Saturday, August 12, 2006

Lauren Lights a Match

And oh, the blowback. Parenthood: What a subject!

The weird part is, I don't think, or at least to me it does not seem like, anyone actually disagrees with what Lauren wrote:

My identity is not defined by my parenthood, but my life is. Without a child I wouldn’t feel as obligated to work as much as I do, to avoid such debt, to secure meaningful assets, or to better myself or the world. I’m naturally one selfish wench who would rather not be bothered by real world ephemera, and I recognize that having my little one in my life makes me a better person even if he isn’t the only thing I strive for. As for other adults in my world, I hope that they have the decency to well-wish my child even if they don’t care for or love him. My parenting theory does not obligate a random adult to a stranger’s child, just hopes that they recognize that children are indeed little people who haven’t yet grown up and thus continue to make bad decisions.

So why are the comments shaping up to be such a battleground? I have no idea. I don't even know what to say about most of them, and when does that ever happen? I ALWAYS have something to say in the Feministe comments.

This time, not so much.

It's weird. I guess what I'm getting from it is that the difference between parent and nonparent is more one of identity than I'd realized--and yes, I say that despite Lauren's quote above. I don't think parenthood defines identity, I agree with her about that, but it sure seems to influence the daylights out of it, and, here's the thing, I don't see anything wrong with that.

I'm not doing well at explaining this, but let me keep trying: One thing I hear and read from new parents a lot is that becoming a parent is like crossing a great divide. There was you before the kid, on one side of the Grand Canyon, and there's you with the kid, on the other side, and it's difficult to connect with, relate to, or sometimes even remember that other you back there on the southern rim. Who WAS that person?

This process seems to be necessary, necessary to helping little people make less bad decisions, necessary to the process of bonding, of obligating the parent to the child. I think some of the commenters here were trying to tell me as much.

Anyway, I don't fault the process. I don't fault parents who tell me, you don't know what it's like. You're right! You're absolutely right, and I am not being sarcastic: I don't know what it's like. No clue. No idea. None. To the extent that I am able, then, I will get the hell out of your way while you go about that crazy parenting stuff you do, and I will do my best not to add to your guilt, your anxiety, your fears, or your problems. Honest. That's a promise. I cannot guarantee that I will always succeed, but I will always try.

The identification, though, runs deep on both sides: There are nearly as many nonparent commenters feeling unjustly maligned in that thread as there are parents feeling the exact same thing. Someone says, "I don't think you need to bring the kid to a bar." Someone else says, "I don't think you need to judge parents who bring kids to bars." Someone else says, "I don't have to like children, you can't make me." Someone else says, "Why do you hate children? That's despicable." And so on, and so on.

My friends who are mothers, I don't ever want to hurt them. I do need them to understand that just as parents identify as parents, I identify as a nonparent. That's why, when zuzu wrote this:

I should really just stay out of this topic because it’s really pissing me off that I’m apparently not only a bigot, but self-righteous.

I responded:

You come sit here by me, honey.

I didn't write that because I hate parents or children. I wrote that because I sympathize. And I sympathize primarily because, like zuzu, I am not a parent. I don't want to put words into her mouth, but for me, identifying as a nonparent while having the nerve to object to some things that some parents do is just asking for an ass-kicking from most parents sometimes. It's like, "Wait, so you mean I must never say anything critical of ANY child's behavior? I can never judge any parent? I can never wish for adults-only space? I'm a bigot who hates kids because I'd like the one behind me in an airplane to quit kicking my damn seat? What the fuck?"

Not having kids limits my understanding of what goes on in the lives of those who do have them. I am quite willing to acknowledge that up front. But you know something? I still don't want to see your toddler in the bar. As I noted earlier in that same comment thread, I've seen it happen. What I failed to note was that I'd seen it happen more than once (three times, actually). What I failed to note was that each time the child was under 5. What I failed to note is that my problem was with the parents who got angry at the other patrons for not modifying their behavior to suit the child--not with the child him/herself.

If you really think a preschool-aged kid belongs in a smoky bar with loud music around midnight, that's your business. That's your parenting decision. But for crying out loud, sack up and accept that some of us nonparents will never quit thinking your decision sucks. It doesn't mean we're evil, awful, wicked, antifeminist, child-hating bigots. It doesn't mean we're wretchedly intolerant. It means we'd like a little fucking time to ourselves among grownups, and only grownups. To, uh, make some spectacularly bad decisions.

The weird thing about that is, I've heard and read so many parents talk about the exhilaration of having a rare night out with adults that I know most, if not all, of them sympathize with the need for that space, that kid-free space. It just seems at times as though it is only okay for parents to want that space; it's selfish and hateful for nonparents to want it. Because really, what have we got to get away from? We don't have kids at home, so why didn't we just stay there? What are we complaining about? It isn't like WE have to spend all day with children. How spoiled of nonparents to whine about any invasion of adults-only space. If we only knew! What parents go through! But of course we don't, because we're horrible people.

I don't know where I'm going with any of this. I'll turn it over to y'all, I guess. Or you could read this father's defense of mommy-blogging, which I like very much, and yes, that URL is work-safe. Honest!

UPDATE: Well, I'll be damned--if it isn't the New York Times Sunday Magazine! What would I do without you?

