cheers....

9:35 AM  
Blogger Mrs. Chicky said...

I've tried to make my daughter as portable as possible once she came out of her colicky phase, and some times during that phase. As good as she can be, and usually is, I've gotten dirty looks in family friendly restaurants... And I gave them right back. But I have to admit I've seen these looks enough to now be very cautious when I bring the little one out. It shouldn't be that way.

9:37 AM  
Blogger Hannah said...

Fantastic post and really interesting comments, too. I'm liking how respectful everyone is being as they express their opinions.

Hubby and I do take Isaac to restaurants regularly, because we are big believers in exposing him to all kinds of experiences where he can learn how to behave under different circumstances. We do tend to take him to family-friendly restaurants (and we tip big, to compensate for the extra work for the servers) but this is mostly because when the budget will run to a fancier establishment, we want to be able to take our time over our meal and talk about adult things.

Oddly enough I used to get the look of fear far more often when we'd go to a restaurant with a sleeping baby in the carseat carrier. Or I think I did. May have just been my perception because as a new mom I was so conscious of other people's scrutiny (I've since gotten over that, thank you very much). I'll be interested to see what happens when this baby arrives and we still go out to lunch or dinner as a family.

9:39 AM  
Blogger Laural Dawn said...

This was an interesting post.
I have an almost 4 year old, and what we do and where we go depends entirely on his mood.
I have gotten the stink eye or the look of fear from people, and I really want to say "I'll leave if he can't handle this."
And I do. If we're having a rough day we order pizza we don't attempt a nice restaurant.
And if we do go to a nicer restaurant (and by that I mean Jack Astors!), I have absolutely no problem getting up and walking out with my son to give him a "time out" if he is not behaving.
Sometimes I think the attitude is not so much toward the child but pre-judging the parent.
And, here's the thing. If I'm on a date with my husband and I see a family with kids who are behaving I've occasionally gone over and said something because I think sometimes you need to hear it.

9:56 AM  
Blogger Miss Britt said...

Well said!

It is amazing to me this trend of child-hating that sees to be becoming so prevalent. I always think to myself, "YOU started off as a child once too, remember?"

10:01 AM  
Blogger The Super Bongo said...

I'm wondering if your comments should be directed at those parents who have worn out every bit of good will from the public.

I get so frustrated when I see parents NOT ONLY ignore their terrorist . . . but actually participate in the child's meltdown. I literally have seen parents amuse themselves by teasing their children to the point of wailing while waiting for their very expensive meal to arrive.

I always return smiles and flirtations from delightful children. . . and I smile and compliment parents in public nearly everyday . . . but by the same measure, when I enter a nice restaurant and can hear a child shrieking . . . I have asked to be seated "as far away from THAT as possible."

I think that if you are running into people who believe that you don't have the right to bring your child anywhere you go have run into one too many parents who believe that they bear no responsibility for insuring that their children behave in such a way as to not annoy everyone within a 100 yard radius. Or they've run into too many parents who believe that they can control their child by publicly screaming at it or beating it.

10:07 AM  
Anonymous baby in the city said...

Well, you know how I feel about parenting in public....

In all fairness, I wouldn't be surprised if the young woman (let's assume she is childless) saw you - a woman who is clearly pregnant, entering a restaurant with a little toddler, and unaccompanied by a husband/dad/partner or other type of reinforcement - as a frightful scenario. But not for her to wait on, but to possibly be in your shoes one day. I think loads of women give us others the stink-eye when the kids start to strobe because they feel embarrassed for us, and frankly that embarrassment is real, as a parent, you gotta power through it and kinda get your sea legs about it. But for childless people, I understand that they think it must be the most horrifying thing to be the parent of a toddler on a tear. The judgment is not of the kids, it is of the parents. Not better, I know, but....

10:09 AM  
Anonymous linda said...

"What I wish is, that the default assumption with children and families would be 'innocent until proven guilty.' "

Oh, yes! I didn't mean to sound like I was disagreeing with your post. I think it was well done. I was just sharing, er, venting, a bit about what it's like to have a child who rarely "behaves nicely" and how disheartening and frustrating (and simply exhausting on every level) that is.

10:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

catherine i am so sorry that that young woman made you feel so uncomfortable....and i can''t say it better than you how if we expect our children to behave in public we need to expose them to differnt places they can't be expected to live their whole young years SEGRECATED to child freindly places only...and children are people too.LAVANDULA

10:44 AM  
Blogger Her Bad Mother said...

Linda, I really do know all too well. When Wonderbaby is on a tear, we avoid public places. We call her Wonder Jeckyl and Baby Hyde - she's either a complete angel, or a holy terror.

That said, though, she's pretty predictable with cafes and restaurants because she regards them as a treat. We're very lucky for this, I know. ;)

10:51 AM  
Blogger Jozet at Halushki said...

