Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Presence of Children

There were a few posts that were arousing lively discussion on Facebook feeds this week. I'm not going to bother to look up links, because if you were lucky and missed them, you have undoubtedly seen their like. One was a columnist whining about how his extremely expensive dinner was interrupted because some fellow diners had the gall to bring their 8 month old along, and the baby cried. Another was some random blogger ranting about how she despised people who had children because that was, like, so lame. (OK, I confess, I didn't even bother to read that one.)

That doesn't really concern me. There are always going to be some cranks in the world who cannot stand being made aware that other people are doing their part to perpetuate the species. What bothers me is the number of conscientious parents who respond with statements that amount to, "I would never inflict my children on other people."

Not just explaining that they taught their children to behave in public . . . no, acting as if they must apologize for their children's mere presence, and keep them out of the way of other people and never, ever expect other people to suffer even a moment's awareness of their children's existence, in any setting not specially designated as being for children. Asserting that they understood that just staying home and away from various settings was the price they paid for indulging in having children in the first place. Claiming that it would be "selfish" to expect other people to deal with the presence of their children.

This is itself a symptom that many good and dedicated parents have internalized the message that children are a private hobby of the parents, for which they alone are responsible, and with which they alone must concern themselves. But children are not puppies nor appendages of their parents. They're people in their own right. If they are in a public setting, whether onlookers think it was wise to bring a child to that place or not, it is only asking simple human courtesy to expect them to be treated with decency and respect, instead of resentful glares.

I don't take my children to fancy restaurants or symphony concerts because fancy restaurants and symphony concerts aren't my thing . . . but if they were, I certainly would. How do we expect to perpetuate our culture if we exclude the next generation from participation? You only learn culture by participating in it; if you wait until people are cultured enough to participate, it will already be too late as they will have been getting used to something else in the meantime.

People may rightly complain about the bad behavior of some children; honestly I see more parents feeling a need to crack down on their children than I see children running wild, but I'm sure there are some hooligans. But in a way, this private hobby approach to child-rearing only makes the problem worse. Modern parenting is a lonely job. Facing skeptics at every turn only makes it worse. It's hard to stage a production when everyone's a critic instead of a support cast.

What I don't understand is why there should ever be this hostility. I certainly don't look down on people who don't have children--my children's lives and my own are richer for knowing other adults whose lives are not consumed with child-rearing. My children are better behaved for being reminded of proper behavior from other adults--when their right to exist and be present is not questioned. And the people I know in real life without children, unlike the internet cranks, seem to appreciate the fact that other people are making sure they don't have to grow old on an empty planet.

And here's something I will bother to link to: G. K. Chesterton (who, by the way, never had children) on Baby Worship.


Wendy said...

Very interesting post. I am certainly not of the "wouldn't inflict my children" ilk, but I also wouldn't take a baby to a fancy restaurant unless I was reasonably sure the baby wouldn't be fussy, and, even then, I would have a back up plan for leaving if I couldn't get the baby to settle down.

People complaining about a baby making any noise at all (even in a formal setting) are just wrong, however, people who insist that their baby be welcomed in a formal setting when the baby is inconsolable are also wrong.

I agree that I have seen more of the first than the second, but I have seen the second, and seen it where, to the parents, it was a philosophical statement. Not that it helped the baby much!

It feels like this is a variant of the breast feeding in public argument. Actually, it's also a variant of the modesty argument.

If the adults were to act with moderation, common sense and an awareness of other people, none of these would be an issue.

Queen of Carrots said...

I agree that moderation on all sides is the appropriate action. And of course if you have an inconsolable baby you should do whatever you need to make the baby comfortable. (Which, as far as we know, the parents in question were doing.)

It seems to me that complaining about the mere fact that a baby was crying and concluding that babies just don't belong in certain restaurants is rather like complaining because an elderly patron had a heart spell and it disrupted your dining experience, and then concluding that older people just don't belong at sufficiently fancy restaurants. Common humanity ought always to trump the right to never be interrupted.

Diary of an Autodidact said...

It always thrills me to find another fan of Chesterton. (Okay, so I already knew you liked him.) Great use of the power to link.

New Mommy said...

Why do none of those "grab your tissues" posts on facebook ever make my eyes moisten, but Chesterton's article does? Thank you for this poignant reminder.