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May 18th, 2010 by wrekehavoc

this morning, i read an article in the washington post about the clashes between families and childless folks in urban areas.  there has been a resurgence in the past five to ten years of people with children returning to the cities and taking over places that childless folks assumed were their domain; urban parks, stores, and restaurants are now places where people with children demand equal footing.

to be sure, some businesses are attempting to bridge the gap with family-friendly happy hours. (!) (wish they had had them when i had young children.) and i certainly think that public parks and public property are places where children ought to be able to share space with dogs and dogs with children. but i also think that parents these days have developed a sense of entitlement — that they are now parents, and so the world should bend to them — coupled with unrealistic expectations about life as mom or dad. don’t get bent if you are asked to fold up a stroller before getting on a bus. i’m sorry if you are upset that you’ve children in tow, groceries in hand, and a bus driver who requires you to take your $500 stroller and fold it. maybe you ought to reconsider how it’s all done– have someone watch your kids when you hit the grocery. use a grocery delivery service. buy a car. take a cab.

move to the ‘burbs.

i once got into a huge tussle on my favorite board, dc urban moms about this topic. a parent was upset because a local watering hole (a place which hosts poetry slams and which, at least at the time, was not meant to be a kid-friendly place, at least not at night) was somehow unable to accommodate her baby with a highchair when she was taking her baby out to dinner with her hubby at 9pm one weeknight. to me, there were all sorts of wrong in this concept. i’m sharing bits of it because it pretty much says it all.

if you sense that a restaurant isn’t family-friendly AND the proprietor is not really interested in making it family-friendly after you’ve
asked about making it so, it is the proprietor’s right to have his/her place of business as he/she feels it ought to be, and it is your right as a consumer to not patronize the place. if everything were family-friendly; if every neighborhood catered perfectly to people with families, well, i think we’d be living in some sort of perverse disneyworld-like situation. no, thanks. i like my world with grime, even if i have to shield my kids from it now and again.

i have two children (one who has always behaved perfectly everywhere and one who, well, to put it nicely, is working on it), lest anyone out there think i am someone who is not herself interested in child-friendly places. and child-friendly places do NOT mean you’re doomed to only chuck e cheese and mcdonalds (which, for the record, i abhore and don’t even allow my kids to eat
their chicken nuggets after watching “supersize me”). [snip] places that are noisy; places that have highchairs; places that welcome you and your business are the places you might consider supporting by bringing your families there. heck, my kids enjoy a variety of ethnic foods, so it isn’t like our life has been wildly limited by this idea.

but what burns my butt is this presumption that because we are in a new phase of life called parenthood, everyone must bend to our experience by having what we want in every venue we want it. face it — there are some places where kids ought to be left home, at least in the evening. as one poster noted, some places are not venues that are even ENJOYABLE to kids; maybe they’re too
fancy or too cool or too high-falutin.’ and while you might not consider your child’s spitup to be nuclear waste, some people might think that this is not the experience they signed up for when they sat down for a nice meal. (and believe me — it isn’t just the childless patrons out there — when i go out for a special evening meal sans mes enfants, i don’t want to see someone else’s kid barf, nor do i want to smell someone steaming in an overdue diaper change, either.) just because *you* have a glass of wine before you have your meal so that you are feeling good about your restaurant experience with your children doesn’t mean that the people next to you who have to listen to your kids shriek through dinner are going to be equally mellow (unless perhaps you buy your dining neighbors some wine, too.) in short, i don’t just get annoyed with the parents for how they manage their children in public; i am annoyed with them for even bringing their children into an inappropriate venue in the first place. and a glass of wine won’t make me feel any better about that.

i was brought up by people who taught me that i have rights, and they extend as far as where the next person’s start. i was also brought up to believe that there are others in the world whose needs and interests are just as important as mine — and sometimes, moreso — so consideration is always in order. that means everything from getting up and offering seats to elderly people,
pregnant women, or someone who clearly needs my seat more than i do. it also means, for me that even though i would like to go to some trendy place, i need to recognize that some venues are clearly better for my kids, for their comfort as well as for that of others. my kids “practice” their restaurant behavior in places where the restaurants are more prepared for little patrons who may not be ready for fancy or trendy places; and anyone who patronizes such family-friendly places knows what they are in for when they walk through the door. (highchairs are a dead giveaway.)

i am certainly considerate to others when i see them bring their children into a restaurant or other venue which i don’t think is an appropriate choice for them — it isn’t like i storm out — but honestly, it does often detract from my enjoyment of the place, and it isn’t like i have a money tree in my backyard to even go out to such places all that often. when i do, i really wish people would think first before bringing the kids. (i mean, sheesh, 9pm is not an appropriate time in my book to be starting dinner out with a toddler –
not if you care at all about the kid being into solid sleep patterns. i feel sorry for the kids in that situation.)

there will be plenty of time for my family to go to nicer places when i think they won’t disturb other diners. if i really, truly want to go to more grownup places, i get a sitter. but right now, mostly i really prefer hanging with my kids. if that means that for a few years, we go to more relaxed, family-friendly places for the time being, so be it. it’s all about expectations. i think some people fall into parenthood and naively think that their life won’t change — they are just adding a child/children into their 20-something, 30-something, or 40-something regular routines. your life DOES change — and in ways for which you aren’t prepared, way beyond sleeplessness and all the other stuff 10,000 parenting books tell you. imo, you need to adjust your expectations a little – it is only temporary, after all.

i got a lot of private email cheering me on; i also received some slams over judging people who take babies out to dinner at 9pm. hey, you are the one with a burgeoning sleep problem looming on the horizon, i thought to myself.  unless we were on vacation, we would never have taken our children out to dinner that late. (and even on vacation, that sort of start time is a nonstarter around here. we try to keep a semblance of a schedule in our lives, if only to keep everyone on an even keel.) to each his own, i suppose.

but seriously. people need to understand that children aren’t accessories to and for a life already in progress.  children change the equation. as as a parent, you need to alter your expectations accordingly.

it is different; it is not worse.


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