There is no excuse for forming one's negative reaction or attitude or beliefs about an entire group of humans based upon an experience or multiple experiences with any other person who happens to bear some characteristic in common. There is a word for that. The soft word is "prejudice". The harder words end in "ism".

Fill in the blanks in this sentence:

I have met so many __________ ( group of people) who have behaved in this negative fashion, and so every ________ (individual from the same group of people) I meet from now on, I also expect to behave in the same negative way. My first reaction is always suspicion or fear or discomfort at the thought of being near that person. They must always now first prove themselves; it is each individuals job to make me less fearful of the entire group.

Now fill in the blank: Spanish speaking immigrants, PTO moms, black teenage boys, mentally handicapped people, elderly women, Democrats, Born Again Christians, Muslims, rednecks, rich people, women, men, etc., etc., etc.

Putting "toddlers" or "parents of small children" in that blank is hardly different.

That we are human and understandably - though not justifiably - our first reaction is fear or anger or frustration or suspicion - even if based on experience - all still puts the ownership of the problem squarely in our own lap. In my humble opinion.

10:52 AM  
Blogger Her Bad Mother said...

Jozet: DITTO. And, THANK YOU.

11:05 AM  
Anonymous baby in the city said...

Just to be clear, I am, of course, on your side. But I really don't see it as so cut and dry as people being prejudicial. If it is, then I guess I'm prejudiced against myself and y own son because my face goes red and I am horrified (scared, frustrated, suspicious and angry) all the time at my little boy in public (like when he flings food across a restaurant) BUT! Instead of vowing never to go out again, I've learned how to apologize to strangers and then not feel bad about it.
See, for me, when I read "they need to spend time in the public sphere - in as many corners of it as possible - if they are to learn how to flourish there", what I add to that from my own point of view is that parents need that experience, too, and for the same reason.
For me, that is what I read in your post - it takes practice and you need to build up a way of doing it: dealing with idiots, dealing with toddlers on a tear, travel, wrangling...it is all hard work, emotionally and physically.
I think the only way to become good at it is through experience and that means - just like, say, exercise - that you gotta keep doing it.
But it IS hard and I don't think you can blame people (prejudging them all as childhaters, not that you are, but I think that is important to stress) for being a little taken aback by what children are capable of.

11:38 AM  
Blogger mothergoosemouse said...

After having a second child, I rarely notice the reactions of other people. I'm focused on ensuring that my children are behaving themselves.

Considering that my own mother gets uptight over having to share space with children in restaurants and on airplanes, I'm not particularly concerned with whether my children are living up to others' standards - merely Kyle's and my own.

11:52 AM  
Blogger Her Bad Mother said...

BitC - I totally hear you: in fact, my closing comment was intended to communicate my feeling that I need to pay closer to the lessons to be learned having my child in the public sphere. Such as, don't get tits in a knot at someone's palpable fear of children.

That said, I do still firmly believe that there's something a bit wrong with prejudging all children as potential trouble. (Just as there is with prejudging all non-smiling adults as child-haters.) Adults can be even bigger trouble - I've been more embarassed by my stepfather in public than I ever could be with WB on her worst fit-pitching day, and probably more often. But if we all walked into certain restaurants together it'd be WB who'd cause the eyebrows to raise in the first instance.

There's no question that kids can sometimes be fearsome - you know that I know this too well - and that some parents can be negligent in wrangling. But as Jozet suggested, isn't there something problematic in this being the default assumption made by society at large? We wouldn't accept it if it were applied to any other group, would we?

11:59 AM  
Blogger Jozet at Halushki said...

Yes. I think that there is a difference between reacting to an actual action/behavior, and *assuming* a behavior/attitude will happen before it happens based upon some past experience with people who look "like that", i.e. young, old, rich, female, etc. but before the behavior even happens.

With the latter, of course, there is still room for misunderstanding and lack of compassion, as well as varying definitions of "acceptable behavior" based upon everything from cultural differences to personal whim.

However, in layman's terms, it's "innocent until proven guilty."

On the other hand, I think that the phenomenon of self-fulfilling prophecy is something to be considered both as a parent of a rapscallion and as, let's say, a waitperson at Applebees. *Sometimes* just going into a situation thinking, "this is probably going to suck really bad" can affect whether the spilled milk looks like the 2 oz that it is or like Lake Superior; whether it seems like the whining toddler is an afraid, inexperienced human whose sleep schedule is off because of the trans-Atlantic flight, or a spawn of Satan who should be ditched over Greenland. Of course, with the latter, both could be true at the same time. Or maybe this kid really does turn out to be the spawn of Satan. Again, innocent until proven demonic.