It is tempting to link the popularity of active-adult housing to the bigots, contrarians and attention-seekers of the “child free” movement, who rant quotably on their Web sites about the favoritism accorded to “breeders.” But few people in age-restricted communities give vent to any such feelings. “I love children,” one fairly typical homeowner in Delray Villas, Fla., told The South Florida Sun-Sentinel. “But when you get to be a certain age, you want to be in a community where people around you are the same age you are.”

“I just want to be with people like me” is the argument made in favor of every kind of segregation. It was not an unreasonable-sounding argument even when it was being made by Alabamans and Boy Scouts and club men. But it wasn’t a winning argument either. What explains our sudden readiness to make moral exceptions when children are the ones excluded?

In part, this is the final chapter in the story of the baby boom. The 78 million Americans born between 1946 and 1964 used their clout in the market and in the electorate to twist all of society’s institutions into the shape of their needs at each given stage of life — freedom in the 60’s and 70’s, money in the 80’s and 90’s. From here on out, their priority will be leisure. Therefore everyone else’s priority will be leisure, too.

We have the trifecta: Racism, homophobia, and sexism. But don't get distracted from the main point, which is that the real bigots are those child-hatin' Baby Boomers. With their leisure!

You know, if you know anything about me at all, that there are few things I love better than blaming shit on Baby Boomers. But even I can't pin this on them, or at least I wouldn't do it as harshly as Caldwell does. It isn't "twist[ing] all society's institutions into the shape of [your] needs" when your demographic is that large--at that point, your demographic IS society. Why shouldn't institutions adapt to it?

Here's where my libertarian side takes over: If someone can make money guaranteeing residents a community free of children, why shouldn't they? (And conversely, why couldn't you have a community for families ONLY with children? Once the kids move out, you'd have to move too--that'd be one big problem.) What's the negative impact on society if this occurs?

Personally, I think if I had young children, a community of cranky-ass seniors is about the LAST place I'd want to live with them, but what do I know? And I realize that statement is uncomfortably close to "why do [subset of people] want to live where they're not wanted?" and I realize that's a perennial favorite question of, well, bigots, so maybe I've found my argument against child-free communities already.

Anyway. I expect people to let me have it on that one, so start loading the cannons. This ought to be something.


Natalia said...

People are super-sensitive about this sort of thing nowadays. I think the media is partly to blame for all this. Both parents and nonparents alike are being pigeonholed.

If you're a nonparents, you're a selfish ass.

If you're a parent, you're covered in baby vomit but desperately trying to be like Angelina Jolie.

ilyka said...

People are super-sensitive about this sort of thing nowadays.

Yes, and I almost put something in about this maybe being a generational thing: You used to have a bunch of people all having kids at about the same ages at about the same times more, I think, than you see nowadays, and as a result I think there was more an attitude of "it's everyone's job to help kids grow up well." When I was small it was quite common for strangers to suggest I quit doing something (I have a very vivid memory of a woman in a store asking me to climb down from a railing I was trying to clamber over, because "you could fall and hurt yourself!"), and for my own mother to side with them ("do as that lady says!"). And then she'd apologize to whoever had intervened for not reprimanding me herself. Now? Now I would never say anything of the sort to someone else's child for fear of the parent telling me to mind my business.

The net effect, though, was that (1) people without kids felt free to object to the same things they still object to and (2) people like my mother could relax a little knowing that she wasn't the only one keeping an eye on her kid. I may be looking at all this through rose-colored glasses, but it seems to my recollection that it fostered a more "we're all in this together" attitude between parents and nonparents.

But actually, I like your media explanation even better. The more isolated and fearful we make parents, the more safety gadgets we can sell them, right? The more Special Reports and Health Alerts we can make them tune into, during which they'll see lots and lots of marvelous advertising. Move the product. Who cares if parents and nonparents can't interact cordially anymore? Move the product!

The whole thing's been way interesting, I'll say that much. I just hope zuzu and Kat make up, because I totally heart them both.

Rob said...

That was interesting. I read it all the way down to the spam comment and I generally don't read all comments when they border on triple digits. I have learned in my 49 years that there is no way to successfully do this and that the feeling eventually passed. I was always outnumbered in this conversation when I was younger and really wanted to say something. When I was 30-something, I might have written something along the lines of this:

This selfish ass does most of the covering when the unselfish ones have to register their kid in school or take him to the pediatrician or leave early to take him trick-or-treating. This selfish ass is making up the taxes that those unselfish ones with dependents aren't paying. This selfish ass endures some unselfish one's crying infant at an 11PM showing of an R-rated movie (Altered States if you must know). This selfish ass is always the last one included, considered, or notified when an event is being planned because I have the fewest obligations and the lightest schedule (I think I used to love this one the best) and that's if I AM included, notified, or considered at all.

The truth of the matter is that I don't feel that way any more. I don't know if I attribute it to maturity or resignation but that kind of bitterness and yes, selfishness, is counter-productive. It didn't get me anywhere and it didn't change anything. Word to some of you unselfish ones, though: There are a lot of people your age who DO feel that way. Have you done anything that might justify it?

Zendo Deb said...

As a non-parent, you are not allowed to complain about anything related to kids. If someone's kids are complete out-of-control, say at a restaurant, bothering eveyone (except the parents who are never bothered) well that is just tough....

