Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Memo to society: Children are not optional!

Want to start an argument? Get together a group of people and bring up the topic depicted in today's New York Times, "At Center of a Clash, Rowdy Children in Coffee Shops." In the year 2005, should children in public be seen and not heard?

We've all been there as the parent with the child who is melting down just at the wrong time. I've made a last-second connection on a packed Southwest Airlines plane, walking down the aisle with my squirmy toddler, watching 200 people avert their eyes as they silently prayed "Please don't try to sit next to me."

Today's NYT article portrays the clashes in the public sphere between parents with kids and people without kids--for the purposes of this discussion, the "child-free." A cafe owner in Chicago posted a sign saying that "children of all ages have to behave and and use their indoor voices when coming to A Taste of Heaven." I do see two sides to this issue. Parents should teach their children to act reasonable in public, and pay attention and make adjustments when there's a problem. In the NYT article, people's gloves definitely came off and predudices showed through when the cafe owner said that the mothers who were upset by his sign were "fomer cheerleaders and beauty queens" who "have a very strong sense of entitlement."

I have to break it to the gleefully "child-free" that children are not optional to society! Before I had a child, I viewed having a familiy as purely a personal choice. But now, in addition to the personal satisisfaction I get from having a family, I view childrearing as an unpaid, essential service to society. As the Baby Boomers retire, who will serve as their doctors, lawyers, and caretakers? Our children. That annoying toddler you see running around right now might build your house, legislate as your congressperson, or hook up your oxygen tank in 30 years.

In the meantime, most of us are doing our best to raise well-behaved children. The truth is that all children "have their moments." On Sunday my family is leaving for an around the world adventure, accompanying Michael on a business trip to Australia, China, and Japan. I am fascinated to see how we will be received around the world. On our 24-hour plane trip, my daughter (who is now 6) will surely have her ups and downs. But I will not apologize for our right to be there and to claim our space in the world.


Anonymous Christina said...

There have been some really great discussion about children and travel on the Lonely Planet messasge board "Kids to Go" (

These are people who take their kids, from newborns to teenagers to every nook and cranny of the globe (and I include myself in this group) and there have been great discussion along the lines of "why bother taking your kids abroad under the age of 3 or 5, when they wont remember it?" and some of the best answers to that question that I read were that, if kids under 3 don't remember anything than why do we bother taking them to the park or limiting their TV time, or playing games with them? The point is because it's good for them and good for us to take them traveling, also we don't all want to put our traveling lives on hold because we have young kids. and lastly, when fellow travelers on a plane are upset that there are children near them, they need to realize that we travel to broaden our horizens and see the world and have new experiences, and the truth is, children are part of the world and if you are going to be at all open-minded then that needs to include the experiences of being around children, especially if that is something you are not used to. So, anyway, I think this can apply to everyday life, whether you are at Taste of Heaven or the post office. SOrry if this was somewhat rambling, I am writing this with a two-year-old on my lap and a sick 4-year-old right next to me, both of whom are needing some attention, so that all!

11:11 AM  

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