However, often I find, too, that with a little introspection and meditative or lateral thinking - and possibly a lot of caffeine/booze and thinking about new shoes - my emotions and comfort level as aren't entirely at the mercy of someone's else behavior as I first thought they were. I think Yogi Berra said that once. I still vent about bad behavior, sure. But I try - *try* - to extend the person a good long silken rope before I hang them. (Go me.) And so appreciate when that rope is extended to me.

(Sorry, HBM, for writing novels in your comments. But this is a hot button issue for me, as well. I have to go iron laundry, now, so I'll give you back your blog comments, lol.)

12:25 PM  
Anonymous AdventureDad said...

Good points. I believe strongly in this, we've flown across the world many times with our young kids and eaten at countless restaurants.

The key, I believe, is to adapt to the environment. At McDonalds a child can make a small mess and scream a little while in the play house. It's ok. But go to a nice place and you better make sure your toddler can behave. Eating in a nice place with misbehaving young kids is extremely rude and unpolite IMHO.

Sometimes our kids have a bad day and don't want to sit still. I then take them outside or somewhere else where they don't disturb people who are enjoying a nice meal. I think that's just common courtesy.

Problem is many parents just let their kids sit there and scream without doing a thing. The amount of shit parenting today is just off the charts. That annoys the hell our of me and every other peron I know. If a parent tries hard to make the kids behave I've never seen anyone get upset about it. On the contrary, other childless people tend to be very helpful and understanding when they see someone trying.

Summary: Be a responsible parent and adapt to the environemnt. I call it freedom with responsibility.

12:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

All this talk about not prejudicing the children and adults can be just as bad or worse encapsulates my worries about children in public. I admit to not being so afraid of the children as of their parents. On the whole children are a friendly, amusing, joyful bunch who want to interact with people. If they want to interact with me, I'm less concerned about what they'll do than what I might do to upset the parents. For example you mentioned getting candy from passerbys in Montreal. I would definitely not have been one of those people. While you clearly took it in the kind spirit it was meant, many other parents would not. And this is no slight on anyone's parenting skills. They are your kids and lord knows if I had kids I'd be so protective it would make their heads spin. I mean, it's your precious cargo. I'll confine myself to a smile and a bit of a grimace if the kid keeps trying to get my attention. Unfortunately I'll be offending someone either way I go, but c'est la vie. Bottom line, it is an awkward situation for the childless as I'm sure it is for those with children. That's not to say you should stop taking your kids in public. Maybe we should all learn to be a bit more comfortable and understanding of each other.

2:35 PM  
Blogger Robbin said...

Ooooh. You and I are of a mind.

Harry is bright and inquisitive. He is never destructive. I use my common sense regarding where I take him, but I remember when my parents took us out to a nice restaurant as a respite after Katrina, and we took him with us. He was TWO MONTHS old. He did nothing but sit in his carseat, and I couldn't have taken him to a sitter, anyway. All of the sitters we knew were scattered across the country in evacuation. We still got some hostile stares, despite the fact that he slept the ENTIRE time.

When we flew to Orlando, the woman who occupied the seat in front of Harry turned to me before she had even sat down and said, sharply "I realize he's just a little boy, but PLEASE tell your son NOT to kick the seat." Not only had he not been kicking the seat (she hadn't even occupied it yet), but his legs were too short to have TOUCHED the seat.

The joke was on her. Her seat companion offered to swap seats with her to take her away from my presumably rude child, which put her in front of my seven-foot tall husband. When she tried to lean her seat back, he leaned forward and very sharply said "Excuse me, please do not slam your back into my knees."

3:10 PM  
Blogger ByJane said...

And I choose to believe that most parents are skilled at managing their children, and prudent enough to make wise decisions about how and when to escort them in the public spaces

Would that this were so, the issue wouldn't be such a hot button. But the fact is that some parents are not skilled at managing their kids and lack the desire/energy/prudence to make the requisite wise decisions. For me, the fact that children have personhood does not give them equal rights to adults. Parents love their kids, but that doesn't mean they're universally loveable. It's a shame that the hostesses' fear had such an impact on you. Consider, however, what experience went into creating that fear. Accord her the same consideration you're asking for. Do the same for the woman on the plane who didn't respond to your child. You're asking the world to respond to your child as if life hadn't happened to all of us. A little empathy would go a long way.

3:13 PM  
Blogger Maman said...

Hang in there HBM. You are doing the right thing by taking Wonderbaby out in public. I too took mes filles out to fancy restaurants and once even flew first class to Europe with them (The only good thing that came from Fun Daddy always being out of town). You will continue to get those looks. MonAnge is 13 now and still I get the look.

The important thing to do, I believe, is to encourage those parents who now how take their child out. Whenever I see a well behaved toddler out and about, I ALWAYS compliment the mother or father. I think it is a relief to them and it shows the people around them that well behaved children belong near grownups.