If parents want to censor the Internet because they don't want to even try to control their kids access - they would rather control everyone's access - that is just good sense. And if you object you must want kids to have acceess to porn. Don't argue - they are parents.

This is why I got out of the Cotillion. While not a group of mommy bloggers, there are enough mommy bloggers that it became insane.

Actually I think there was (and is) a whole group of parents - a majority? - that want to be their kids friends, not the parents.

Nathan Williams said...

A side note on the age-restricted housing: the real problem isn't so much the (limited) ability of an individual landowner or developer to declare a place age-restricted. What is a problem is the communities that are encouraging them over "normal" housing (with tax benefits, preferential zoning, access to town land, or just generally making the process smoother) because when they see children, they see costs, mostly from schools. Children have become, in planning terms, a LULU - "locally undesirable land use" - a term that used to be reserved for the likes of prisons and paper mills.

Darleen said...

Maybe, now that I'm a grandparent, I've moved to the valley and can let those on the rim continue to shout at each other over my head, while having fun with my grandchildren (twin boys who will be four next month).

Ilyka, you touched on something I remember from my childhood AND is missing in this...that yes, kids were an important part of society and stranger adults were free to comment on what was socially acceptable/not acceptable behavior.

I spent summers as a kid, getting up in the morning having breakfast then flying out the front door to play most of the day OUTSIDE with frieds. But with the knowledge that all the moms on the block might be outside at any time to check on us and they were free to discipline us as much as our own moms.

Find that today. AND find an adult who feels free to discipline someone else's kid without a lurking suspicion they might be sued.

Having children isn't easy, and it is a trade-off. But it comes with a lot of its own joyfilled compensations.

I do think a lot of childless people "get it", but certainly not the ones that toss out the label "breeder" or dismiss parents who find joy in their kids as "faked orgasms". That kind of hostility indicates some serious issues.

La Lubu said...

ilyka, I don't have a problem with senior citizens who want to live in an "active adult" community away from families. The problem I have is that when they do, because of the way schools are funded by property taxes, it becomes another form of white flight. So, you end up with school districts like mine that had to close the libraries at the elementary schools because funding is short, and hard decisions had to be made---while public schools in wealthy areas have a full complement of arts, drama, music, gym classes, extracurricular sports, languages---and libraries. And that sucks.

I think this is just another aspect of the class war. There's a tremendous amount of resentment---not at seniors who don't want to hear kids screaming while playing stickball---but at the fact that affordable housing for families is very hard to find, and when you find it, it necessarily involves a long commute (and thus, more time away from one's family---oh, and don't forget the price of gas to get from work to home going up!). Another bone of contention I hear at my break table is that those old folks gained their money at a time when good-paying jobs (with longevity!) were easy to come by. It's harder to save your money and compete against that demographic in the housing market when you have to deal with on-again, off-again employment.

Regular, working folks just aren't catching a break anywhere. That's where the resentment comes in. It's the despair of working hard and playing by the rules and getting screwed for it.

Amanda said...

One thing I thought about this weekend as I saw friends of mine that are parents (who do get out of the house a lot---one advantage of the "punk economy" is you have babysitters galore because you have so many childless friends who can pick that up for you) is that I was reminded that the majority of people I know who have kids are *not* sensitive about it. They wouldn't bat an eye at the word "breeder", even, though I don't use that word. Most people I know with kids are polite to a fault about not imposing them on others; I've had to reassure friends plenty of times that I really don't mind if they bring their babies when they visit, and yes the baby can sleep in my bed and it's fine I swear. It's a responsibility and they own it 100%, even when they don't have to.

With this in mind, it makes me wonder if the people squalling about anti-child prejudice are just a vocal minority.

Darleen said...

la lubu

I don't know what state you live in, but in CA, long ago, funding of school systems via property tax was ruled unconstitutional (equal access to public services). Money to schools is distributed to school districts by the state based on average-daily-attendance (ada) stats.

Which has its own set of problems.

A lot of senior citizen, retired folks communities offer services and benefits geared towards those seniors - assisted care, medical, field trips, etc.

If freedom of association means anything, then it means the freedom to live wherever one likes and that means within Leisure World or Little Italy.

Anonymous said...

I love my children. However, being a parent is a tiring and often thankless job, especially when you are doing it by yourself.

People who don't want children shouldn't have them and shouldn't be pressured to have them.

People who have children shouldn't be raked over the coals for every single thing; we are only human and sometimes we get it wrong -- and sometimes we are getting it right but it LOOKS wrong (my 3 year old once threw a screaming tantrum in a hallmark store and I left, and left her there...after a few minutes, she stopped, sat up, the clerks pointed to where I stood outside the window and she joined me and NEVER DID IT AGAIN. But I sure got some nasty looks from quite a few people for the five minutes she was beating her fists and feet on the ground).

There isn't enough mellowness in the world. Everyone complains way too much if things aren't perfect, without realizing that things never ARE perfect.

Marcy said...

When I was small it was quite common for strangers to suggest I quit doing something (I have a very vivid memory of a woman in a store asking me to climb down from a railing I was trying to clamber over, because "you could fall and hurt yourself!"), and for my own mother to side with them ("do as that lady says!").

