The thing about kids

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A friend and I were out with our kids at a local – and purportedly kid friendly -attraction, where we were glared at, told in no uncertain terms to keep our kids quiet, and instructed not to let them run by attraction staff. (Each of these things more ridiculous than the last, especially when you consider that at the front door of this attraction is a gift shop with a gargantuan display of rainbow hued candy, and that the venue itself is a nature conservatory consisting of four huge glass walled pyramids filled with plants, waterfalls and long windy sidewalks, making it resemble a giant indoor park). At first I was embarassed, and tried to shush and slow down my little guy (he is definitely a kid that veers towards the, um, enthusiastic side of things). But then I was really annoyed. I’m still really annoyed. They were just being, well, kid-like.

Which brings me to the thing about kids. We don’t actually like them. Now before you jump all over me, I don’t mean I don’t like them. I like ’em fine (most of the time!). I mean, our larger culture doesn’t like them. Hear me out on this one.

Sure, we’re baby crazy. We watch faithfully for celebrity baby bump alerts and wonder which of our friends will get pregnant next. We delight in baby showers, baby names, baby things, baby pictures and engage in all kinds of baby over-consumption. We read diligently read scads of baby books, but how many people do you know who actually do the same reading about child development?

We really don’t value children. We see evidence of this on a larger scale, for example, our most developed nations have appallingly high rates of child poverty and we think nothing of the fact that those we task with taking care of our children make ridiculously low wages. On a smaller scale, we are vexed by children’s endless energy; annoyed by their volume and exhuberance; inconvenienced over their predisposition to avoid things we think they should do, like sleep and eat vegetables; and we are most certainly ill-equipped to handle the hugeness and wildness of their constantly changing emotional development. (For instance, I recently learned that our dopamine levels – that’s the happy chemical – are the lowest at the ages of 2 and 14. Really, this says SO much about the wildness and unpredictability of emotions that come out of our two year olds – and 14 year olds, obviously!)

We glare at parents whose children melt down in public. We shoot dirty looks at parents whose kids talk too loud, move too fast, or otherwise break social codes of civility. Why can’t those darn kids behave, we wonder? Why can’t they talk instead of shout, walk instead of run, sit still once in awhile, listen the first time, pay attention. Why do they stubbornly dig in their heels in defiance? Why do they tantrum?

But what we really mean is, why can’t they be more like us? More, well, adult. We like to think we have an appreciation for childhood. Childhood is the best time of our lives, we say. But have you ever heard someone say, “Oh don’t be so childish” to a child? I have. It says a lot, I think.

Children are imperfect, messy, impulsive, loud, whimsical, exhaustingly-always-on-the-go, accidents-waiting-to-happen. They say it like they see it and feel their feelings unabashedly and with gusto. They need room to move, freedom to explore, and space for their voices to be heard (however loud those voices may sometimes be). It’s as often exhausting and frustrating as it is cute. But they only get to be kids once. Why are we all in such a hurry to train it out of them?

The fact that my friend and I were glared at and reprimanded at a public place designed to be an educational facility for folks like kids speaks to the lack of spaces in the world that kids can be themselves. If children were valued – if we actually liked children – we’d let them be kids from time to time.

Comments on The thing about kids

  1. When I was younger I always said that I would never like any kid but my own. Sad but true. And I think that alot of ppl do feel the same way. In the past I couldnt understand my child's behavior, and still some days I am exhausted by her constant barage of silly questions that I cannot answer because they are not logical. I am more exhausted by my own brain that has forgotten what it is like to be a kid than I am by her. I miss the ability to be free, and I love that about my child, that she is a free spirit. Still I think that I expect her to be a little adult too often and worry that I am not encouraging enough childlike behavior…not bad behavior, just the awesome wonder of being a child. My daughter is amazing and has taught me so much, I just hope that I am returning the favor.

  2. Amen! This has been a hot topic at my church recently. Some 'older folk' expect the children to be silent and sit still during church, just as they were raised. However, times have changed and we recognise that to be a family friendly welcoming church, we have to let kids be kids. We've made a concious decision as a church team to support parents and recognise that children are not just 'the future of the church' but children 'are the church'. This attitude has helped us create a more kid friendly environment, and hopefully this will extend to our lives outside of church as well. Thank you for your post!