I keep hoping that everyone will tell those parents when they are doing a good job... since the job is hard enough and there is precious little praise involved.

3:29 PM  
Blogger Her Bad Mother said...

ByJane - I'm not asking the world to respond to my child 'as if life hadn't happened.' I'm asking for civility (which the hostess provided, albeit reluctantly, and the lady-on-the-plane did not), and maybe something a notch above grudging tolerance. Children certainly do not have the same freedoms as adults, but they should be understood to have the same basic rights, including that of not being discriminated against because of social prejudice. (Ditto, of course, for persons with children.)

AS I said in a comment above, we would recoil at a person who treated a person of a different color or ability with disdain of the sort that woman on the plane treated my child (tho' I didn't describe the experience in detail). Why is it socially acceptable to be rude to children? As Jozet pointed out, treating individuals on the basis of our experiences of their social group usually has some nasty names attached - if I refuse to sit next to a person of color on a plane because I was once mugged by a person of color, is my prejudice acceptable because of my life experience. Or is it still just prejudice?

You're absolutely that right that some parents are irresponsible, and that such parenting can contribute to child-unpleasantness in public - but I don't think that the existence of such parents and kids should make it okay for me and mine to be shunned in certain quarters.

At any rate, I hope that I was clear that I felt that I could not fault or be angry with that hostess, who was just having an emotional experience that she did try to contain (I said that I felt badly for her). But I can still be disappointed, and stung by it.

5:04 PM  
Anonymous Sandra said...

Ooooh I can SO picture this happening at Le Germain. I used to go there often (on someone else's tab for work) and I never ever not once saw a child. Of course that was before I was a mama myself. As lovely as it is, clearly they need to loosen up.

I couldn't agree with you more that kids have a right to be in public and my guy has been in many a places that one would never dream of taking a kid. And I've experienced those glares and I have smiled back as he behaved quietly - sometimes more quietly that boisterous adults!

6:14 PM  
Anonymous Sandra said...

Ooooh I can SO picture this happening at Le Germain. I used to go there often (on someone else's tab for work) and I never ever not once saw a child. Of course that was before I was a mama myself. As lovely as it is, clearly they need to loosen up.

I couldn't agree with you more that kids have a right to be in public and my guy has been in many a places that one would never dream of taking a kid. And I've experienced those glares and I have smiled back as he behaved quietly - sometimes more quietly that boisterous adults!

6:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As the mother of a 2 year old boy, who can not take him out to eat at a nice restaurant because he won't sit still for more than 15-20 minutes I am in shock over how many parents posted that their children behave very well in public. I know that my child is esspecially active (I have friends with children the same age and my son is by far the one with the most energy) but I am left wondering how it is possible that so many parents have their children so well behaved...and what am I doing wrong? But then I also think that perhaps my idea of well-behaved is different than some of the other posters.

And to be honest, I'm not really sure if I believe a child has to learn before their 2nd, 3rd or even 4th birthday how to behave like an adult in all social situations. I actually think its kind of unrealistic. And to the mom who had all her child behaving well in public by the time they were 18 months, I think you should write a book!

7:55 PM  
Blogger BOSSY said...

Bossy always took her young children to nice everythings. But she also knew that, like a volcano, things could *blow* at any minute and it would be Bossy who needed to cut her losses. Because most people don't pay to be smeared in hot lava.

8:08 PM  
Blogger Her Bad Mother said...

Anon - I don't think that they need to learn how to behave like adults when they're toddlers - but I do think that regular exposure to the public sphere gets them on the right track. Wonderbaby is by no means some kind of perfect, latte-sipping angel - but she's pretty predictable, and she loves the experience of 'going out', and I roll with that. If she maxes out on good behaviour after 20 mintues, then we leave - that simple. But I think it's important to try - or at least to feel that one has the option to try - to begin with.

And Bossy's right - this whole argument hinges on parents taking the responsibility of knowing how to deal with their kids - and be willing to cut their losses when the volcano blows. Which it invariably does, sometimes.

8:52 PM  
Anonymous gurukarm said...

The part of your story that hung me up was the stiff bitch on the plane who couldn't unbend and respond to your most amazing child - having never met her in person, I have lots of fantasies of how incredibly sweet, endearing, and loving she must be, just from the enjoyment I get out of the pictures you share with us. I'm completely in love with her on the basis of those alone! So, someone blessed to sit in her presence and not swooning? Phahhh! More fool she!

8:57 PM  
Blogger ByJane said...