Yes, it was that way for me as a child as well. I think that's part of the divisiveness that goes on today. You CAN'T correct other people's children in public nowadays. The parents go absolutely apeshit. So, you suffer in silence and add another entry to your parents-haven't-a-clue file or kids-are-brats-and-can't-behave-in-public file. It doesn't feel like we're all in this together. It feels like a battleground.

Having recently made a move across the country, I can testify that it is a regional thing. I notice that children here are a wee bit better behaved than children back east. And I notice parents are a wee bit more inclined to actually do something about it when their kid starts screaming in public.

I'm not a child hater. I have interacted with toddlers on the bus. Sometimes kids are fascinated with what adults are doing, and if I were doing something outside, like fixing my bike or something and a neighborhood kid wanted to stop by for a chat, I wouldn't care. But when kids are totally out of control, disrespectful (you're about as likely to have the kid cuss you out as the parent when you correct one in public), and a nuisance, I want to be able to go somewhere to get the hell away from them.

Darleen said...


Ah! You handled your 3 y/o's tantrum in the classic and most effective manner! Kudos!

Since I am a "Baby Boomer" let me pile on to things I find wrong with my generation in raising kids ... the fact that too many want to be their kid's friend rather than their parent.

That means having enough of a spine to endure a child screaming "I HATE YOU! I WISH I WAS NEVER BORN!" without desolving into a puddle of whimpering goo.

hearthmoon said...

As a nonparent (I hate that word, we need a better one), I feel completely comfortable about intervening with a child, or telling a parent I think she's wrong about something. If I have a concern--for myself, for the child, or for the parent--I feel okay about speaking up. It doesn't have to be about judgment. If the parent chooses to take it as an attack on their okayness (a rare response), I am sorry for them. It is my right and my choice to speak, though others can choose whether to listen. Children are responsibilities, not property, and the children of the world are my children, too.

Anonymous said...

We live downtown, in a diverse and eclectic neighborhood, on a street where at least five or more of my neighbors would know, if my four year old was out alone, that he shouldn't be. By that same token, I know that if one of the elderly neighbors died or became seriously ill, many of us would be checking up on them long before there was a smell.

What's missing, in so much of this animosity and division between parents and non-parents, is community. Not as shaped by religion or politics or breast vs. bottle feeding, but simply humans living near one another. It means that when there's a half hour child tantrum in the driveway, we all recognize that it's part of living in a community but being individuals--the same as having several cats or playing music in the afternoon. There are elderly people, gay people, artists, almost all major racial groups, renters, home owners, PhDs and working class barely getting by, kids, dogs, cats and colorful houses--and we all try to respect our differences.

That community means that it's unlikely that I could abuse my child and no one would know or care (a big problem in my fair city). My child couldn't tease someone's cat or throw rocks into their yard without someone else telling him to stop it. It's unlikely that someone could park a van next door and start carrying out stuff without someone asking if they were supposed to be there. If we live in a community, are we not charged with caring for one another to a certain degree? A childless person can see the importance of educating children, a young person understands the importance of caring for our elderly. In a community, people try to express concern, not criticism. "Is everything okay, is there anything I can do to help?" is different than, "Why don't you shut your kid up, what kind of a lazy ass parent are you?" It's a give and take, not an attack and defend, process.I think that's harder to achieve on the internet, where exchanges are not made face-to-face. People feel more free to be ugly to one another. But we all still have to live near one another and share the space we've got. As a matter of fact, we have a responsiblity to do that.

La Lubu said...

Darleen, I live in Illinois, and there are vast differences in funding of the school districts. Certain suburban high schools in the Chicago collar counties are more luxurious than downstate colleges; meanwhile, I remember not too long ago when East St. Louis high school students staged a walkout protest to draw attention to the fact they hadn't had functional indoor plumbing in a while, and they were tired of having to trot out to the port-a-johns. The kids talked about not being able to get credit for their science classes, because they didn't have a lab to work in. That's all the way wrong.

I think that unequal funding of public schools is an abomination. It's morally wrong, period.

And "freedom of association" doesn't mean diddly if you don't have the cash to back it up. There are losing parties on the other end of segregation and/or gentrification, and those folks deserve better than "huh. must suck to be you."

Darleen said...

la lubu

So, what do you want? Goverment to decide where you live? Where would you like to start? Wiping out Chinatown or just making celebs move out of Malibu?

Know what? Life is unfair. It's a crapshoot who we're born to and what fate may deal us in physical and mental abilities.

However, who we are as individuals is entirely up to us.

I lost my sister-in-law last month. A 44 y/o woman, high functioning mentally challenged who endured open heart surgery when she was 4 and lived the rest of her life never allowing her handicaps get in the way of what she wanted to do. She just had to try five times as hard. She wanted neither unearned praise or condescending sympathy. She just wanted the opportunity to try.

There wasn't a mean bone in her body and she was one of the most optimistic people I've had the pleasure to know.

We can all carry around resentment for the way things are, but what does that really get us besides acid indigestion? Old folks had it easier because of job longevity?

The Depression, anyone?

Add to that the considerable cultural restraints post WWII (a husband's salary could support the whole family but wives were expected to stay home or working outside the home was regulated to teaching or nursing) ... and homes of the 1940's-50's were considerablly smaller and simpler than housing today (I could do columns in how government regulation has helped create unaffordable housing). My parents bought their first home in 1954 for $14,000. Vet tract home, about 1100 square feet on a 1/6 acre dirt lot in the midst of orange groves in the San Fernando Valley. No a/c, no stove, no laundry facilities, no fences, no sewer (had a cesspool), no street lighting ... and they felt lucky to get it.

