I feel like we live in a world that discriminates against children. I think that every time I leave the house these days and tonight, on a date with my husband, it really got to me in a way that surprised me.
We were eating dinner at Outback sitting next to a table with a family – two sets of grandparents, and a young family of four with a mom, dad, little girl and a toddler boy. The boy was having a hard time sitting still, which is totally normal, of course, and the mom was being so very patient. The dad was doing absolutely nothing to help with the kids – as his wife struggled to do everything to keep their son happy and feed their daughter, he turned the other way and talked to all the grandparents. I couldn't believe no one was helping that poor mom! The antsier the boy got, the angrier his dad became. He started growling at his son through his teeth, then turned to us and apologized for his terrible son. I was not at all disturbed the boy, because he wasn't being loud or annoying, and actually felt very bad for him because he was being expected to behave much older than his years allow. I was much more disturbed by the dad, and how he considered his son to be a burden, an annoyance, and didn't stop to consider that his son is a person with feelings who is just acting his age.
I thought, you can't bring small children into an adult setting and expect them to sit still and be calm. That's just not fair. But, then again, why can't we? Why must we feel that our children annoy others when they are just acting like children? That's why we no longer go out to eat – because I hate the shame I feel when my children can't behave like society believes they should. My husband even says that businesses are traditionally run by men and that's why they aren't children-friendly. I think he may have hit the goldmine there.
And all I could think, and this is something that I've been plagued with ever since becoming a mom, is that we ALL start off as children in this world, yet are brought up in a world that is made for adults where children are forced to act as adults in public – something they are not developmentally capable of doing and, in my opinion, shouldn't have to until they are adults. And the way parents, and especially mothers, are looked at and made to feel shame when their children don't behave like others think they should, feels like discrimination to me. I feel unwelcome and shame because my children are behaving like children.
It really saddens me because it causes unnecessary friction between parents and children and discourages that wonderful energy and naivety we claim to love about children. I feel there is huge misunderstanding taking place and us adults so easily forget that children cannot behave like we do. We talk about how we don't want them to grow up too fast, yet it seems our actions speak to the opposite.
It's also a huge missed-business opportunity – if malls, stores and our favorite restaurants were welcoming to children in a way that kept them happy, do they realize us moms and dads would be relaxed, not rushed, and would buy way more of their stuff? Airlines are the worst offenders as some talk of having flights where no children are allowed. This makes me so angry – it's like Jim Crow laws but against children. We are not allowed to discriminate against any other kind of person in this country, so why is it okay to do it to children? They do speak a different language than us adults, and do have their own culture, and can seem like they are creatures from another planet (smile), but if they were welcomed and taken care of, I believe they would behave wonderfully in public.
For instance – why can't Outback have a family section where children are allowed to be children – Where they can wander freely around and aren't expected to sit still and be quiet. To do so seems like such a Victorian idea to me – where children were to be seen and not heard. It's not that they are allowed to be destructive or misbehave, but simply to be children where they can laugh, play, roam, and explore. Where there are small, kid-sized tables that they can easily get up and down from, toys to play with, and soft mats for babies to lie on and crawl upon.
Some malls and grocery stores do have babysitting rooms, where the children can be watched while you shop. This is a huge step in the right direction, but has anyone ever considered changing the whole business model and making a place where it's safe and fun for children to be with their parents while they shop? Most of us have a hard time trusting total strangers with our hearts and souls. Just change the way the shelves are arranged – with toys and books on the lower shelves that kids only use in the store, and have the items we need to buy on the top shelves. There could be coloring stations, food to taste, and maybe even a story time.
As much as McDonalds has been criticized over the years, they are one of the only businesses who have centered their entire business model around children, and have had HUGE success. It was an ingenious concept that had not been done on a large scale before, and obviously it has worked. People who don't even have children happily eat there. All other fast food chains saw the money McDonalds was raking in and jumped on the kid bandwagon, too, so why has it stopped there? Us parents want to eat at nice restaurants with our kids, where we don't have to pay for a babysitter or worse, take the kids with us and struggle to enjoy dinner.
If children were more integrated into our public spaces and allowed to act their age by making those spaces safe and fun, I think that even the adults who aren't children-friendly won't mind having children nearby because they will be happy children and not screaming ones. Sure, there will be some crying and screaming, but a whole lot less of it.