Before I had my own mini-human, I had some pretty big ideas about the kind of parent I’d be and how that would manifest in my child. My progeny was obviously going to be well-mannered, calm and quiet (because standards, people).
But let’s get real: I just described an adult.
I mean, maybe there are some docile kidlets out there who routinely handle disappointment with grace and only use their inside voices, but I have yet to meet one.
Why? Because kids are inherently ridiculous.
Their brains are fractions of the size and complexity they will become in time. They are literally *just* learning how not to constantly soil themselves. And they are remarkably unpracticed at communicating their needs with words.
The world is a lot for them.
But it’s a lot for adults, too, so we’re justified in our desire after a long week to swirl our wine in its glass during a nice meal in the ambient light and quiet din of forks on plates.
Which we could probably really enjoy if that little rugrat weren’t screaming at a level 10 and throwing broccoli at the back of our heads while we grimace and contemplate providing parenting advice to the inconsiderate guardians who haven’t removed the insufferable riffraff from our general vicinity.
If you’ve thought that, you’re not alone.
I recently asked my Facebook friends two questions about kids’ behavior in public:
“1. (to my kidless friends) What are your thoughts when you’re around raucous or loud kids in public places like restaurants or on planes? 2. (to my parent/guardian friends) What do you hope people think when your kidlets are being raucous or loud in public places?”
The responses were illuminating (and multitudinous), and it seems like there are three basic camps:
These are the ones who help redirect and engage the kiddo or support the parent in that effort. They’re mostly parents or grandparents who have lived through days of ditching a full shopping cart because of an epic tantrum at the store or disregarded FAA laws in an attempt to quiet their child’s screaming on the plane. These glorious humans ache for both the young ’un and their adult counterpart and do what they can to assist.
The tolerant but judgies
They understand that kids are kids, but they rue the parents who seem not to be good at or fully engaged enough in corralling, correcting or removing. They say stuff like, “No kid of mine would ever…” while eyeing the parent and putting in their earbuds in a huff.
They thoughtfully (and probably correctly) chose not to have spawn so they could live adult lives full of intellectual conversation, clean AND folded laundry, uninterrupted meals and privacy in the bathroom. They’re paying good money for that meal or movie and deserve not to be bothered by still-developing brains.
These groupings didn’t surprise me much, but two comments really made me pause. The first was a friend who challenged the idea that even parents who don’t look demonstrably attentive or rightfully embarrassed could actually be doing their best to defuse the situation. For my friend, sometimes not engaging her melting child is the best way to minimize the destruction.
She went on to say that her child has autism and so can be set off by seemingly benign interactions like a stranger saying “Hi.” As a result, she has avoided public spaces for years.
Years?! That hurt my heart, and set up the second profound comment from a (kidless, I’ll note) friend who suggested that excluding children from public spheres is “antifeminist. Period.”
I think that’s right. While there are growing numbers of dads taking up the parenting duties, the majority of parenting work is done by the mamas of the world. So, to assert that youngsters aren’t fit for public existences (or at least in spaces that are primarily for adults) is to deny many women access to public life.
As if women aren’t judged enough already, we correlate their children’s behavior with their success, when they might be largely dissociated at any given moment.
I’ve had the benefit of realizing how wrong I was about child development and appropriate behavior while I raise an inquisitive, energetic, carefree, lovely and perfectly imperfect kidlet. I also realized how misplaced my judgement was.
But empathy is a thing that makes everything easier. Plus, these nuggets are going to be the ones wiping our buns when we’re too old to care.
So, maybe we could all consider taking a smoother and more inclusive path. Together.
Marina Gomberg is a communications professional and lives in Salt Lake City with her wife, Elenor Gomberg, and their son, Harvey. You can reach Marina at email@example.com.