Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A new trend?

I was half-listening to radio news this morning and they mentioned something about some businesses choosing to have "child-free" times, or to be entirely "child-free."

I know there's a restaurant in Pennsylvania that was much in the news because the owner decided he didn't want people bringing children younger than 6 to his restaurant. But on this radio report, they also said that some Whole Foods stores were considering having special "child free" shopping hours (Though I think, maybe, "Adults only" might be a better phrasing?)

Two things I can see about this:

1. If it's a private business, and is not something like the only hospital in town, then they are totally within their rights to decide whether small children are welcome or not. (I feel the same way about smoking in bars and restaurants: the business owner can decide. And then I can decide whether I patronize a place or not based on their policy. In my case, the places that didn't allow smoking - or that had a separate smokers' area with separate ventilation - would get my business).

Would I shop at a grocery store that had special "child free" hours? Yeah, I would. And if I were at all free during the posted hours, I'd go then. (Though frankly, shopping at 7 am on Saturdays like I usually do pretty much guarantees a child-free - and in fact, childish-temperament-in-adult-body-free shopping experience).

Though to be honest - as I commented above - I've had far, far bigger problems with childish adults in the grocery store than I've had with children. Usually the worst thing that happens is a kid melts down because he or she is tired, hungry, spent a whole day at school or daycare, and just wants to be home. And while it's a little unsettling to listen to a fussy child in the can get away from it.

What bugs me more are the adults who do stuff like meet a friend in the aisle and then they both park their carts and block the entire aisle while they talk, oblivious of the fact that other people are trying to get around them. Or the guy on the cell phone, slowly walking down the aisle of spaghetti sauce, reading off each brand name and subvariety within brands to his wife, until he hits on the one she wants, because he was too lazy to write it down when she told him. Or the person who gets in the 20-items-or-less lane with 45 items. And has a handful of coupons. And wants to write a check. And oh, is writing that check for $40 over the purchase price because they want cash back. Or the person who picks a fight with the cashier because they want to use a coupon that's expired or invalid, and the cashier tells them "no."

As for restaurants and stuff - well, I think the problem there is not so much children as it is poor parenting. Yes, babies can be difficult at restaurants, and sometimes parents just have to accept that either (a) they will be getting carry out until the baby is old enough to be left with a sitter or to behave in the restaurant or (b) they go to 'family' places where it's more tolerated if a baby starts to cry.

And even at that - a screaming, crying baby does present a problem in a restaurant. I know friends of mine who had a baby, just planned and traded off - if they were at a restaurant and the baby started to cry, whoever's "turn" it was picked the baby up and walked with them - even if it meant walking out of the restaurant for a few minutes - to try to calm the baby down. And yeah, your food gets cold and you don't get to talk to your spouse and it kind of sucks - but I tend to also think there are some things you sort of "sign up" for when you have a child - and being able to get up and try to comfort that child when they're upset is one of those things. (And yes, I know, sometimes babies just CRY. And that's a problem. But I think of a recent lunch out I had with my department, we were interviewing someone for a new position. We went to one of the better restaurants in town. Shortly after we arrived a couple showed up with a small baby. The baby was ok for a while, but then he started to cry and scream - so loudly that I couldn't hear the conversation at my table. The parents of the baby were oblivious - they kept eating while he screamed and cried. I had a headache by the time I walked out of the place.

And yeah, maybe some of the parents will say it's unfair of me to expect a parent to do something about a crying child in a restaurant. But if the child is crying so loudly that you are across the room and can't hear a conversation, and the child keeps crying for fifteen minutes? I kept hoping one of the waiters would say something to the parents but they did not.)

I've also seen, on rare occasions, kids who run amok in stores or restaurants. Often the parents aren't really watching them - they're talking with their friends or on their cell phone or something. And, I don't know, I was raised in an era when there were several very scary high-profile stranger-kidnappings of small children, but it makes me twitch to see children not being carefully looked after.

In some cases, I've even heard of parents going off on some other individual (store clerk, waiter) who tries to get the kid to settle down - "Don't you stifle his creativity!" Parents who do that - who don't give the child any discipline - are not really doing them any favors. Also, the parents who offer empty threats - "If you don't quiet down, we're leaving" said 20 times with nothing happening loses its power. And the kids learn that there may not be consequences to their actions. (Which is REALLY a disservice to the kids, and is also a disservice to their future employers, co-workers, teachers, etc. I wonder if some of my students who get huffy when I won't accept late papers got so used, as kids, to their parents telling them something would happen, and then it never did.)

