“These Are My People.”

This post was written as a response to this week’s Weekly Writing Challenge from The Daily Post.

I’ve been asking around, both in person and online, for people’s opinions about children in public. The consensus seems to be that children are people and should be permitted to go to any place that people are allowed to go (barring a few places that children should definitely not be (strip clubs, NC-17 movies, etc)). There is also agreement that there is a certain expectation for behavior in each public space, and it is the parent’s responsibility to judge whether at that moment his child is prepared to meet that expectation. For example, if adults are supposed to be quiet in a particular venue then children should be quiet, too, and their parents or caregivers are responsible for making sure that they are or removing them from the public space.

I agree with this idea, too, but I find that it’s not always easy to discern what other people’s expectations for a child’s behavior are.

Back in Utah, the university put on productions of favorite plays for children. Homeschool families were invited to buy tickets in the nosebleed seats on the days that school children were being bussed in for daytime performances. I took my 5-year-old daughter and one-year-old son to a performance of Frog and Toad: The Musical. We made a day of it, taking the bus and light rail to the university, always a thrill for my kids. At the theater, the school kids down in the seats below us cheered and groaned and bounced in their seats as they responded to the action in the play. My daughter loved the performance. My son was mostly interested in smiling at our friends behind us and across the aisle. When he started to get fussy, I nursed him and he fell asleep. He napped for most of the performance.

It was a raucous scene, but that was to be expected with an audience full of kids. Besides, it was fun and none of the raucousness seemed to disturb the actors or diminish anyone’s experience of the play. But someone must not have appreciated it because after that performance, word went out that future performances would be for school-aged kids and their parents only; younger siblings were no longer invited to attend.

The restriction against younger siblings seemed strange to me. Were they sure it was the siblings and not the school-aged kids who were noisy? Could they have taken care of the problem had they made their expectations for behavior more clear ahead of time so parents could understand better how to encourage their children to act? There’s no way to know because the people behind the program jumped right to “no younger siblings” without trying better communication about expectations first. We didn’t attend another performance, so I don’t know what effect—if any—the restriction had on the chaos. For our family, the restriction against younger siblings was effectively a restriction against my older daughter as well.

Another example of clear versus unclear expectations happens for us at the library. In Salt Lake City, the expectation for behavior at the library was clear. The Main Library was set up with the noisiest areas—children’s, circulation, the coffee house—at the lowest levels. As you went up towards the fifth floor, the atmosphere got quieter and quieter. Patrons knew that if they wanted to focus on quiet research, the fifth floor was the place to go. But if they were down in the children’s level, they should expect laughing, playing, jumping, skipping, and singing. My children knew that this was the expectation, and we all acted accordingly.

Our town library here is much smaller. There are two levels, a children’s level and everything else. When I’m picking up holds or checking out “grown-up” books upstairs, my kids get noisier and rowdier than I’m comfortable with. Every time I shush them, however, the librarians always say, “Oh, no! They’re fine! Really, don’t worry about it.”

This is a situation in which the expectation for my children’s behavior—and as a result my behavior as their parent—is unclear. It’s also different from the expectation for grown-up behavior (at least I think it is; I’ve never actually tried tackling other patrons or throwing my construction helmet on the floor and yelling, so I might be off-base about grown-up behavior expectations, too). Since what seems to be acceptable to the librarians is different from what feels acceptable to me, I have decided to explain my stricter expectations to my kids before we enter the library. (I mentioned this technique at the end of yesterday’s post.) It works pretty well provided I remember to do it, and I’ve not taken the toddler out when he’s overly tired or hungry.

But even in situations where the expectations for children’s behavior are clear and I’ve outlined them ahead of time and made sure everyone is well-rested and well-fed and not overstimulated, sometimes my kids just act like heathens. In those situations, I welcome a little understanding from my community.

I have a friend who gave birth last month to twins. They are absolutely adorable, but they’ve been keeping her up literally all night long. She’s had mastitis, troubles finding childcare, and now her husband’s employer is requiring him to work 12-hour days to make up for the couple of weeks of paternity leave he took. She’s running on fumes and is having trouble seeing a way to make things better. The first day her husband went back to work, she attempted to mail two boxes of baby and birth items to friends who were expecting babies of their own soon. With her newborn twins and her three other small children, she trekked to the post office. Things started great, with the older kids helping each other carry one of the big boxes. Once they were all inside, though, all Hell broke loose. Her children did not act at all according to expectations. She went home consumed by tears and hopelessness, even though—as far as I know—no one complained to her about her children’s behavior.