  3. I just want to say thank you for writing this. I am gonna pass it along, for sure. SO well put! You rock! xo

  4. My son is two and a half. I am crazy about him, but I just said to my husband this evening that this "developmental stage" is preparing me for when he's a teenager! Moody? Unpredictable? Wild? YES! YES! YES! Think of how prepared I will be when he is 14 …

    Loved it. Will share it.

    • Jennifer – I hear you! My three year old is in the same stage and some days (like today!) I think he is clearly trying to kill me 😉 We will so be ready for those teenage mood swings. Natasha

  5. i'm all for the rah-rah, hooray-for-parents-and-rowdy-kids sentiments, but there's a political reality to this as well. our society is experiencing a widening gap between parents and nonparents. nonparents-for-life (childless people who will stay that way) are in the minority; parents are in the majority.

    as in everything else, the majority usually wins. we get tax cuts for having children. we get parental leave policies. and we are entitled. we expect the nonparents to get in line and help us parent; or, no, wait, we are hideously insulted if another adult asks us to quiet our children in public, and god forbid anyone but our special, entitled selves should actually interact with our children in public, when we are not disciplining those kids because Kids Just Gotta Have Fun; and we are indignant that nonparents are judgemental. how dare they?

    they dare because our decision to have children has an enormous effect on their lives, on our society, and on our environmentally delicate planet. the nonparents are finally sick of having their concerns ignored because they are in the minority. what politician tries to appeal to Childless American values? none at all. they're all busy talking about "American families."

    we need to understand that our children affect their environments, including public spaces, even ones that invite children to participate. we need to acknowledge, humbly, all that the nonparents do for us, such as cover our butts during maternity leave or work late hours while we head home to pick up Johnny from soccer practice. instead, parents in the US tend to act so entitled, and tend to let their kids run wild in public. it's the *combination* that's adding up and making people angry.

    sure, kids should be kids! they just shouldn't do it in the grocery store. or, sometimes, in a museum, even one that has stuff for kids in it. and if we want more societal support for children and for parenting issues (money for education, say, or better parental leave and childcare situations), we may have to get off our high horses and work, gently, with nonparents. we may have to occasionally allow some public spaces to not be playgrounds for our precious offspring. otherwise, the conflict will just keep growing.

    • First of all…I hadn't really thought about this particular perspective before (though of course I do realize that the world is very assuming that everyone should want kids, have kids etc and that this is problematic) and I thank you for sharing your thoughts on the matter. I do feel the need to point out to you that though I am all for people disagreeing with me, I would have probably been more open to hearing your thoughts if there was a bit less of an edge (ie. terms like "high horses", and "special entitled selves" served more to get my back up than they did to make me think about your argument. Just saying. You are probably right that parents act entitled – but it also seems to me that perhaps, as with any vastly divergent perspectives, a sense of entitlement likely falls to both ends of the opinion spectrum).

      sorry this is going to be a bit of an essay…

      • I think that maybe CF and people with kids might well have very different ideas of what constitutes "running wild" (hell – this is a distinction even peeps with kids will argue about).
        My point was that I am pretty sure my kids were behaving appropriately for the venue they were in. CF folk and parents may well never agree on what exactly "being kids" entail. But here's what I know: I can't stop my kids from being kid in the grocery store. They are kids in the grocery store. They are kids at nature conservatorys that are made to look like parks. They ARE kids. I don't think this means that parents have carte blanche to tolerate problematic behaviour in public (like say, kids being unsupervised, screaming, being disrespectful etc.), or flood the world's ballet and opera houses and pubs and movie-theatres and no-kid-menu restaurants with screaming babies and tantruming toddlers and nose-picking preschoolers. (Sorry – not trying to be glib here – that's just how I talk).

        continued again 🙂

        • I totally get and agree that there are many places where it's not appropriate to take children. But it does mean that kid-like behaviour, like say, running and playing and giggling is going to go where the kids are. And just like I'd tell someone who was uncomfortable with me flashing my mama boobs while breastfeeding in public to look away, I'm gonna say that in this particular case, I paid the same money as childless folks (actually more) to go to the nature conservatory. I believe my kids also have a right to be there, and to have fun there too. Yes – there needs to be a balance between adult patrons' needs for enjoying their experience and kids' needs to have fun. But to my mind, balance doesn't necessarily mean kids need to be on a short-leash everywhere they go, either.

          cont'd again – I swear – last time!

    • The thing is, the world isn’t divided between childfree people and parents. Even if you never choose to have children, the fact remains that you WERE a child once. You were noisy and messy and the world tolerated you, so it isn’t so much to ask that you do the same now on the occasions you meet a noisy child in public.

