The Mommy blogosphere has been buzzing this week over Pittsburgh restaurant McDain’s decision to ban children under the age of six. Most of the comments and blog posts I’ve seen feel that this is discriminatory and unfair. I can see both sides of this issue, even though the decision grates on me too. I have never taken my daughter to a fancy restaurant or a bar, at least not since she graduated out of the living-in-the-sling-totally-quiet-and-discreetly-nursing-all-the-time stage, around six months. She’s been to one movie since she was older than six months old (an afternoon showing of Rapunzel), and even that we would have left if she’d made any noise (she didn’t). I’ve never actually left my groceries in the cart and walked out of the store, but I would if she was throwing a tantrum. And I’ve walked out of Target and Barnes & Noble plenty of times with a kicking, screaming toddler tucked under my arm. My point is, I don’t keep her in public places if she’s not able to handle it at that moment. We leave. Period.
But I think there’s a deeper issue behind this decision–and the responses it has sparked–than just respecting the public peace. I really liked Wendy’s response at her blog, Autism is a Trip, and not only because she addresses how this affects special needs kids, which is an aspect that a lot of people don’t think about. But she also touches on something that I think is important: the question of what it says about our society–and where our society is going–that we are so opposed to kids being kids that we want to keep them hidden out of public view. “I fear for a community that would rather me keep my child behind closed doors,” she writes.
This isn’t just an issue of parents’ right to grocery shop or childless adults’ right to not hear kids screaming. It’s actually an issue of public health. Because the desire in our culture to keep babies and kids out of sight is pervasive, and it extends to a lot of things that directly address our health and our parenting.
It extends to the discomfort with breastfeeding in public that recently caused the city of Forest Park to pass a law banning extended breastfeeding in public. (And yes, I know that kids over age two don’t usually need to nurse on demand, but the biological age of weaning is probably between ages three and seven. And anytime you equate breastfeeding in public with indecent nudity, you demonstrate how disgusted our culture actually is by the act of breastfeeding, no matter how much we claim to support it.) It extends to the discomfort with toileting and accidents that I think is probably a big contributor toward the ever-increasing age when kids in our country finish with diapers. (In cultures where elimination communication is the norm, accidents in public DO happen occasionally–but they’re cleaned up and they’re not a big deal. In our culture, we’d rather deal with diaper rash and landfill waste for an extra year or two than wipe a little pee off the floor.) It extends to the discomfort with what birth is really like that encourages women to take drugs during labor so they won’t make noises that would disturb anyone else. (And this mentality is fast disappearing, thank goodness, thanks in part to private labor suites, but I don’t think it’s completely disappeared.)
The truth is, I don’t think our culture likes children very much. We like the idea of them, but we don’t like the reality. And until we are more willing to let kids learn how to behave in public, despite the challenges along the way–and support parents instead of criticizing them–we’ll continue to have kids who don’t know how to behave in public. How are they supposed to learn without practice?
Here in Atlanta, there’s only one restaurant that I know of (the Vortex) that bans children. Not a place I would take a kid anyway. So I hope this doesn’t come across as a rant–it’s not really an issue that affects me directly. It’s just a question.