Even with just two kids, I have experienced similar mortification and the sense that I’m in way (WAY) over my head, and in it entirely alone.

The parents in my social circle are well-educated. Most of us have participated in parent education programs and consulted child psychologists and read libraries full of books about childrearing techniques. Many of us come from larger families or have nannied or babysat other people’s kids, so we came to parenting with experience caring for children. We’re not idiots, and we’re not inconsiderate. We’re merely overwhelmed. No one needs to reprimand us for our parenting; we’re already doing that to ourselves.

Blame, shame, restrictions, and complaints don’t help. Being worried that we’re going to be kicked off a commercial flight if our toddler has a tantrum doesn’t help. An idling vehicle impatiently vulturing our parking spot while we’re trying to wrangle children and groceries doesn’t help. Getting the stinkeye at a restaurant doesn’t help. Being asked to pick up our kids and our winter coats and leave in the middle of a church service doesn’t help (this happened to me when my 6-month-old was making happy-baby noises during the pre-sermon portion of the church service—in compliance with my expectations for his behavior but apparently not in line with the minister’s expectations).

I agree that parents should take responsibility for their children’s behavior. But I also believe that the other adults in our community have a responsibility to recognize that there might be extenuating circumstances or unclear expectations that might inhibit a parent’s ability to enforce appropriate behavior.

So, what can we do when we’re faced with behavior that irritates us?

Last Sunday, I heard a guest minister speak about community and connection. She told about a time when she was on a flight that had been delayed on the tarmac. For more than an hour, she and her fellow passengers sat in the stuffy airplane, unsure if they were ever going to take off and worrying that even if they did, it might not be safe to do so. People began to get irritable, snapping at the flight attendants and worrying aloud about their connecting flights.

The minister took a breath, looked around, and thought, “These are my people.”

As soon as she thought, “These are my people,” she felt calmer. A smile relaxed her face. And even though she’d said nothing out loud, the atmosphere in the plane seemed to relax, too. The people around her seemed to grow kinder and more patient. Whether this was just a function of her shift in perception or if the people were actually responding to her shift in mood, it made the wait more tolerable for her.

If we could look at parents and their children and think, “These are my people,” could that ease some of our irritation? Children are, in fact, people. So are their parents. If we could look around and recognize that not only are children people, but they are our people, maybe we would have more tolerance for them. Maybe we would have more compassion for them. And maybe just through our compassion, we could help them feel more empowered as parents.

Parents might be making different choices than we might and their children might be acting according to a different set of expectations than our own, but they are still people. They are still our people. Treating them as such will likely ease their difficulties and our irritation as well.

What is your expectation for children’s behavior in public spaces? What is your reaction when you see a child behaving badly in public? What do you think of that child’s parents? What do you think of that child? What do you do?

52 thoughts on ““These Are My People.”

  1. Interesting post and comments. Having a “spirited” child, I tend to have more understanding than average for parents struggling in public. Maybe it’s because I’ve been in their situation, or maybe it’s because I’ve become somewhat immune to the antics of hyper little kids over the years. However, I agree that there is a time and place for everything, which is why I probably wouldn’t have taken my son to an opera or art exhibit when he was 2-3 years old. Great post!

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  2. Great piece! Thanks for sharing! As for your questions . . .

    What is your expectation for children’s behavior in public spaces?
    It completely depends on the public space. I love the library floor example with different sound expectations for each floor–that’s pretty smart. I think you have the right idea with trying to keep noise levels to a minimum in church, at plays, or in restaurants where people are trying to have their own quiet conversation or reflective experience (or when they are listening to someone on stage or at the altar). But it doesn’t bother me at all for kids to be kids at venues that allow for it like parks, malls, festivals, etc. People who prefer to be away from children can go to more “grown-up” places and stay away from toy stores and kids’ summer movie specials in the summer for example.

    What is your reaction when you see a child behaving badly in public?
    What do you think of that child’s parents? What do you think of that child? What do you do?

    If I’ve been watching the bad behavior build and build and see the parent taking no action but rather coddling the child, I tend to think the parent could be doing a better job in that moment. It is the parent’s role to set rules and limits for what is and isn’t appropriate. Sad to say that in our society many parents seem to give in to their children’s fantastical whims and overindulge them, forgetting they have the power (not to mention the purse strings). I don’t really blame the children because it’s the parents’ responsibility to keep things from going overboard. I might say something if there is wailing or screaming that’s getting really out of control, but obviously, the parent knows that in that kind of situation, so it’s probably better to be patient and compassionate and wait for the parent to act.