I dunno, HBM, but it seems to me that your argument is flawed. For one, you're equating racial and/or religious prejudice with (and let's put it at its worst) not liking kids. There's no way that that comes off as logically sound--or, as I believe the great logicians would say, you're comparing apples and oranges. Secondly, I cannot see what wrong was done you, or Wonder Baby, even in the case of the woman on the plane. What you seem to want is a world in which you are free to express your needs joyfully, but others aren't, unless they agree with you.

12:22 AM  
Anonymous Amy K said...

Prejudging children before you've even seen their behavior is silly. However, I've had so many nice meals, late-night movies, etc. become frustrating experiences due to screaming babies and toddlers not being taken outside by their parents (and it's the parents' fault for not doing something about it, not the kids') that I've probably had a similar grumpy expression a few times. And I love kids. I agree that they have a right to be able to go places, but when they're preventing the other patrons from having a conversation or hearing a movie for prolongued periods of time, they shouldn't be there. Same goes for anyone creating a disturbance.

3:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well said, byjane. By HBM's own admission, the hostess did nothing wrong but give off a "vibe."

The thing that bugs childless people about moms is that moms expect everyone to go GA GA over their children. And if we don't, we're bitches.

7:32 AM  
Blogger Her Bad Mother said...

ByJane - I'm not sure where the flaw in logic is. What is the substantive difference between not liking disabled people or not liking black people or not liking the elderly (ageism is a recognized prejudice) and not liking children - and expressing that dislike or expecting it to be reflected in are accepted as social norms? What is it about children that makes them undeserving of basic civility, simply on the basis of their childhood?

Citizens in liberal societies are free to like or dislike whomever they want (freedom of thought) but are restricted in that freedom inasmuch as they are expected to not act upon it publicly (freedom of expression is tolerated to the extent that it does not cause harm. That doesn't necessarily include hurt feelings, but society generally frowns on public expressions of disdain for different groups). I thought that I made it clear that I believed that the hostess did nothing wrong - her feelings were transparent, but she endeavoured to overcome them. That I was affected by her feelings was my own issue (and, I think, a legitimate one). The woman on the plane was openly hostile. There's no law against that, of course, but, again, we generally take it to be socially unacceptable for hostility toward certain social groups to be expressed or shown in public. On what basis should children be exempt from this social norm?

I don't, as you and Anon-at-7:32 seem to think, expect people to love my child. I don't. I just expect civility. You don't have smile her, or at me - just don't give either of us dirty looks, simply because we are mother and child. Why should that ever be okay - towards anyone?

9:36 AM  
Blogger Jozet at Halushki said...

Exactly.

If we're going to accept a child's personhood as a fact (no matter what John Locke thinks) in spite of their limited capabilities and capacities, then I don't see how we don't agree that it's not bad form to openly "not like" any person based upon one characteristic of their equal personhood.

And yes, you were very clear with assessment of the hostess, the problems inherent in your subjective assessment, and the separation of your own feelings in the matter, all while moving along to discussing all this in a more general way. Very clear.

I have plenty of empathy for the waitress. And guess what? I might even feel compassion for the bitchy airplane lady. If she were being openly hostile, it still doesn't make what she did right, no matter her experience. You put her up as an example to further the conversation. If you had listed her name and address and My Space page, I might have slapped hands. ;-)

And because, after reading you for several years and coming to the conclusion that you're not an oversensitive knee-jerker and that you are, instead, consistently even-handed, fair-minded, and able to see all sides of an issue, I'm going to grant that you are most likely a pretty solid judge of what's what when it comes to people being openly hostile and not just constipated; IOW, I'm giving you this one that the lady was being bitchy.

And furthermore! As far as this discussion goes, *even if she were just constipated*, we're going to assume that there *are* people out there who are openly hostile to children in matters of basic civility. In fact, I know there to be and by their own admission. So, let's grill that herring and take the discussion from there and move forward.

11:30 AM  
Anonymous Monica said...

To Anon at 7:55,

I took my children to restaurants from the time I was able to get around after their birth. But, here's the key. The place and duration changes as they do. When they were tiny, as long as I hit the naps right I could enjoy a leisurely meal. When they were a little older and were facinated by people watching and colouring, we switched to family friendly restaurants and quick meals. During the Terrible Twos & Threes, we usually limited ourselves to coffee shops for quick breaks. Once they were back to controlling themselves for longer periods of time we went back to nicer restaurants.

Even with all of that adjusting, I've walked out of many MANY establishments with my rapidly coagulating dinner in a to-go bag.

It's not something that you can ever guarantee, but to get the charming children who engage the serving staff in conversation about their order you've got to suffer through the earlier stages.


There will always be people who have had horrible experiences that cause them to prejudge you, all you can do is calmly ignore them and prove them wrong. It takes a dozen good experiences to counteract one bad one however, so it will take a long time, and a lot of dedication to win this one.