When I was a kid, if my mom said to me, "Quiet down or we're leaving." I knew that if I DIDN'T quiet down, we would leave. Even if that meant she didn't finish her shopping and there was no milk to drink with dinner. Or if it meant we didn't see the rest of the movie. Or whatever. Or, else, my brother or I were told, "Behave, or you'll be in trouble at home." And while our parents weren't big spankers - I do remember being sent to my room a few times immediately after getting home. Or being made to stand in the corner. Both of which were actually pretty serious punishments to me, because of the "shunning" aspect. And also, standing in the corner was BORING.

But it does seem now that there are a critical mass (though maybe there always was a critical mass) of parents who are either more interested in their own lives to the point where disciplining their children, teaching them manners, seems like too much effort, and anyway, isn't that the school's job? Or other parents who believe that their children are free spirits who should not be crushed under a load of rules and expectations, and if that child wants to run up and down the aisles of a restaurant, he or she should be able to do that.

I remember growing up, "restaurant manners" were a big deal. My parents would practice them with my brother and me at home. Then we'd go to a "family restaurant" (A common one was one known as the L and K. I don't think they exist any more) where infractions would be a little less of an imposition on other diners. And then, finally, when we'd proven we could behave, we went to "better" restaurants. Maybe not the fanciest ones ever - certainly not the Tangier in Akron - but fancier restaurants.

Another thing my parents did was that they paid attention to us at the restaurant. They talked with us while we were waiting for our food. I remember playing many, many games of "I Spy" or "Twenty Questions" while waiting for food at restaurants. Or, when my brother was learning his alphabet (and I don't remember it, but maybe while I was learning my alphabet), "Can you find something that starts with the letter....?"

And I think it's little tricks like that that help kids behave. Oh, I know: my brother and I were basically good kids and without anything in the way of physical or developmental problems. But even absent any problems, I've seen some kids who just acted up in places like stores and restaurants - and in some cases, I think that maybe kids act up BECAUSE they don't have their parents' attention and they want it. My brother and I, because we knew we had our parents' attention, we tended to behave a little better.

So I don't know. I hate that the no-child policies could be seen as punishing parents who do make an effort to teach their children manners and have them behave. But from the other side of things, I can see how having Special Snowflake parents who want to diddle on their smartphones while their baby screams loud enough to upset the other diners can lead a business owner to want to ban all parents of small children.

However, my second thought on this:

This is just going to divide our society further. It seems that there are people just looking to take umbrage, to be insulted, by everything. I'm sure there are parents who are aghast that their perfect little angels might not be welcome in a particular restaurant, and where does that restaurant owner get off? And we should call our Representative and have a law made! And how would the crabby old people feel if some businesses decided to ban them! And how is this different from the segregated South, anyway? And on, and on.

And that's why, I admit, I'm not crazy about the idea of "child free" things. What I would like to see is the parents who don't raise their children responsibly step up and instill a little discipline. And do things like, if your child is on a loud, extended crying jag, pick them up and carry them away from the other diners in the restaurant. As I said, yeah, yeah, it sucks. Yeah, your food gets cold. Yeah, you don't get to talk with whoever your dining companions are. But the rest of us will thank you for it.

Oh, one last thing: A few times, when I've seen particularly well-behaved kids out in public - I remember one time, taking a long distance trip on the train, there was a dad with his daughter and son, both of whom were under 10, and they were just the best-behaved kids I'd seen in a long time - I say something. I congratulate the parent on having well-behaved kids, or say something that hints of, "I know parenting is hard work, but it looks like you're putting in that work, good job."

1 comment:

Heroditus Huxley said...

First, I would never take my small children anywhere that wasn't a *family* restaurant. Second, I don't permit them to throw tantrums while I ignore them, unless the toddler's in time out. And that's only at home. They don't scream in public. Usually, they're too interested in what's going on around them, but we have spent time walking the infants around while food gets cold.

Instead of "child-free" (unless and until they count adult children, too), I wish they'd designate restaurants and stores "shi##y parent-free." Because that's where the real problems are.