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  3. I must admit I am one of those annoying people who has no shame. I will politely, gently and with a smile scold a random child I see misbehaving. Sometimes parents are grateful for this and return a smile and sometimes not. My fiancee hates when I do this because his opinion is it is none of our business. However, if a misbehaving child is invading my “space”. doesn’t it become my business? I suppose that is part of the question at hand!

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    1. I am all for saying something to a child who is moving beyond what I consider safe and reasonable. Mostly I try to do this in a gentle and/or joking manner, but I don’t mind speaking sternly or giving a stern look to a child who persists in doing something unsafe (I try to reserve the sternness for safety issues. I have a tendency to make children cry when I’m stern. Unintentionally, of course). Sometimes kids respond better to correction from a non-parent adult. I don’t mind if someone does this for my children, either, so long as they do it with the purpose of alerting my child to unacceptable behavior rather than punishing or scolding me. (That last situation rarely happens to me, though…or maybe I just rarely let myself think it’s happening. I’m pretty big on assuming positive intent and acting like the world already is the way I want it to be.)

      Thank you for your comment!

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  4. Good thoughts! Thank you!

    Came to mind:
    “Learning is finding out what we already know. Doing is demonstrating that you know it. Teaching is reminding others that they know just as well as you. You are all learners, doers, and teachers.” — Richard Bach

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  5. I work behind a counter in a supermarket in an affluent area, which basically means that the whole spectrum of middle-class parenting walks past me every day. In the year that I’ve been there, this is the conclusion that I’ve come to:

    You’re right that kids are kids and they will behave like kids. Sometimes that means being perfect little angels and sometimes that means yelling their heads off and having a meltdown (which I am often perfectly placed to see because my counter sits right in front of the freezer where the icecream is.)

    But it’s not so much the behaviour of the child that attracts attention – it’s the behaviour of the parent. If little Elizabeth is screaming and trying to climb up the shelves and all Yummy Mummy is doing is talking on her phone and ignoring her child’s behaviour, people (customers and staff) get wound up. But if the parent is engaging with the kid and at least trying to connect and calm them down then people are a lot more forgiving – whether or not the parent is all that successful.

    I’d say that the child’s behaviour tends to be a *much* less important factor in determining whether or not the evil eye will come out than the parent’s behaviour.

    YMMV. That’s just what I’ve observed, in my little corner of the world.

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    1. I was first to reply. (My feedback is at top next to CJ’s original post). As replies pile up—especially after the article was awarded “Freshly Pressed”—I have been fascinated by the many opinions & suggestions. But I had a feeling that the view of many readers had an underlying commonality. Until now, I just couldn’t put my finger on it…

      Kudos to Anna (reader feedback just above this one). Touché! You succinctly express what so many others have tried to say—including me: The problem is not with kids in public, but with the parents, and how they deal with their children.

      I accept this. But what exactly is the problem with some parents? (or perhaps the transient problem on their bad days)…

      Taking children into public places is perfectly reasonable. But it requires a little common sense, planning, taking into account their moods and past behavior, and fielding an appropriate reaction to disruptive outbursts. None of this needs to be overly restrictive. It simply means that the parent is prepared to react appropriately: No hysterics and no ignoring outbursts completely. That wouldn’t be fair to the public or to the child. That’s why it’s called “parenting”.

      Of course, this pithy soliloquy doesn’t address the problem concerning other adults who glare at or eject a responsible parent. Individuals who do not have children, or a few that have perfect angels or kids who are ‘scared silent’ by an authoritarian parent, may overreact or exhibit disdain to a wonderful parent with appropriate responses. It is in these situations that I suggest you either ignore the unwanted attention (if it comes from another guest), or take your business elsewhere (if it comes from the management).

      It’s unlikely that we parents can turn every business into a kid-friendly environment. But we needn’t take guff from the few that ostracize us. And in my opinion, these situations are few enough, that it does not interfere with choice or commerce.

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    2. Thanks for your comment, Anna. What do you think is the purpose of giving parents the evil eye? Do people think it will change the parent’s behavior, or do they just do it to help express the irritation they’re feeling?

      Incidentally, I find technology (specifically phones) to be a major source of rude or inconsiderate behavior among both people accompanied by children and people who are not. Because one of my personal goals is get better at observing without judgement, I try to remind myself that I don’t know what they’re talking about (maybe she’s talking to her sister about their mother in the hospital or something). But that’s harder to do when I can hear their conversation. I’m not sure what the solution is to rude behavior. Maybe a better sense of connection to the community?