12:19 PM  
Blogger rachel said...

Children are a category of people, one that is unique in that it has been inhabited by every living person. Particularly unique is that every living person has imperfect memories of the subject position.

The bottom line is this: disliking children and feeling as though they need to have reduced visibility/presence in public or commercial spaces is 1) antifeminist, for any number of structural reasons but because pragmatically it disproportionately assigns women/mothers responsibility for your discomfort, and 2) prejudicial. No person has a right to child free spaces or experience, just as they have no right to blakck free, woman free, gay free whatever. I can't really see how there is much room ideological nuance. Which partly makes me a bitch because I am saying I don't give a shit abotu your discomfort, and it partly makes me a hypocritical bitch because on a personal level I *do* give a shit.

12:28 PM  
Blogger Occidental Girl said...

Great topic! I agree with you on both points, the right to go to public places and establishments with children but that it comes with a certain degree of discretion and responsibility.

I use discretion with my daughter, and do not hesitate to try new experiences with her, whether it's a new restaurant or a movie. From the time she was little, she was interested in what was going on around her, and I didn't see any reason to exclude her from activities that her parents enjoyed. Isn't that how you raise children? Teaching and nurturing and all that?

I wanted to expand her notion of what the world contained from the park playground (which is great, just that there's more).

So, well said. I enjoyed the discussion!

1:19 PM  
Blogger Damselfly said...

I wouldn't know what it's like to go to a four-star restaurant even without a child. :) But if I did get the chance to go, you can bet Fly would go with me. He's part of the family and a human being -- as you said, not a pet.

4:23 PM  
Anonymous pk said...

Wow! A very heated topic indeed. I have taken my boys to fairly nice restaurants since they were maybe 3 or so. (They're 8 and 11 now.) I wanted them to learn how to behave in such restaurants, but I always made sure they weren't too hungry, tired, or cranky on the days we went. I don't recall getting any looks from anyone because I think I was too busy making sure they behaved. However, I do remember being in an extremely expensive restaurant in Bermuda where the waiter though my 7 year old son was underdressed (though he was old enough to be wearing a tie...it was about 95 degrees and the restaurant was outside). Anyhoo, I ignored the waiter, even after said son spilled an entire glass of water on himself. Hell, at least he was cooler than we were at that point. At their ages now, they are fine in nice, upscale (read: expensive) restaurants, mostly because they've developed a taste for fine food, which hurts our wallet more than it does any of the wait staff.

That said, after having gone through the toddler/preschool years with my kids, I'm just not interested in reliving it when I go out. So we will try to sit as far away as the little ones as possible. I won't give any parent the hairy eyeball, but neither will I necessarily interact with any child nearby, unless they were absolutely charming (like WB). Also, I agree with whoever wrote about people with children wanting childless people to be all adoring of their children. I have a friend who has been trying to adopt and also IVF and it pains her terribly to see families with beautiful young children. That may be her problem, but I try to be considerate in general knowing all she's gone/going through. Kind of like the not judging someone till you've walked a mile in their shoes.

Anyway, I'm just glad to be over the toddler/preschool/needs a nap years and am glad I can enjoy taking my boys out to eat and see the pleasure on their faces as they dive into that nice big piece of steak...

4:35 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

I've had more than my share of those looks from people. Of course, Cordy looks like she's older than 3, and is on the autism spectrum, so we have the added prejudice of people looking at her and expecting her to behave better for her age.

We occasionally go out to eat, but only at family-friendly restaurants. Nicer restaurants are something I could never attempt at this point, because I actually fear being asked to leave if Cordy starts to act weird.

We've had far too many experiences where people have looked down on us, or worse - quietly complained about us, but not so quietly that I couldn't hear. I had no idea a child jabbering quietly to herself as she slowly turns in a circle in the waiting area of a restaurant could annoy people so much.

9:01 PM  
Blogger Lara said...

oh man, this is quite pertinent to the book i'm working on, actually. too many people consider children a completely different species, which is just ridiculous. if a child is behaving appropriately for a given place of business, there is no reason that he or she should have to endure hostility for his/her very presence. that is ageism, pure and simple. is i got dirty looks every time i went into starbucks, i would be seriously offended, because what did i do wrong? if there was a rough-and-rowdy crowd of single, twenty-something brunettes that pestered the baristas last week, that really doesn't excuse their open disdain for me, a single, twenty-something brunette.

unfortunately, this lack of comprehension (kids are people, too!) extends to many areas of life, including many daily struggles in parenting. but i'll be talking about that a lot more in my book... ;)

9:06 PM  
Blogger Animal said...

