Sunday, January 08, 2006

What kind of monsters have we created?

Somehow, probably while reading other people's blogs, I ran across this blog at the Chicago Tribune. The story itself did a push-pull with my emotions, as I'm the mother of two young children and I like taking advantage of the rare opportunities when I can end the isolation at home and rub elbows with the rest of humanity.

But what really caught my attention and left me disturbed were the comments.

So, here's the story: last September, the owner of a popular Chicago cafe grew tired of kids running through the cafe, playing on the floor and blocking other patrons, yelling and throwing tantrums, while their parents did little or nothing and allowed it to continue. He posted a sign that said, "Children of all ages have to behave and use their indoor voices when coming to A Taste of Heaven."

In response, some parents interpreted that sign to mean that they, especially if they have children with them, were no longer welcome at the cafe. They decided to boycott the cafe, and the outrage against the alleged chutzpah of this cafe owner has led to stories and blogs from coast to coast.

The owner's position is that he welcomes kids, so long as they remain under their parent's management and that they don't disrupt other partrons. The boycotting parents' position is that this is the beginning of the end of tolerance. Or perhaps the beginning of ageism in reverse.

I have young kids, and I do go to coffee shops now and then. But I expect certain "public" behavior from my children, and I'm aware of the limits of their developmental stage. I don't expect a two-year-old to sit still for half an hour or more because I know that's unrealistic, and as a result, my coffee shop visits are relatively short. I do expect that they will walk (not run), play only in designated areas or with materials I bring with us for use at the table, and yes, use their indoor voices. And when they're having a rough day, as we all sometimes do, I find appropriate alternatives.

So, while I might use different wording on the sign that the cafe owner posted, it seems rather much like common sense to me. The one thing I would have changed was to remove the word "children" and replace it with "patrons" or "visitors" or something more age-inclusive. Because my experience is that often it's the adults who are more disruptive than the kids present, talking on their cell phones in loud voices, holding loud conversations, verbally abusing the poor clerk behind the counter who was simply asking for clarification if it was a half-soy or full-soy latte. But I've never been to Chicago, never been to A Taste of Heaven, and have no idea how well or poorly behaved the adults are in that establishment, in contrast to the kids.

That really isn't my main concern, though. My main concern was the sentiment expressed in comments to the Chicago Tribune blog. It makes me wonder what we've become, where this (dare I say it?) hatred of children came from. It makes me afraid to ask, because I suspect we have created this monster through our inability or unwillingness to work through our own issues resulting from the excessive permissiveness and/or authoritarianism dished out by our parents.

In the 373 comments to the blog, responders continually referred to children as: brats, little darling [obviously sarcastic in context], unruly, prized treasures [also sarcastic], selfish, little terror, curtain-climbers, and hooligans, among others. Over and over again, people wrote that they felt parents were "imposing their children on others."

One anonymous (of course) poster said, "I'm a server, and I give crappy, express service to parents with small kids so they get out as soon as possible."

Now, there were quite a number of posters who are parents themselves, and have the same basic attitude I do, and like me, found the sign to generally be in line with common sense. But the overwhelming tone of the comments was anti-parent and anti-child.

Many comments basically said, "You're the one who chose to have kids; you deal with the consequences, eg: not going to coffee shops anymore."

And then there were the ones who began, "I don't have kids, but..." and then proceeded to blast parents for their parenting abilities.

Believe me, I've seen more than my fair share of over-permissive parents, who seem to think that saying "no" to their children is tantamount to abuse. They don't seem to realize that NOT saying "no" only sets their kids up for HUGE problems later in life. It does their children a great disservice, not to mention coffee shop patrons.

But my issue is with the people who would seem to be happy if children ceased to exist on the planet. Or at least if they were never seen, never heard, and never acknowledged until adulthood. Why do they hate children so much? Do they not realize that they themselves were once children? Do they not realize that forty years from now, these "brats" will be the ones making our laws and governing our institutions and services? Do they really think that their intolerance goes unnoticed by those (especially older) children who may be well-behaved but still get lumped in with the "brats"?

One posting took it a step further than coffee shops, and commented on inappropriate behavior in church [we Jews, of course, NEVER have inappropriately behaved children in shul ;-) <-- that's a JOKE, in case anyone is taking this way too seriously]. She said, "And anyone who speaks out about it is slammed as a "child-hater" and an attacker of the very institution of motherhood itself, or boycotted or sued such as the proprietors mentioned in the story."


Here's my take: if you bring my child's misbehavior (using generally accepted standards of appropriate behavior for children) to my attention when I've missed it, I will apologize, thank you, and deal with my child's behavior (up to and including leaving the premises). If my child is running amok through a coffee shop, I definitely want to know about it. If my child is continually bothering the nice lady who is trying to finish her crossword puzzle in peace, I want to know about it. And if I'm not paying enough attention to what my child is doing (which seems like a no-brainer if my child is doing any of the above things), I want to know about it.

But I do not want to be lectured on my parenting skills. [I'm in a weekly parenting education class and I trust the parent educator; I do not necessarily trust or respect the opinion of a stranger, especially when their criticism begins with either "I don't have kids but..." or "My kids are all grown up now, but..."]