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      1. I think there’s an element of attempted shaming in giving someone the evil eye (although it seems like something of a waste of time, given that the parents are either fully aware that there’s a problem or are completely oblivious – either way a glare won’t change a thing.)

        I think that the solution to phone-related rude behaviour goes back to your original post – clear expectations. Phones are still relatively new tech in the grand scheme of things, so we’re still developing the etiquette to go with them. People have sussed that it’s unacceptable to be on your phone when you’re being served in a shop, for example, but I think it’ll take a little bit longer for being so involved in your phone that you’re not able to give an adequate level of attention to the space around you in a more general sense to become explicitly unacceptable and rude.

        It’s just a time thing, I think.

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  6. You had some interesting comments. Generally children being children don’t bother me. What I seem to be seeing too much of lately are attention-seeking behaviors that are being ignored by parents that don’t seem to have adequate parenting skills. Just last Friday night at a fast food restaurant, I saw two beautiful little boys that were acting like they just wanted to talk to their parents (and were up a little past their bedtimes). But they were being completely ignored because it looked like the parents had just gotten new iPhones. The mother even had her back turned to the older child. This went on for the entire time we were eating our dinner. At one point, I thought the youngest was going to fall out of the high chair. I don’t blame the children. If you can’t put your new technology away for a few minutes to speak to your child, then there’s a problem. Too many times what I see is parents that can’t be bothered with their own children, and that’s just wrong. Those parents do get “the look.”

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    1. I’ve been thinking a lot about your comment, Cynthia. I think it’s a tough one. It’s difficult when we see children so clearly expressing their needs and their parents aren’t responding to them. The Dalai Lama says (and I’m really roughly paraphrasing here) that feeling compassion doesn’t necessarily mean that we condone someone’s actions. But then, what’s a person supposed to do when she encounters someone doing something that seems to be causing suffering to someone else? I do try to remember that I don’t know what the story is behind the scene I’m witnessing. Perhaps this couple really were just enamored of their new toys and ignoring their kids. Or maybe one works during the day and the other works at night and they were at the restaurant getting a quick dinner before passing the kids from one parent to another and they needed to set up their new phones so they could contact each other in an emergency.

      But whatever the reason for their parents inattentiveness, we’re feeling for these kids who aren’t getting the attention they need from the people they love. What can we as outsiders to the scene do about that? Try to influence the parents actions (via a comment or “the look” or pointing out the child nearly falling from the high chair)? Try to engage the children in some way? Just sit and feel compassion? Try to ignore them and eat our meal? I really don’t know.

      Thank you for your comment. It’s given me another angle to consider.

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  7. I would agree with some of your other readers, in that the parent should determine beforehand if the child is ready for a public situation/place/experience. If they aren’t, no sense in taking them there. If they are, then great! If you think they are but then they act out, I think the parent should remove the child from that situation. Of course there would be a few rare situations where this would not apply. But I think in most cases this should be the case, including restaurants. If they are acting out at a restaurant, then it would seem that they aren’t ready for dining out.

    I do have sympathy for parents who are at least trying to teach their child good public behavior. It’s the ones that don’t care what their child is doing that is bothersome. It’s sad for the child and disrespectful of everyone else.

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    1. Thanks for your comment, sweetsound. It sounds like we’re pretty much on the same page regarding our expectations of parents. It can be difficult sometimes when there’s something we really need/want to get done and the children are in tow to stop and make sure our kids are in a good position to behave the way we want them to (and that we’re prepared to give up the needed outing if things go all to heck), but it’s better for all involved when we can do this. Of course, kids like to keep us on our toes. As my mom used to intentionally misquote, “The best laid plans of mice and moms go often awry.” Sometimes the best a parent can do is damage control, despite his best forward planning.

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  8. I loved your post… Repeat loved it..
    I don’t have children and honestly am comfortable around them. Meaning I don’t know how to interact. I tend to be quiet and withdrawn and when tricycle motors are present at a loss of how to speak to them. All that being said I have always been annoyed by adults who are not tolerant of children and the at times antics they entertain.
    If parents make an effort to manage their charges, I’ve always supported them and their children. When a parent ignores or allows bad behavior without any attempt to sway said behavior that’s a different story of course..
    Altimately all people have good and bad days, grouchy and upbeat, quiet and loud moments to expect children to be different is not very intelligent thinking.
    I often see teens treated differently just for being teens and being of youngish features I myself have been treated different by business owners and shop keepers… My point is kids are people just like adults and I am inspired by “these are my people”
    Thanks for sharing…
    After reading this I may find more courage to speak to kids and their parents.

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    1. I meant uncomfortable not comfortable…. But it’s not the children it’s me not being accustomed to them..