One can plan for the future and work hard for those plans. But sometimes life happens while we are making those plans.

It ain't some big conspiracy.

belledame222 said...

I think you're right, lubu.

that said, i do think that some of the more obnoxious behaviors from both parents and non-parents come from entitled yuppies who simply can't believe they have to share their space with/accomodate -those people.-

Betty Cracker said...

Amanda said, " makes me wonder if the people squalling about anti-child prejudice are just a vocal minority."

I think that's about right. I'm a parent, and I certainly don't resent adults having adult space -- I partake of it myself as often as I'm able.

There's no denying that having children is a life-changing experience. But I personally think the folks who make it the sole focal point of their existence from that day forward are unhealthily obsessed. They do their children, spouses, friends and community a disservice.

LauraJMixon said...

This raises several different issues. First, there is the law of large numbers. You cram enough people into a small enough space, and even if only 0.1% are being nimrods (on either side of the child divide), it's enough to raise everyone's hackles.

Second, everyone may not know what it's like to be a parent, but everyone knows what it's like to be a child, and in a public space, adults need to feel free to express themselves regarding what the appropriate use of that public space is.

However, people often bring sensitivity about certain issues from either from their own childhood, or issues they are struggling with as parents, and defensiveness and projection can abound because of these two factors.

Also, values can differ in a culturally diverse society, so not everyone will agree about what is or is not appropriate behavior for kids. That can create a tension that didn't exist when cultures were more homogeneous.

Once a woman becomes pregnant, there is a sense in which she becomes "public property," and everyone feels free to tell her how she should handle her pregnancy, her baby, and her small children. It can be quite oppressive.

Also, parenting can be very isolating. I have a group of friends for whom, basically, my kids are never welcome. It's rather painful, that these two small people who are so important to me, are so unimportant to these adult friends of mine that I can never bring them together. While it's certainly their right, not to want to associate with children, it creates a big gap in our friendship with them.

I guess the way I try to handle the situation, both as a parent and as a non-parent before, is to follow my own instincts, be frank about my own needs but give folks on the other side of the child divide the benefit of the doubt, as much as I can.

Dunno how successful I've been; it's a complicated issue.


John said...

" don't want to put words into her mouth, but for me, identifying as a nonparent while having the nerve to object to some things that some parents do is just asking for an ass-kicking from most parents sometimes. "

Well, Ilyka, I'm a new enough parent to remember what life was like before two aliens took up residence in my home.

What I objected to as a childless (and, when they were below a certain age, borderline child-hating) adult is pretty much what I object to as a parent. Unwillingness to say no, basically.

So I have absolutely no problem with the childless complaining about children.

What I have now is a little more sympathy. When I see a kid having a meltdown, I don't instantly think "bad parent", I think, "I wonder what drove the parent to go out when the kid is tired, and obviously should be home". I look at the situation, and sometimes it's a harried single mom or dad, and sometimes it's a Yuppie couple oblivious to the needs of anyone else, including their own children. If it's the latter case, then I go ahead and think "bad parent".

Brooklynite said...

A couple of thoughts.

First, if the parents who took their kid to a bar were complaining about other folks cursing or whatever, that's not bad parenting --- that's one adult being an asshole to another adult. If you take your kid to a place that's populated by grownups, you have no right to demand that the grownups there accommodate their behavior to your kid.

On the other hand, if the parents just took their kid to the bar, I don't see why they should get any shit for it. Maybe their sitter bailed at the last minute, and this was their only chance to see their best friend from high school who was visiting from out of town. Maybe the kid's mom was in a band that had a gig at the bar that night, and they'd planned a special night out to see her play.

I take my kid places most kids don't go. I don't demand accommodation, but I expect respect. If I'm not bothering you, don't bother me. Which brings me to...

My daughter was delivered by midwives in a birthing center. Because of complications after the birth, we wound up cooped up in the room for a day and a half. When my wife felt well enough to go out, we bundled the kid up and strolled down the street to a diner. It was the first sunlight or fresh air we'd seen in two days. We walked into the diner and a woman at the next table started complaining about the kid. She kept muttering and whining to the waitstaff all through our meal --- while the kid slept.

We did nothing to disrupt this woman's meal. She, however, completely disrupted ours. I think it's fair for me to have been mad at that woman --- I'm still mad at her, a little, today --- and I don't think it's surprising that my anger at her spills over onto people who make anti-kid comments at places like this. (There's a lot of stuff said on feminist blogs that's critical of parents without being anti-kid --- much of which I agree with, frankly. But there's a lot of stuff that's anti-kid, too.)

margi said...

It really all boils down to MYOB. And then everyone can have their own opinion without fear of reprisals.

But I have a tendency to oversimplify, don't I? Aheh.

Kaethe said...

My comment grew to long so I posted it at my place.

Trouble in Shangri La said...


I've spent my career working with "other people's children" (tm), and not the good ones, either, the throw-away thuggish types.

When I became pregnant with my daughter, I cried and was frankly depressed for several months. I knew my life, such as it was, had now irrevocably entered a new phase.