Wow! I feel like a Johnny-come-lately to the commentary, but I guess that never stopped me from putting my 2ยข in. I think a lot of it comes down to different societal norms and acceptances. Despite our "melting pot" mindset, the U.S. was still basically founded by immigrant Puritans who felt that children should be "seen and not heard"...attitudes I find reinforced through dozens of generations. Even in quasi-fiction, like the L.I. Wilder books, such seeming good parents as the Ingalls indicate that there is a "time and place" for children. Look across a cross-section of other societies around the globe and you'll see an acceptance of the natural order of things: children are a treasure (really, the ONLY treasure, as they alone are the future) and they act the way they do...just as adults do. (Sometimes even as "logically" as adults do...nudge nudge, wink wink.)

Upshot: I couldn't agree with you more, HBM. Well-intentioned parents should be able to take their little folks anywhere that they can expect to given a return expectation of reasonably good behaviour. Children are a part of life, n'est-ce pas? Any hostility - whether outward in the form of shouted slurs, or INWARD in the form of looks of terror - needs to...well, it just needs to go away. Just like any kind of prejudice.

9:21 PM  
Blogger Mardougrrl said...

What a wonderful post, HBM. Madam also likes to eat and go out for the most part, and she's pretty well behaved but she knows we WILL leave anyplace (the library, bookstore, park, restaurant) if she starts to lose it. It usually hurts me more than it hurts her (I love all of those places) but it's the only way she'll learn that going there is a privilege, not a right.

That being said, there are definitely lots of places I don't take her (yet) because I don't think she could behave herself. Although after reading this post, I am thinking maybe I should give it a shot. After all, we could always leave. :)

12:00 AM  
Blogger Mom101 said...

I've written about it before, but if I'm in a nice restaurant I'll be just as pissed if a couple is making out at their table, or a drunk secretary is shouting over her table. Bad behavior is bad behavior, regardless of who is exhibiting it. Until that behavior is displayed, all diners deserve the benefit of the doubt, regardless of age or ability to wipe one's own ass.

Now that I think about it more drunk secretaries have ruined my dinners than kids. Unless I'm counting my own.

10:10 PM  
Anonymous Veronica Mitchell said...

You have posted on this topic before, and I remember feeling more kinship with your experience when I had only a toddler and a small baby. Now my oldest is four, and I am pregnant with my fourth baby, and I don't think I can relate as much.

I don't mean I disagree, exactly. It's just that the life I live has slipped farther away from yours, and I can't imagine taking my kids into the sorts of spaces you do. I would never take three or four kids to a restaurant or swanky hotel or an airplane. I could not possibly afford it.

So while I understand your hurt and bewilderment and offense at how your daughter is treated and I sympathize, I'm not sure your experience is that common. I meet the occasional jerk (with my kids or without), but the church-library-park-supermarket proles are pretty kid-welcoming.

11:27 PM  
Anonymous limboland la la said...

that look of fear... i've given it too. in fact, i've been given it more and more often recently. It's nothing prejudicial though, simply I'm newly pregnant. And everytime I see a child/toddlers in particular, i can't help but think, "Holy SH%^T" what have I gotten myself into.

No one likes to be judged by their appearance...and i suppose children become part of the parents appearance as they walk in the door. On the other hand, most people who give those looks have probably yet to experience parenting. it's difficult to expect empathy from someone who is at such a different point in life.

(Although i've yet to experience from a mother's point of view)...my lack of empathetic advice would be to let it go.

7:27 AM  
Blogger Her Bad Mother said...

Veronica - DUDE. If I had three or more kids - even once I've got two - I might never leave the house, regardless of whether or not I could afford it. We'll see how it goes with two. I might have to resign myself to dining at McDonalds.

Limboland la la - I understand about the lack of empathy, but as I've said a few times, I'm not looking for overt kindness, just respect. Most people can't empathize with the disabled, either, but society still frowns on us giving them dirty looks.

But, yeah - always gotta let it go.

9:27 AM  
Blogger Minnesota Matron said...

Mom101 said it best: bad behavior is bad behavior. People go to pleasant space for just that -- pleasantries. If a child is able to make that grade, they should be welcome. My nine year old was recently in a play at the Guthrie, which is one of the best (serious!) theaters in the country. Boy, did my four year old want to see his sister in a show. But he didn't get to go because he would've been disruptive during the long, adult and kinda dark show.

But we took a couple of nine-year olds who sat enthralled to watch their best friend on stage with Famous People!

It's all about the right fit - right kid, right pleasant space. But the parent who figures it out should be able to swing it and feel welcome.

4:18 PM  
Blogger Jenifer said...

Is it too late to say I loved this post?

8:49 PM  
Blogger Tracy said...