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    2. Thank you for your comment.

      I appreciate your point about being treated differently because you look young. While I no longer have that problem (don’t know if it was hitting 35 or having two kids or some combination), I used to encounter it a lot. Back when I was a doula, one of the nurses at the hospital where I volunteered treated me quite rudely, and I couldn’t figure out why. Then she and I ended up in the break room together one day, and she asked me what my major was. When she found out I was long graduated, working full-time at a large local corporation, and doing 12-hour overnight shifts at the hospital as a volunteer doula on the weekends, she treated me much differently than when she’d thought I was an undergrad. The shift in how she treated me also caused me to see her differently. It all had a happy ending, I guess, but it would have been nicer had the assumptions and biases not been there in the first place.

      Good luck with finding the courage to talk to kids and their parents. Keep in mind that it doesn’t have to be anything big or even anything spoken. Even just holding a door, moving a shopping cart obstacle, or just a smile can make a big difference. If it’s any consolation, it’s taken me more than 7 years of intense 24/7 parenting to feel even remotely comfortable around kids. I have my go-to games and jokes for other people’s kids, and I do fairly well if they’re an age my children have already reached. But give me a kid who’s 8 or older, and I’m incredibly awkward.

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  9. I’m not a parent, but i believe that children are the most important people on the earth. They are the future and it is our job to ensure their growth. We need to scold them and praise them when necessary because our effort spent on them today will translate into the future of tomorrow.

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    1. Thank you for your comment! At the very least, children are people, which isn’t how many people see them. Which is strange to me; weren’t we all children once (more or less)?

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  10. “Being asked to pick up our kids and our winter coats and leave in the middle of a church service doesn’t help (this happened to me when my 6-month-old was making happy-baby noises during the pre-sermon portion of the church service—in compliance with my expectations for his behavior but apparently not in line with the minister’s expectations).”
    That was not very nice of your minister. Leave? Does your church want members?

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    1. Well, we’re not a denomination with a missionary tradition; perhaps the minister at that particular church took that to mean that we actively discourage new members.

      Thanks for your comment!

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  11. I’ll never forget the day when my seventeen year old was about four years old. We were going to Target to get school supplies for her older sister. I told my four year old before we left the house, on the way, when we got out of the car, and before we entered the store, that we were not buying any toys. She got the message. However, when we got to that area of the store, she started clamoring for a toy. I told her no. So she stood smack in the middle of the aisle, stretched out her little arm pointed her finger at me and screamed as loud as she could, “you are a big loser!” It just goes to show that as hard as you work at preparing your kids for a trip out, it doesn’t always go the way you plan. Don’t judge the parents or the kids. You don’t know what the real story is with them. Just sympathize. And maybe give them a thumbs up!

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    1. Four-year-olds certainly come up with some good ones when they want to, don’t they? I hope I never forget what it’s like to be on the receiving end of one of those four-year-old tirades. It certainly sounds like you haven’t! Thanks for reading my post and thanks for you anecdote. I’m sure to think of it next time we’re in Target.

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  12. A memory is coming up from the mists of time and the depths of my addled brain of babyproof rooms at picture theatres. You could take your children or babies there if they got restless or noisy. I never saw the point. Children of a certain age aren’t going to be qjuiet just because the expectations are that thjey should be. I mean,mummy wants to see the movie, but what’s in it for them? On the other hand, I do see the point, those rooms would have been an absolute lifesaver for parents who were desperate for an outing. I think, though, that these days there are more family friendly places for parents and children to share. Great post.

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  13. I think when a child acts badly in public, if possible the parent should take action immediately. For example, if a child is tired and cries in a restaurant, the child should be taken out of the restaurant as not to bother others. Would you agree?

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    1. Thanks for the comment! While I don’t agree that a child crying in a restaurant is necessarily “acting badly” (most times when I cry it’s because I’m completely emotionally and/or physically overwhelmed, not because I intend to misbehave, and in my experience this is mostly—if not always—the case with children, too), I do agree that a parent has a responsibility to judge whether her child is in a position to be sitting still in a restaurant or if being somewhere else (running on a playground, napping in their bed, snuggling with Mom/Dad with a stack of books, etc) would better meet their needs. Parents should take into account the needs of those around us, the needs of our children, and our own needs as well and act accordingly. But of course, that’s a lot of juggling and sometimes we drop a ball or two despite our best efforts. And when I’m the only adult dining with my kids and one of them acts up, there’s always the concern that someone will think I’m trying to dine and dash if I leave with my kids before I’ve paid my bill.

