As my mother once said at a christening when asked if she wanted to hold the baby of the moment, I don’t really like children except for my own.
Gasp. Shock. Am I allowed to say that, if I am a mother?
Well, perhaps my feelings are not as stringent as that. I do like children that are fun and friendly, that can talk without being precocious and play without destruction.
Children should be approached like unknown animals! Treat them with respect and get to know their quirks before you scare them into pee’ing on the carpet or biting your hand.
I’m only kidding. Well, maybe.
Children are people with personalities, feelings, worries and learned behaviours, just like adults. Learned behaviours are often taught by observation so, as a generalisation, should we assume that badly behaved children have learnt such behaviour from their parents?
A child cannot be expected to instinctively know how to act politely at a dining table or to walk calmly and quietly in a museum. They do not understand that they should give up their seat on a bus for the elderly or turn off their mobile in a theatre. Manners and consideration for others are taught through example and explanation. I think that we often forget that, whilst complaining about the way children behave ‘today’ and resenting them for the noise they make.
Does this mean I think children should be allowed to go everywhere an adult can go? No, I don’t.
Take a restaurant, for example. I spend the day with my children and when I go out in the evening for a meal with my husband, that is adult time. That is when I want to enjoy his company without being interrupted by the ‘cuteness’ of the small child flicking their peas at me from another table or being unable to hear the conversation due to the screeching of an over tired or over stimulated baby.
However that doesn’t mean children should not be allowed out to a restaurant after dark. But there are intimate restaurants where I would expect only grown ups to be and family orientated places I would not book if I didn’t expect to hear children. Although I still believe the adult with that child should be exerting some control over them and setting the example of the behaviour they want to see. A child climbing on the table or thumping the back of your chair whilst you sip your red wine is one that is being allowed to by a grown up.
Or consider a museum. The function of a museum is surely to educate and therefore great places for children to visit. Of course they should be there; but not rampaging about the halls disturbing others. Not, mind you, that I agree that you should whisper in such hallowed halls. Talking is allowed, bellowing is not.
Common sense in parenting?
In many cases I think the key is not whether children should be allowed in an adult-orientated place but that, if a place is adult-orientated, is it firstly suitable for children and secondly, has the child been taught the appropriate behaviour for such a place?
Common sense should surely prevail. Children should go to films made for children, not the movies specified for adults full of violence or terror. Go for a pub lunch, but take them home before the evening drinkers arrive for a saturday night session! You cannot expect other adults to mute their language or ribald jokes because you have brought a child into their evening, yet nor should you want your child exposed to adult themes.
Of course there are venues that are not suitable for children due to the nature of the place – friday night in the town centre for example. There are plays on at the theatre that were not made for children to hear – the Vagina Monologues are a good case (I saw it recently, but that’s another post).
But there are also places that are down to the discretion of the parent. A father should be able to judge if their child is ready to display the appropriate behaviour in an expensive restaurant at lunchtime. A mother has to make her own decision as to whether her child is of the right age to attend a beauty salon.
I do ‘blame the parents’.
Or rather, I do believe the parent is nominally responsible for their child. Of course children have so many outside influences on them, from teachers, school friends, television, films and magazines. But the main and constant factor in their life is their parents (or responsible adult).
The parent demonstrates from their own example how to behave at the dining table at home. I know, from our own mistakes in this! We spent the first few years of my daughter’s life without a family table to sit down together at and teaching her table manners has been a hard slog as we sought to instill them from a late start.
You could argue that you cannot ‘practice’ behaving quietly in a museum. But I would disagree. Start with the weekly trip to the supermarket. My kids began by learning that they were to walk with me and not disappear at top speed down the aisles. I have a particularly strong memory of re-capturing my daughter aged 3 and carrying her kicking and screaming while I marched out, red faced and no doubt watched by a large tutting audience. But you know what, she now knows to walk calmly and not sprint off when pre-warned of what is expected of her. I have no concerns about taking her to other public places.
And after all that . . .
No, children should not be in adult-orientated places. But defining what is an adult-orientated place could be difficult except for the most obvious few. So perhaps it would be better to say that when in a place that is aimed mainly at adults the child should be able to behave in a non-intrusive manner. And don’t expect the adults to adjust their behaviour because you brought your precious bundle of joy into their child free time.
Written for the DP Challenge. Weekly Writing Challenge.