My Children Have A Right To Be Here Too

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Over the last few months, I have become acutely aware of how other adults react to my children in public. I have concluded that people fall into one of three categories. People either:

1. don't care or pretend not to notice my children,
2. engage with them or me in a friendly, understanding way - ranging from a simple smile to physical interaction like hugs and high-fives, or
3. are completely disgusted or annoyed by them.

Obviously I prefer the first two kinds of people. To those people who talk to my kids kindly and treat them warmly, I love you. Thank you for being decent human beings.

To those who have a problem with kids in public, I have a message for you.

My children have a right to be here too.

Go ahead, argue with me. I can listen to your stupid reasonings all day. I've already listened to my three-year-old cry "I want some spicy!" (soda) over and over for 30 minutes. I have the patience of a pony giving free rides at a petting zoo.

 You say, "Oh, well if your kids can't behave in public, maybe they shouldn't be out."

How about you take your big head out of your butt and imagine for just a moment that you have walked into a foreign market for the first time. You don't speak the language. You're surrounded by strange people. The vendors are selling all kinds of things around you you've never seen before. You are completely sucked into the experience - the smells, the sights, the sounds. Suddenly you realize you're walking opposite the flow of traffic. Maybe you're standing in someone's way. Maybe you can't read the sign that says "Don't touch". You don't know where to check out or how much something costs. All you know is that you found some things you want because they look fun or familiar. You become confused, overwhelmed, and frustrated. That is probably exactly how children feel in a store.

Luckily, kids have parents to guide them through this crazy, foreign world. They can translate words so children understand. They can teach the finer social customs and skills little humans need to navigate the world. But how can these things be taught and learned if they aren't practiced?

Children need experiences and opportunities to learn these social skills and customs. They require extra time and understanding because their brains and bodies are learning and adapting. Parents act as a buffer for kids from the outside world. We give them a safe space and time to learn skills. As a stranger, your primary responsibility is to either help us parents or shut up and GTFO.

Parents are charged to ensure children's health and safety. Part of that means exposing our kids to new experiences at a level and pace they can reasonably handle. That's why there are kids sections at libraries. That's why there are special kid movie times at the theater. Those are an appropriate space and pace to learn.

I don't take my young children to the swanky, hipster restaurants to eat. I don't take them into jewelry stores or let them run willy-nilly in art museums. They don't have the skills to cope with those situations.

Places like Target, the grocery store, the library, the thrift store, the doctors office, those are all places my kids are reasonably allowed to be. Stop acting like their presence there is an offensive surprise to you.

So, ornery old lady at the dollar movie theater - when my one year old peeks his little face between the seats behind you to say hi and get a better view of the screen, don't turn your head around and scoff at me. My son is learning what a movie theater is and how it feels to be in one. YOU are the one who walked into the kid's show at the dollar theater. YOU are the grown-up here. Act like one.

Adults at church who are annoyed at babies crying and nursing and toddlers being walking, destructive destractions, I'm talking to you. Strangers who make off-hand comments in the grocery store about parents enabling bad behavior, you're on my hit list. Downstairs neighbors who complain daily and make recordings of kids playing and laughing from the apartment above them, there's a special place on my bad side for you. Not like I know anyone like that in real life.

Kids are allowed to be kids. They are allowed to run, play, laugh, cry, be sad, feel joy, dance, sing, and explore. I do my best to give them the space and freedom to do these things without disturbing others. But as a mom, I can only do so much. Kids are their own people too, with independence and curiosity. They have feelings and opinions just like adults do. Our expectations of children should not exceed their level of experience and skill.

For the first five years of a child's life, the world is their school. They are learning how to be in a store. They are learning how to be in church. They are learning what things are and how to behave. In the school of life, every single person plays a role. By your words and actions towards them, children learn about the world. You are either a teacher or a bully. You choose.

© Channing B. Parker. Design by FCD.