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  14. Really great post and congrats on being FP.

    For what it is worth, here are my two cents worth. I’ve always been of the mind that you set clear expectations for your kids before entering a situation. Taking them to only family friendly places certainly helps alleviate that worry. And for goodness sake, don’t worry about the glares and stares. Most (sadly not all) are really trying to figure out if they can help or are thanking God that it isn’t their kids this time:-)

    There were many times my husband and I declined invitations because we knew a) we wouldn’t be able to relax with the kids with us and b) other people, who needed to relax wouldn’t be able to do so. It is a balancing act and all you can do is have a sense of humor about the whole thing. Maddening though it can be. I am here to tell, reporting back from the other side, that setting those expectations early will lead to many more successful outings when the kids are older. They will know how to behave and you will enjoy being with them. While we were/are far from perfect parents, we were able to start taking our children to really nice restaurants by the time they were in their early teens. They knew how to conduct themselves and we could enjoy outings as a family.

    One other thought has to do more with parent responsibility and respecting the rights of other patrons in public places. I cannot tell you the number of times I have been in a PG-13 or R rated movie and parents are there with their young children, late into the evening. I become very uncomfortable watching something that is for adults when small kids (I am talking anywhere between 4 and 12) are in the same room. I think it is a reflection of our very laissez faire society and lack of boundaries. If kids don’t learn boundaries when they are young, they will have a hard time adjusting later in life.

    So do the hard work now and you will have instilled in them what you and your husband deem are proper boundaries. If you are stricter than the library requires, so be it. Follow your instincts, momma. They are spot on.

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    1. Thank you so much for your comment and for reading my post. I like this bit: “Most (sadly not all) are really trying to figure out if they can help or are thanking God that it isn’t their kids this time.” As I’m typing these comments, I’m realizing that I need to do better at thinking “these are my people” when I encounter negative reactions from adults. Thankfully, I don’t get much practice doing this because only very rarely do I hear anything but supportive comments (although more often in the grocery store, which must be just a miserable place to start with if everyone’s so irritated so often).

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  15. This post is well written and, at first glance, seems reasonable, but . . .

    (1) You seem to be saying that parents should be FREE to take their children out and about . . . children should be FREE to be kids . . . and other adults in the venue should NOT feel free to look askance when children are disruptive ~ e.g., “Getting the stinkeye at a restaurant doesn’t help.”

    That seems a bit lop-sided and unfair.

    (2) You play the sympathy card for your friend while describing her going to the Post Office, having all hell break loose, and then going home consumed by tears and hopelessness.

    Of course, no where in the outing do you describe what other people in the P.O. were doing. The implication is that “they” somehow made the situation worse . . . but did they?

    Or did her tears and hopelessness stem from the fact that she now realizes she should have stopped at 3 kids?

    (3) I believe that a sign “well behaved children are welcome” serves to put parents on notice that there ARE expectations they should be prepared to meet if they CHOOSE to bring their children into that venue.

    It is then incumbent on the parents to seek clarification, if necessary.

    (4) Before asking “the rest of us” to recite the mantra, “these are my people,” maybe parents should do the same . . . before insisting on taking children into venues not designed with children in mind?

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    1. Thank you for reading and commenting, nrhatch. “These are my people” is a way of seeing ourselves as members of a larger community. It’s for every person, which is why I suggested that “we” use it. The minister who spoke about it told how effective it was for her among a group of adults in an unpleasant situation on a plane, in her public life, and in her home with her family. I’m simply suggesting that rather than allowing things to divide us, we search for common ground. Looking for common ground won’t change what’s going on around us—we can’t control anyone’s actions but our own, anyway—, but by doing so, we might find that we feel less suffering. And that is a suggestion, not a requirement.

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  16. I agree with what you’re saying here, assuming that the parents actually care. I know that there are a lot of parents whose kids are misbehaving and they try to get things under control, but it doesn’t work. That’s fine. It happens. I once had a kid run up to me and stick his hand in my Cinnabon bag because he apparently really wanted the cinnamon roll, and his mom had to drag him away a couple of times and distract him with a vending machine. I knew she cared about how he acted and what he was doing.

    There are parents I’ve seen who simply don’t care at all. They don’t care about the well-being, safety, or perception of their children at all. And that’s where I think it crosses the line and becomes a gray area. Why let these parents bring their kids wherever they want and disrupt everyone else? Of course it’s not the kids’ fault, they don’t know any better. But it somewhat can punish the adult for not doing their job if they can’t go to the places they’d like to go because their kids act like hellions.

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    1. Thank you for your comment, Samantha.