I am just catching up on my blog reading today and am fascinated by this topic. I feel that I should post an entry of my own instead of wasting so much comment space, so let me just outline a few points:

You make the assumption that most parents are responsible enough to manage their children should they begin to misbehave. Based on my experience in retail, as a waitress, and as an elementary school aid, this is not true. In fact, I find responsible parents who work hard to instill good manners in their children to be quite rare...rare enough that when I see those parents who do, I make it a point to compliment them, to let them know my profound appreciation for their hard work. It is unfortunate that many people are driven to "child-hating" by the mass of people who let their children behave badly, but there it is.

You also assume that our societal freedoms mean that anybody is allowed anywhere at anytime, including children. I believe this also to be untrue. If somebody gets sloppy drunk in a nice restaurant, they will be asked to leave. Is the hostess also allowed to ask the parents of an obnoxious toddler to leave? No. Many places children are welcome (such as public playgrounds) are off limits to single adults. If you don't have a child, you don't belong here. The assumption is that somebody in such a place without a child can only be up to no good. And yet these same people should be forced to deal with misbehaving toddlers in adult-oriented environments? That hardly seems fair.

For the most part, I do agree with your argument, it just seems to me that you are overly optimistic about the inherent sense of parental responsibility necessary for a society without child prejudices.

4:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jozet at Halushki:
If multiple experiences with persona who happen to bear some characteristic in common have the same or similiar characteristics, pre-judging other members of that group is called "learning from experience."

Let's say that your elderly father runs a small business renovating classic houses. Now retired, he has limmited resources to fold into the business, so he "saves money" by hiring a local homeless guy. One night $5000.00 worth of tools disappears and the homeless guy stops showing up for work. So you change the locks on the storage shed and buy more tools. He hires another homeless guy. And another $5000.00 worth of tools disappears, along with the "helper." After about the fifth time that this happens, if you keep allowing him to hire homeless guys, you are an idiot.

The same principle, alas, applies to children and the hospitality business. If four out of five toddlers come into your establishment and are shrieking terrors, you're going to start to fear them.

I'm I saying restaurants should be child-free zones? Of couse not.

But meeting people who share a characteristic and discovering that most of them behave the same way isn't a "problem," it's a survival trait.

Lamont

12:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think it's important to remember that many parents do NOT control their children and ignore screaming tantrums in public places.

In recent months, I had to sit next to a mother who brought a 3-year old to an R-rated movie and who did not leave the room or do anything to quiet the child. That child talked during the whole movie. Yet I had paid money for my ticket AND for a babysitter in order to enjoy a movie without my own baby. How is that fair?

Likewise, I've gone to many restaurants and watched toddlers and children throw loud fits. Their parents sit undisturbed and finish their meals without any concern for how they just ruined everyone else's meal. When this happens at McDonalds, I'm ok with it. When it happens at an expensive restaurant, it pisses me off.

I used to fly 100,000 miles a year before I had my baby. While I wasn't mean like the plane bitch you described, I wasn't happy when I was seated next to a toddler since I had work to do on that plane ride. One time, toddler finished eating his snack and then decided to wipe his sticky hand on my leg. Another time, I had a toddler spill soda on me while his mother sat and read a book. She didn't even apologize or offer to pay the dry-cleaning bill. She was more concerned with getting him another soda.

One question: why wouldn't you put WonderBaby in the aisle or window seat and take the middle seat yourself? Then the woman wouldn't have to sit next to a toddler. Isn't that more polite?

Now that I have a child, I am careful not to be as rude as those other parents were. That means I only take him to G and PG movies, and I leave the theater if he is loud. And it means I only go to family restaurants and leave if he makes noise.

In my opinion, that's just being polite. I think what you view as child-hating is just people's frustration with all the bad parents out there who act entitled to bring their children to any restaurant/movie/etc and who do not bother to ensure their children behave.

Wonderbaby sounds wonderful, and I'm sure she behaves. But she also doesn't sound like the typical child...nor do you sound like the typical parent. If all parents were like you, I doubt there would be as many "child-haters."

1:35 PM  
Blogger Her Bad Mother said...

Anons (plural) - I think that I made it clear in my post that everything I said rested upon a firm belief that parents have a clear responsibility to monitor and control their children, and that the privilege of social freedoms can only come when such responsibility is taken seriously. So - I'm not advocating letting toddlers run loose in the streets. Or taking them to R-rated films, holy hell. I'm saying that society should endeavour to be tolerant of parents making these efforts. More tolerance, I believe, would go a long way toward facilitating the rearing of more well-behaved children.

And about that plane lady? Her bitchiness was excessive, no matter how you slice it. Wonderbaby was 18 months old and had to sit on my lap because the plane was full - I would generally sit between her and another passenger, and/or would always work to make sure that she didn't disturb them. But again, I feel it's unfair for people to assume that she WILL disturb them - and to believe that it's perfectly acceptable to sneer at her because of that assumption.

1:49 PM  

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