  6. I also think that you and I will have to agree to disagree about the extent to which the world is child friendly. I still don't think the world gives a crap about kids, or moms for that matter. We may talk a good game (politicians in particular) but our appalling rate of child poverty (which is really just the feminization of poverty), child abuse, neglect and abandonment, and yes, the lack of public places that children (in all their childishness) are actually welcomed, says differently.

    Though we probably don't so much see eye to eye on this issue, I do want to thank you (and I mean this sincerely) for your perspective – and I am definitely going to spend more time thinking about it.


  7. the idea that children are just miniature adults is an old, and old-fashioned, view. we need to move past this if we want our children to truly develop the ability to express themselves in a positive manner. so many children act out even more than their natures would normally have them do, just to get ANY kind of attention. if we were more willing to let kids be kids, perhaps they would mature in a more natural way, and be more self-confident and self-reliant.

  8. A lot of places, kid-friendly or not, have strict policies about children running about the place, since we are one lawsuit-happy nation. A child could injure himself or others, especially in an indoor attraction. Was this a place were guided tours were being offered, or where staff were doing demonstrations or other things where they would have to speak over the screams of small children? Just saying, there is some information missing in the OP… Not that I condone people who get uppity at the mere instance of "kids being kids," but some places, even child-friendly places, cannot cater to or hold the attention of young children without inconveniencing other patrons. Sometimes it's better to just grab the kid, briefly speak to the manager about the staff's attitude and ask for your money back, then go to the park and let him run around and scream to his heart's content.

  9. I certainly agree that kids should be allowed to act like kids…But some parents really do need to know when to draw the line.
    For example, I work at a theater. Not a movie theater mind you, but a stage theater. With balconies. And I work up on the highest level. I fully support the idea that children should have access to the arts, but if your five year old can not be out of your grasp for a moment without running into the theater, then please stay home and rent a DVD of the production.
    I can't tell you the number of times my heart has nearly stopped watching a little kid come inches from toppling down the balcony three stories up because they won't stop running. And how many parents actually would allow me to say or do anything to discourage such dangerous behavior? I can guarantee my managers would be getting complaints about me if I tried to ask their precious little darlings to slow down.

  10. I too have a very enthusiastic 5 year old daughter, Karma Kay, who is such a joy….to everyone that doesn’t have kids. I do have friends that appreciate her inquisitiveness (and she’ll proudly tell everyone “I’m so inquisitive, because I want to be smart and learn things”)as well as her crazy, outrageous personality, however those humans who have yet to experience the joy of those crazy moments and the obscurity that comes from a little human’s mouth do just as you’ve mentioned. Scowl, shush, and generally make me feel inadequate. I say NO MORE! If you do not have a 2 year old, by gosh don’t judge someone standing in the market isle almost in tears because her tasmanian devil of a toddler is throwing a temper tantrum! instead walk on and know that you too were once 2 years old. Maybe even give a nice nod as if to say “breathe, all will be well and this too shall pass”. Great GREAT read. Thank you for putting this out there to remind us that Children, not just babies, are quite the bundle of incredibleness as well!

  11. I can see both sides of the coin. On one hand, crying, screaming, whining children hurt my ears (my ears are very sensitive and it does actually hurt). So in that respect, I wish kids would just be quiet. On the other hand, I’m a bit immature myself, even as an adult, and I feel like I can kind of understand the way a child’s mind works sometimes, so it annoys me when I see parents or any adults insist on doing things the adult way. If your kid is safe, what’s the harm of letting them have some fun (e.g. standing on a bus seat so they can see out as long as they’re braced against something or you’re holding on to them so they don’t fall, running in a place where you don’t have to worry about them tripping over something or crashing into something or someone, etc.)? Another thing that annoys me from both perspectives is when a parent brings a baby somewhere without bringing along something to keep the child entertained and then when the baby starts to cry because they’re bored or hungry or need a diaper change (I’ve smelled evidence of this), all they get is a ‘ssssh’ (or something worse like ‘shut up’) from the parent, who doesn’t want to stop whatever it is that they’re doing. As you can probably guess, this does nothing to solve the situation. So the kid keeps crying, the parent keeps ‘ssssh’ing, and I’m suffering because of the noise. Some parents will say things like ‘just one more minute,’ and I’m okay with that because it feels like they’re trying to interact with their kid and acknowledge their feelings of boredom, and sometimes tat seems to work in getting the noise to subside.

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