Restaurants banning kids. Airlines instituting child free zones. It seems that the world is becoming an increasingly child unfriendly place. Each time I see one of these headlines I ask myself how we got here. When did society turn against its littlest citizens and why?
A few months ago I was hanging out at a library with my kids and their grandparents. My in-laws hung out with my children at the kids' area while I set up shop with my laptop at a nearby table. As I attempted to catch up on some writing I noticed a little girl standing on a desk, jumping off, and running through the library screaming while being chased by a man and a woman who appeared to be her parents.
I'm judgey about ridiculous things like stirrup pants but I try to keep parenting judgements in check. A fifteen minute window into someone's life isn't an accurate portrayal of the full picture. Or is it? I do my best to squash the judging instinct and carry on. You never know what kind of day someone has had or what kind of special needs a child has. When possible I try to lend a helping hand to a struggling parent but this situation was a bit odd.
As the little girl screeched, thrashed, and distracted everyone within a 200 foot radius her parents tried to cajole her in to cooperating. They offered her candy and ice cream to stop the screaming and jumping. Nothing worked. The ruckus continued. Any chance I had of catching up on work was shot so I sat at the table and tweeted some thing like:
"If your child is running, screaming, and thrashing about in a public place disturbing everyone within earshot maybe leaving is a better option than offering an ice cream sundae. Maybe. Just a thought".
My tweets were mostly met with parents who agreed. Meltdowns aren't fun for anyone least of all the parent in charge, but sometimes it's best to remove a child from a situation and not allow them to ruin everyone else's experience. Others did not take too kindly to the suggestion. I was accused of everything from not being sensitive to children with special needs to not caring about the existence of someone's child (what?). The girl was being loud in a library. Isn't this parenting 101? Thou shalt not allow your child to scream like a banshee in a library?
I know that we as parents have different tools and methods for dealing with our kids. Distraction is sometimes necessary and works well for some, however I firmly believe that if your child's behavior in a public place is distracting to others it's best to handle the meltdown privately. Remove your child from the area when possible.
Selfish and permissive parenting doesn't benefit anyone. Those of us who are respectful of our surroundings in public spaces have to deal with the eye rolling and teeth sucking when people see us entering a nice restaurant or shop with our kids. People worry with good reason. Too many parents allow their kids to do as they please happily with complete disregard for the feelings of those around them and frankly I can't stand it.
No one is perfect and children are unpredictable. I remember foolishly taking our son to an upscale tapas restaurant in Montreal, Canada past his bedtime when he was fourteen months old. Hot. Mess. He escaped from my grip and ran cheerfully into a wine cellar. I was horrified and sad to miss my dinner but I headed to the car to allow him to snuggle and fall asleep.
I could've selfishly continued enjoying my 5 star meal while my toddler ruined everyone else's experience, but the world does not revolve around me or my child. I learned my lesson about disrupting a child's schedule in order to dine out (try not to do that). Not every meal is perfect, but they both know how to behave in a public place. l'm thankful for that.
It's important to respect shared spaces. Children are wonderful little people who deserve the same rights as everyone around them but remember that not everyone cares about your bundle of joy. That's okay. Respect that. Stop being selfish. If your child is being a public nuisance it might be because they aren't happy. Remove your kid from the situation and handle your business away from others when you can. Everyone will thank you.
Do selfish parents give the rest of us a bad name?
Veronica Armstrong is a photographer, blogger, and freelance writer whose stories spring from the cinderblock walls of her married graduate student apartment. You can find her on Google+ or see more of her writing and photography on her blog.