I like kids. I prefer mine to other people's, though I do like other people's children on a selective basis. I am the mom on the street whose house is always literally full of children, who keeps extra popsicles in the freezer, and who keeps extra kids for dinner at my house.

Having said that...Being a mom has made me LESS TOLERANT of bad parents, rather than more tolerant. I understood the significance of having children. Children don't come to us fully socialized, and then adults muck them up, oh, far from it. They come out of the womb as little mammalian animals and it is the thankless job of parents to humanize them into something fit for public consumption.

I am certainly not above fisking a parent for allowing her child to run amock in some public adult place, or kick the back of my seat on an airplane. I call children down at random and force them to behave in public places, even if I don't know them. My kids, being proper southern children, say "yes, ma'am" and "no, ma'am" and are capable of sitting at a table in a restaurant, behaving themselves, until the meal is concluded. I do not expect a restaurant to include a jungle gym because I am unable to police my children. it annoys the hell out of me when parents with toddlers allow said toddlers to violate my space (or that of my family) in a restaurant or comparable business by running around like whirling dervishes. I am fully capable of turning a stonelike and disapproving face on the parents in question and even proclaiming to my children audibly: "We don't act like that in restaurants."

Sometimes I talk about my kids on my blog, sometimes not. It largely depends upon how the mood hits me. I can go weeks without mentioning them and then talk about them nonstop for several days in a row.

Being a mother is not the sum total of my existence. I think no less of other people without children (though I do sometimes envy their free time and disposable income). I love my kids, but I look forward to free weekends I have when they are at their dads and I can pretend to be childless and unencumbered. I would never choose a different life, but I think we are all entitled to choose what our life will look like without being called names.

AB said...

You know, I'm a 24-year-old without children, and when I started reading that thread on feministe, I thought I was firmly on the side of zuzu and others who said, 'I don't like kids but it's sexist to say all women have to.' I don't go all googly-eyed over babies, and I get irritated when someone says something like "oh WHEN you have children you'll understand" or "you'll change your mind eventually!"

After having read through the whole thing, I couldn't help noticing one theme kept coming up, though: this idea that adults have the right to not be bothered by kids acting inappropriately. (Sometimes articulated as, "I don't have a problem with kids as long as parents keep control of them in public spaces.") And I keep turning it over in my mind--I mean, at first blush, it sounds good, but something about that just isn't quite square--and I'm not sure I agree with that sentiment at all, actually.

Do you really think that anyone has the right to not be "bothered" or "irritated" or "annoyed" by something in the public square? I mean, how is that any different Roeper saying that the Dove ad campaign should be taken down because he had a right to not be annoyed by looking at fat chicks in their underwear on the street? Or my uncle telling me that women with gray hair shouldn't be allowed to work out in his gym, because gray hair is "not what the buying public wants"?

I'm actually fairly curious what you think, Ilyka. I mean, maybe there is a difference--I just can't think of one. And I'm starting to think the acrimony might stem more from the difference between saying that one gets irritated by loud children while still recognizing that they have a right to be pretty much anywhere that the law does not prohibit them from being, and saying that "kids should never be allowed in [X]", where [X] is the one place you've decided should be adult-only.

Just some thoughts.

ilyka said...

I'm actually fairly curious what you think, Ilyka.

Oh just damn you people, with your excellent thought-provoking questions! What do you think I keep this weblog for, WRITING? THINKING? Honestly.

(I'm kidding, if that's not immediately apparent.)

I started to reply to this and it got into multiple paragraphs (few of which were actually coherent) immediately. Do you mind if I try to turn my response into a post?

The short version, though: I don't think I would claim a "right" not to be inconvenienced by children. That sounds too spoiled, entitled, whiny, and yeah, selfish.

Oh, and Kaethe, fair warning: I'm going to crib off your post a lot, I think. You brought up some excellent points in it. Thank you for alerting me to it.

belledame222 said...

yeah; that question, as so many, comes back to the grey area of the "commons."

I dunno about a right per se; but I do think it'd be good for everyone involved--the other people in the movie/restaurant/store/what have you as well as the kids themselves, if the parents were at least doing their best to make sure their offspring grow up into more or less socialized beings.

o'course if the parents -themselves- aren't too socialized, which, frankly, is not that uncommon, then, well, there you are.

belledame222 said...

...okay, I just read through some of that. um. who or what exactly is NYMOM, anyway?

jrochest said...

Yes, I think bars should be child-free zones. Ditto adult-oriented movies, adult-oriented theatre, all concerts except for bubble-gum pop and Raffi, and very expensive restaurants. And yes, this is for entirely selfish reasons: I did not dress up, stand in line, put on my most expensive dress and shoes and pay 200 for my evening to hear your 3 year old throw a tantrum. Frankly, when you do the same you don't want to hear someone else's 3 year old throw a tantrum either.

Kids belong in the public square when it's something they'll like and understand: when I go to a Pixar movie, the park, a fair or a mall I expect 3 year olds. When I go to a performance of Ibsen's _Ghosts_, I do not. Therefore, when the nice usher will not let you bring your toddler into the theatre do not pitch a hissy.

ilyka said...

I did not dress up, stand in line, put on my most expensive dress and shoes and pay 200 for my evening to hear your 3 year old throw a tantrum.