And most of all, I do not want our society to become one in which mothers are simply "breeders," in which children are not valued (I'm NOT talking child-centric here, merely child-respectful), in which we are jepoardizing our future by expressing hostility and resentment and sadly, even aggression, toward today's children.

On the bright side, if you're a licensed family counselor, psychologist, psychiatrist, clergy person or other licensed counseling professional, check out the comments. There's a lot of people here who need therapy, parents and non-parents alike.

But please, while in therapy, use your indoor voice.

4 comments:

zahava said...

Kol hakavod! Well said!

I grew up in an age when children were expected to be "seen and not heard," ESPECIALLY in shul. My earliest memories of tefilla were of dread for the fear of constantly being shushed by the older, sterner, and decidedly imposing elders of the community.

This all changed during our then new-Rav's Shabbat sermon one Shabbat morning. He gently addressed the congregation reminding the elders that in that day (more than 30 years ago), when so many youth were running screaming from the "confines" of organized religion that the most joyful sound, in-his-humble-opinion, was the sound of a baby crying in shul, for this represented the continuity of our culture, community and beliefs. He of course continued the sermon with a gentle reminder to parents of young children to respect the sanctity of the environment by removing children whose momentary-limitations prevented them from behaving properly.

His sermon, changed the dynamics of our congregation dramatically. His words, due to their inclusiveness, gave everyone in the community a place and a sense of belonging. We kids got the sense that our presence alone contributed something, and it empowered us to WANT to behave better. Our parents felt better about bringing us, and got sage advise for balancing their needs for spiritual fulfillment with their responsibilities to parent, and the elders were given an on-ramp to better appreciate what our being there signified.

Sadly, the extremism that you describe in this incident is reflected in every aspect of today's society. Strong words and sharply drawn borders are the hallmark of ALL discussions be they about child-rearing, politics, religion, education, and so-on. Common sense and moderation seem to be decidely unfashionable at the moment, but also seem to be the most essential tools for achieving balance and harmony. Good-on-you for being an articulate, moderate, and respectful voice!

Ezer K'negdo said...

Hear, hear babe - I am with you on this one. I expect age appropriate behavior from my children, and when they are unable to handle a situation I REMOVE THEM FROM IT. Or I don't put them in the situation alltogether if I can help it. I don't mind the sign in the coffee shop, and I agree, I think people have taken it too far on both sides. Those parents that are suing the shop are often the ones whose children are standing on the tables. And those hate-filled commentators are often the ones without kids. Well articulated post. I have linked it on my site. It is hard to find sensible, practical discussions about parenting on the web lately.

As an aside, what parent education class do you take? i teach one called "STEP" - are you a taking STEP or another parent education class?

Sheyna Galyan said...

Zahava - sounds like your Rav and mine share some good values. :-) Children in our shul are encouraged to daven with their parents (or snooze next to them, I suppose) so long as the parents use their best discretion with regards to their children's behavior and voices. A baby's cry that can be comforted within a couple of minutes is not nearly as much of a problem as a four-year-old screaming "No! I don't want to!" during the Kedusha.

We've been very fortunate that the shul elders have become "adopted" grandparents of many in our shul - including our kids who have no nearby bio grandparents - and the kids in turn grow up to have close and respectful relationships with multiple generations in the community.

Ezer - Here in MN, we have a program called ECFE (Early Childhood Family Education) that combines parent-child interactive time with a separating time when kids get to explore/play in an educational environment and the parents meet as a group with a parent educator to learn about/discuss child development and parenting issues.

I've been trying to start an early childhood Jewish parenting class at shul, but while parents say they like the idea, they don't seem to want to make the time commitment (even at once every month or two). General parenting resources abound, but there's precious little specific to Jewish parenting - especially for those who grew up in secular or non-Jewish homes - in our area. G-d willing, someday the idea will catch on and/or parents will get the Jewish parenting resources they want and need.

What is STEP?

Shira Salamone said...

My current synagogue was extremely unwelcoming to me and my then-toddler when we first moved to the neighborhood and became members. Since our child was very far indeed from being a quiet type, I spent a good part of his early childhood schlepping him out of the sanctuary. Nevertheless, the congregants never failed to advise me to stay home with him 'til he was 6.

We tried very hard to be considerate of the needs of others. Others were not always considerate of our needs.

Finding a balance is not always easy, and can be even more difficult for parents of children with diabilities. There just aren't that many places where one can take a child who's literally incapable of sitting still and/or being quiet. Let's just say that we didn't have much of a social life until our son was old enough and trustworthy enough in behavioral terms to be left home alone.

That said, I have to agree with the restaurant owner. When it became clear to us that our child was incapable of behaving in a manner that was appropriate for any restaurant fancier than a fast-food restaurant, we simply stopped taking him elsewhere. We were not always able to avoid "creating a scence" in public, but it wasn't for lack of effort on our part.

I once got into a huge fight with one of my best friends because her children kept teasing us in an insulting manner every time we visited. The real issue wasn't the children's behavior, but, rather, the fact that my girlfriend and her then-husband made absolutely no effort to stop them. Parents are responsible for at least *trying* to get their children to behave in an appropriate manner.