      I have certainly encountered parents who seemed to not care about their own children much less how their children’s actions affect other people, but I can’t be sure. And that was kind of my point in the post: that we can’t be sure what else is going on in a parent’s life that might be hindering her ability to be there for her children. That’s why I try to assume positive intent as much as possible; it helps me feel less annoyed and victimized and more empowered to make a positive change in society via my actions. I can’t control what a business chooses to do viz. allowing children in their establishment or not. I can only control how I respond as an individual, so I chose to focus in this post about the responsibility of the individual in society rather than whether a business should or shouldn’t be allowed to ban children (I actually don’t know where I come down on this particular issue…I can see several angles). But I will suggest that, if a business bars all parents from bringing their children to a public place (coffee house, restaurant, etc) in order to punish the parents who “don’t care,” isn’t the business also punishing the large number of parents who are doing their best? (This assumes that the ban is really a “punishment,” which I’m not sure it necessarily is. And I won’t get into my thoughts on whether punitive action is effective or not.)

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  17. I try not to get rattled with people in public places – we don’t know the cirumstances and things go wrong. People need to realize we live in a society and that at some point something will intrude upon us – do we accept it graciously and live together helpfully, or do we lash out and make the situation worse by demanding that our needs be satisfied? I’d rather accept that sometimes people are noisy and ugly – and hope that parents are able to judge when it is time to take their child/children out of situation where things are going awry. I think there is a big difference btwn going to church (it’s a family event) and going to a 3 hour dinner with small children and expecting them to sit there quietly. We should have the freedom to bring our children with us to places that open to the public (baring strip clubs, casinos etc) –
    Your post was great – and well thought out.

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    1. Thanks for the comment! It really does come down to deciding what kind of society/culture we want ours to be and acting accordingly (as you write, “do we accept it graciously and live together helpfully, or do we lash out and make the situation worse by demanding that our needs be satisfied?”). Easier said than done much of the time, but I do think it has to start somewhere (and mostly I figure it might as well start with me since I’m the only person over whose actions I have any control).

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      1. Seriously! I’m lucky most days if I can control my bladder, much less anything else. (It’s possible that was TMI. I might delete that sentence later if I have second thoughts.)

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  18. Very nice post.

    A child being disruptive and the parent trying to curb the behavior doesn’t bother me.

    A child being disruptive when the parent is ignoring the situation does bother me.

    An adult being disruptive however drives me nuts!

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    1. Disruptive adults are the pits! And way more difficult to distract with a silly “what color is your shirt?” game (my go-to game with kids who are being disruptive and whose parents are…distracted).

      Thanks for the comment.

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  19. Absolutely true, all of it. I’ve wanted to say all these things so many times when people have glared at me in the grocery store (or wherever). I think a lot of people without kids don’t know that kids can’t be controlled. They think it’s a matter of parents permitting bad behavior, and then they blame the parents for doing so. I can’t even fathom the people who have had kids, probably grown now, who are unsympathetic. Have they forgotten? Or did they get good behavior with heavy handed methods that are unacceptable to many of today’s parents? When I see misbehaving children in public, I feel bad for their overwhelmed parents and the kids themselves, who are usually just acting like kids and suffering for the unreasonable expectations that others have..

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    1. Thank you for your comment, Nicole.

      I was wondering if part of the negative response to children in U.S. culture (perhaps in other cultures, too, but I only feel qualified to speak for the United States) is due to the segregation of children into schools and adults into grown-ups-only workplaces. Maybe we just don’t encounter each other except during times when we’re really not in the mood for anything but attempting to meet our own needs (after a long day at work/school). Or maybe today’s adults were disrespected as children and so we don’t know any other way to react (unless we’ve been deprogrammed, possibly through immersion among lots of little kids). I still don’t get how it’s acceptable to say, “I don’t like children,” when it wouldn’t be acceptable to say, “I don’t like elderly people,” or “I can’t stand people from ages 33 to 47.”

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  20. This post brought tears to my eyes. I have strong feelings about treating children like any other people, and I take offence at the discrimination against them. There is a restaurant in Ogunquit that has posted on the door the following sign: Well-behaved children welcome. It drives me crazy every time I see it, and I swore never to step into that place. What does that even mean? Children will be children. It’s the parents’ responsibility to make sure they stay well-behaved, but things will happen and the parents will deal with them. There is no guarantee that a child will stay well-behaved for an entire meal. Children, by definition, are not that well-behaved. They’re children. I mean, I will frown at parents who don’t even try to deal with their children’s bad behavior, but I wouldn’t blame it on the child. I don’t know how much sense I am making. Sometimes stating expectations can be rude and uncalled for. Unless it is what they consider a polite way of saying that children are not welcome.