Oh great, jrochest: All across the internets, indignant mothers just started drafting posts explaining that their 3-year-olds are very well-behaved and how dare you judge their impeccable children by the occasional, chance, so-rare it-may-as-well-be-nonexistent, tantrumming 3-year-old.

This whole thing is starting to sound like a classic bad driver problem: Everyone in a large urban area with a lengthy commute to work complains about bad drivers. EVERYONE. And yet some of those complaining must be bad drivers themselves in order for there to be so many complaints.

But does anyone cop to that? Does anyone say, "That's right, I am the bad driver who cut you off at the exit ramp last Wednesday?" When I drove over an exit ramp median because I was stupidly racing some douchebag in a Geo Metro, causing $1000 worth of damage to the underside of my car, did I run around telling everyone what a dangerous driver I was? Shit, no. I told everyone how I sure showed that asshole in the Metro. I can't decide if I should be shot for driving that recklessly or for bragging about winning a race against a Geo Metro, but either way I was clearly the asshole.

It's just that no one wants to cop to being the asshole. And as several mothers have mentioned, here and at Feministe, it's no wonder. We've got a media devoted to dishing guilt, rapidly changing concepts of parenting and family, shitty support systems, and my personal favorite, parents who like to get a leg up by dragging other parents down. Throw in people like you and me who say "Also, please don't take your toddler to see Ibsen" and it's no wonder people get defensive. We're like the icing on the guilt cake.

ilyka said...

who or what exactly is NYMOM, anyway?

I wasn't too familiar with her before this, but best I can tell, she seems to consider herself a feminist even though what she advocates seems to be that women are superior to men by virtue of their being able to give birth. Also, I think she's probably familiar with every blade of grass in the pasture of the funny farm.

Anyway, she finally got banned, so yay.

Brooklynite said...

Kids belong in the public square when it's something they'll like and understand

My three-year-old's favorite movie is King Kong. Her favorite musician is Bob Marley. She dressed as Jane Goodall for the last costume party she went to.

I say all this not to brag about my beautiful precocious wonderful daughter --- though I can do that too, if you like --- but to point out that you have a limited grasp of what children "like and understand." Advocate restricting my child's cultural options if you like, but don't pretend that you're merely saving her from being subjected to things she doesn't like or understand.

If the usher refuses entry to my child the next time I take her to a museum or concert, I will not throw a hissy fit. If you, however, whine or roll your eyes, I'll invite you to go fuck yourself.

Trouble in Shangri La said...

We took my daughter, in a beautiful velvet dress, to see the Nutcracker (live) when she was four. She was beautifully behaved, and several adults complimented us on how quiet and mannerly she was. But, I'm an old-fashioned parent, and the performance was preceded by a great deal of work by her mother to teach her how ladies conduct themselves in public.

My ex and I started eating in restaurants with our children when they were babies at my mom's advice. She told me that if we waited until they were in elementary school to take them out to eat, they might succeed in never learning how to behave in restaurants.

My children were taught to use a napkin and fork, to put the napkin in their lap, to sit still in their chair, and to eat using good table manners. They say "please" and "thank you." Even when they were in a high chair, they were not allowed to cause a ruckus, get up and prance around like little savages, or throw things on the floor.

Frankly, I take a great deal of pride in knowing that when my daughter is in college or in the job force, she will know how to conduct herself properly, because her mother taught her.

After all, that is one of my jobs.

It is not so much of an issue to have children in public places, the issue is in parents teaching their children how to behave properly so as to avoid being a nuisance.

And i do think that other people have a right to go to dinner in a nice restaurant without having it disrupted by an unruly child.

In fact, we have friends with whom we will no longer go to dinner because their children are such a pain in the arse to be around. It's a shame, really, because the kids deserve better.

And, I partially believe it is due to parents being at a loss as to how to discipline their children, and how to distinguish between what is normal child behavior, and the type of behavior that children should really be learning.

That probably makes me sound terribly old-fashioned and archaic and I will admit in some regards, I am. My daughter was spanked for throwing temper tantrums when she was 2, which a well-meaning social worker told me might cause permanent damage.

However, it is my considered opinion that one of the problems at the root of all of this is self-indulgence. The thing about the mommy bloggers that annoys me is the same thing about badly behaved children that annoys is this fascination with every minutiae of child-rearing. and, the idea that everyone else should be as namby pamby, adoring, fascinated, and enthralled with your child as you are.

You don't really have to be the bad guy, or teach your children to behave in a socially appropriate way. They should be free to express themselves in whatever way they wish, and the rest of us, if we are annoyed by your children whirling around a restaurant like a dervish, are just big meanies.

Oh, and haters. Don't forget the hater part.

Trouble in Shangri La said...

p.s. My children were the ones who suggested that we should no longer dine with two families in our neighborhood. "Their kids are brats, Mom," said my (now) 12-year-old daughter after the last dinner we had with these families, when my children sat at the table and ate, and theirs ran around the table, annoyed other patrons, threw things on the floor, CLIMBED A TREE IN THE MIDDLE OF THE PATIO (A TREE, FOR THE LOVE OF PETE), and basically acted like jerks.

My kids and I sat there stunned and amazed. My daughter followed up her comment with: "You'd kill us if we acted like that."

Yeah. Perhaps. Grounding, at the least.

belledame222 said...

dnp>I think she's probably familiar with every blade of grass in the pasture of the funny farm

Okay, that's a keeper. thanks!

velvet girl said...

I agree with you that adults should be entitled to time without kids in certain places. And if there are kids there, then you should still be free to do or say whatever you want without feeling the need to self-edit.

Way back when, there used to be a consensus as to what behavior was appropriate in public. These days, there are as many parenting philosophies as there are parents and heaven forbid you try to inflict your parenting style on someone elses child. Also, having a child makes some people think that it raises them above the standards of decent social conduct and exempts them from having to consider the feelings of others, but these people were selfish shits to begin with.

To be fair to some parents, though, people without kids have become so sensitized by out of control kids (and rightly so) that parents who actually care about public behavior can't bring their kids anywhere without receiving dozens of scornful looks simply because they have kids. Unfortunately, it takes years and a lot of tough love to make these little people palatable to the rest of society. Some of us are really trying and do understand that not everyone is as enamored and tolerant of our kids as we are. But a few bad apples spoil the whole barrel.

Ron Sullivan said...

Brooklynite: ... I don't think it's surprising that my anger at her spills over onto people who make anti-kid comments at places like this.

Of course, it's likely that woman's anger at having had meals, movies, and the like disrupted by some darling's E-above-high-C wailing for five minutes or so the evening before was spilling over onto you and your baby. No, I don't make a habit of scowling at quiet infants myself; I'm good at keeping a straight face. I even have a few tricks to quiet them down: harmless, even soothing tricks. But there's your cycle.

Rob, the "selfish ass" who picks up the slack at work, has a lot of company. I've been there, and I've seen it at work for thirty years or so. Family Values evidently includes, and I'm quoting directly though I'm munging, "X needs to have the holidays off because she/he has a family!" Meaning kids, of course, as nobody else counts as "family." I'm talking about a pool of hospital nurses here; holidays need staffing, period. But after a few years being bumped like this, of not having the option to volunteer for that allegedly coveted holiday pay, one begins to get impatient. Who'll wipe your ass when you get old? If it's a holiday, probably someone without kids. Your own kids will of course be home having a family holiday with your grandkids. Maybe they'll visit at 3PM.

ab: Do you really think that anyone has the right to not be "bothered" or "irritated" or "annoyed" by something in the public square?

Compare and contrast: your uncle not wanting to see gray-haird women and that guy nattering about the Dove ads versus you or me not wanting to be annoyed by catcalls when walking across the square, past the infamous construction site, past the titty bar. Or by seeing some pathetic dick's pathetic dick when he flashes it on the street. Lots of space for discussion there. Imagine the Hollaback NYC Girls on the case. Hmm.

Personally, what gets to me is flying messy stuff (food, typically) or noise levels distinctly above the ambient noise in the space. Especially that high-pitched shriek that can mean anything from "My arm just got cut off" to "Ooo, it's PINK" and the whole range in between. I thought that would get less grating as I got older and began to lose some of the high-end hearing range, but in fact it's worse. Both physically painful and still a strong pull on my Emergency! responses. Ow. What I'm doing in my imagination when I hear that is dumping a bucket of water over the little siren and saying, "Oh, I'm sorry! I thought you were on fire."

I'll save the people shoving strollers into traffic to stop it, and into my tendons at the museum, for another rant. Happens metaphorically, too, as witness that snotty remark to zuzu from her sister in the original topic over there.

Brooklynite said...

Ron Sullivan:
But there's your cycle.

I agree with almost everything you say here, Ron. But I do want to quibble with this just the tiniest little bit before Ilyka turns out the lights on the thread.

Someone with a kid behaved like a jerk to the woman in the diner. The woman in the diner behaved like a jerk to me and my family. That's not a cycle, that's two people being jerks to people who'd done nothing to deserve it.

I really do think we make a mistake by framing this as breeders against non-breeders, or people who want piece and quiet against people who have kids. Public spaces are for everyone. We all have an obligation to behave non-disruptively in public spaces, but part of behaving non-disruptively is accepting small disruptions good-naturedly, and welcoming all sorts of folks into shared spaces. (I say a lot more about this on my own blog, here.)

Miss Robyn said...

To preface, I am not unfond of children. I don't have any- and to be honest, anything above and beyond caring for Mr. Catface is far too much of a burden for me at this point in my life. However, I have, in the past, done my share of waitressing at "family oriented" restaurants. Which, you know, kind of made me want to slit my throat, and is why I'd never work at one again.

Why? Because the parents who do allow their children to act like brats usually think said children are the most adorable things in the world. "Oh! He wants to make friends!" a mother once squealed after her darling five year old pelted me with cottage cheese (which I loathe). Also, more than not, the kids would make a ridiculous mess- drawing on tables etc., throwing food, etc.- and the parents would leave a crappy tip. Presumably because my real tip was the honor of being in their precious childrens presence for two hours. But- that's what you get for working at those restaurants.

What I really don't get, however, is why on earth I see, every night, children out and about at bus stops and walking down the street with their parents at 2am. My bedtime was 7:00 until I was like, 9 or something, and then went up incrementally by half hours from then.

Oh- also- need I mention the fact that you apparently have to bring a child with you to get into Chuck E. Cheese? An utter travesty for skee-ball fanatics everywhere.