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    1. It’s like the signs that I used to see in gift shops when I was a kid: “Well-behaved children welcome; ill-behaved children will be sold.”

      The trouble I see with “well-behaved children welcome” is that it’s really not a clear expectation because there are lots of different definitions of “well-behaved” both for adults and children. Do they mean children should sit quietly with their hands in their laps, saying “please” and “thank you,” and using cutlery properly (i.e., they’re holding children to a higher standard than they do adults)? Or do they mean as long as it’s clear children are making an effort, they don’t mind a little food on the floor or a spilled chocolate milk? Or does it just mean that if anyone doesn’t like the way your kids are acting, you’ll be asked to leave? I think usually I read the last meaning into it, but I’m contrary enough to bring my kids in and act like *of course* it’s the second meaning. If my kids make a mess, I definitely give a bigger tip. But then, I give a bigger tip when I make a mess. And I frequently make a mess. There was one embarrassing business lunch at which I dumped an entire calzone in my lap, smearing the white tablecloth with tomato sauce all the way down. No one asked me to leave, though.

      I think requiring a jacket and tie or evening apparel would be a better way of making clear what kind of behavior the business expects without saying anything about children.

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  21. Hello CJ

    In my opinion (and from one parent to another), you have described very reasonable venues for taking along a child and even a toddler sibling or infant): A school play, church, restaurant, library and an airline flight…These are all places that we need to take kids, just as our parents took us. They are life experiences that children need–and should rarely be restricted. (If they do have restrictions, it should be only to offer a separate area for children, if space permits.

    I admire your system of event “expectations”, and I am somewhat fascinated that it successfully reins in your children’s behaviors (Bravo!) Your expectations for behavior are quite reasonable, and your frustration with the reaction of others to normal child squirming is warranted. Regarding this, may I suggest…

    Don’t dump all of your friends. Educate them, by helping them to identify with the gift of being a nurturing mother. (I won’t try to expand on this one. I would love to brainstorm offline). But more to the point: Don’t dump your favorite restaurants, and certainly don’t avoid air travel. Instead, take their callous, insensitive, or rude behavior into your planning process in a way that affects their bottom line. If you can’t reason with the field representative (waiter, librarian or flight attendant) then post your argument online at Yelp or Google reviews. Like it on your Facebook page. Get other parents to give the review stars and to “Like” your comment. Then, send the link to the CEO or district manager.

    When presented with egregious or uncalled for reception in a public place, you can either refrain from doing business or you can use this technique. With the personal publishing power of the Internet, you would be amazed at how powerful one voice can be, especially if others identify with your reaction.

    I really do hope to discuss this issue with your further. On many days, I am the primary care giver for my daughter. Occasionally faced with a fidgety child, I have sometimes encountered the same rude or awkward reaction. I appreciate that you are a less confrontational individual than me. But your ability to express yourself online suggests that you will successfully marshal resources and opinions that sway establishments to acknowledge reasonable accommdations.

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    1. While I agree that online reviews can be a good way of giving feedback to businesses, they’re not appropriate for all situations. Some negative experiences are more subtle and difficult to pinpoint. Others aren’t the fault of the business/organization but rather a result of the biases of their customers. And then there’s something like my church situation. I don’t have a problem talking about my experience on this blog, but I don’t use the church’s name or even mention the denomination (although someone familiar with my blog could figure it out pretty easily, I think). Before I blogged about my experience, I spoke with the usher who’d asked us to leave, with several other congregants, and with the minister, and I wrote a letter to the church leadership. The unsatisfactory responses I got caused me to chalk up our experience to a really, really bad fit with that particular congregation and minister. I know from my experiences with many other churches in this denomination that how my children and I were treated was not something condoned by the denomination itself, and I wouldn’t want someone to get a bad impression of the entire denomination. (The positive side of our experience was that we discovered that the local buddhist temple was extraordinarily welcoming of children. I blogged about just how welcoming they were in my post “Trial by Water,” if you’re interested.)

      I still think that a shift in public perception of children as nuisances-until-proven-innocent would make the biggest difference. A friend mentioned on my FB Page that she actually finds that her children act more “polite and charming” when they are in situations where adults are happy to have them there. I think this change in culture should be led by the public, but do we start with trying to influence the businesses/organizations themselves, or do we focus on applying social pressure to our peers (through discussion and example) to be more compassionate? Or is there something else I’m not even thinking of, like shorter school days to facilitate more age-integrated activities?

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