I know that those of us who are parents can be a bit painful to our friends without kids.
They want to catch up with us at lunch, but we can’t do lunch because that’s when our toddler has their nap. Or they want to go out at night, but we can’t stay out late because we’re paying a babysitter by the hour.
Sometimes it can feel like we expect everything to revolve around our kids.
I remember how that feels – when you don’t have kids, but everyone else expects you to make your plans around their children. But what I want to talk about today is at the other end of the spectrum.
Here’s what I want to say: It’s not a crime to be a kid. Kids have as much right to be in the world as anybody else.
I started thinking about this when my usually mild-mannered sister had a run-in with a senior gentleman while borrowing books from the local library. Her kids were swiping the books under the scanner one by one, and being children, they were probably a little slower than an adult might be, but they weren’t causing any trouble (for once!).
Suddenly the man behind them said, “Come on then, get out of the way.”
Shocked she turned around and said, “I’m sorry, we haven’t actually finished yet.” Then he said, “This isn’t a playground you know.” When she explained that she was just teaching her kids how to do it, he said, “Well go back to kindergarten then,” and stormed off.
The implication is that children don’t really have a right to be in the library and that they should only be in a playground or a kindergarten.
Personally, I think borrowing books from the library is a sign of good parenting, but for whatever reason, this gentleman seemed to think it was infringing on his rights.
Fortunately, nothing like that has ever happened to me, but I have sometimes been on the receiving end of some subtle comments that I didn’t quite know how to take. A week or so ago, my sister and I did a charity walk from Cammeray to Balmoral Beach with our kids. (It’s quite a long way for a 2 year old, a 4 year old and a 5 year old to walk, so I was pretty proud of them.) After the walk we caught the bus back to where the car was parked. Between us, we had two prams, a baby and 3 kids so it took us a while to get off the bus and as we did so an older gentleman, rolled his eyes and said, ‘What an expedition!’
He may not have meant anything by it, but it made me feel like there was something illegal about going out with children on a bus.
After all that exercise we stopped for coffee and cake at Cammeray Stockland. For those who haven’t been there, it’s a nice little shopping centre built around an open piazza. In the middle of the piazza there’s a low fountain pool, at ground level with just a few inches of water in it. These days there are lots of parks with water features that kids are allowed to play in, like Bicentennial Park at Homebush or Newington Armoury or the new Water Park at Darling Harbour. So we thought this was something they’d built for the kids and we were happily letting them splash around in it. It was only when it was time to leave that we noticed a tiny little engraved plaque that said ‘Standing in the fountain is prohibited.”
To me, that is like putting a big pile of cupcakes in the middle of a room but not letting the children eat one. Or teasing a dog with a juicy bone, but not letting them have it.
It’s just not very considerate of children. There are lots of ways they could have made that fountain less appealing to kids if they didn’t want them to play in it – they could have raised or lowered it so it wasn’t right on ground level, they could have put a Perspex fence round it, or made it deeper.
Whoever built that fountain has totally forgotten what it’s like to be a kid – how lovely it is to splash around in something like that.
Especially when there was absolutely nothing else in the space for children to play in!
I’m not saying that everything should be built or created to cater for children, but just that kids have as much right as anybody else to use the library or ride the bus or to be in a public square. So just as we consider the needs of disabled people or the elderly when we design public spaces… we should also consider the needs of children. They’re legitimate members of society.
After all, not everybody will be an adult. Not everybody will make it to old age. But everybody on the planet was once a child.
Holidays are over and I’m definitely back in the real world. Sigh. I do have one more story from our holiday that I wanted to share with you though. While we were away, we stayed with some older family friends and as we were saying goodbye to them, Birdy started crying and turning her face away. She’s not very good at goodbyes. And somebody said to her ‘You’re a sook!’. It didn’t worry me too much at the time, but afterwards I realized that we don’t think it’s acceptable to speak like that to other adults. People don’t just say, ‘You’re a whinger!’ or ‘You’re a bad person’ but somehow it’s OK to insult children.
The other thing people sometimes do is talk about kids in the third person as if they’re not there. You hear that all the time. Parents say ‘Johnny has been giving me such a hard time lately’ when Johnny is standing right there hearing every word. But imagine if it was their husband instead of their child and he was standing right there beside them. We wouldn’t say, ‘Bruce has been such a lazy slob recently’, would we? Because we know it would hurt their feelings. But somehow people seem to forget that children have feelings as well.
I think we sometimes we don’t recognize that children should have the same human rights as other people. Lousie Porter is an early childhood academic and the author of a book called Children Are People Too. In her book, she tells how she used to ask her students what a caregiver should do when feeding someone who deliberately spits the food back at them. When the students suggested giving the child a smack, she would say that she wasn’t thinking of a three-year-old but an 80 year-old person with Alzheimer’s. Now suddenly it’s not OK to hit them. What’s the difference? (Obviously you are training the child and not the 80 year old, but the brutality is the same.) I found that story quite challenging, because it made me realize that we don’t always treat children with the same respect that we do adults. But all people deserve to be treated with respect, regardless of their age, sex, race, or religion. When this person called Birdy a sook, he wasn’t meaning to insult her. But he was judging her for acting like a 2 year old, when she is a 2 year old. We don’t judge other adults all the time like we do with kids. And we certainly don’t insult them when we think they’ve acted inappropriately.
Have your children ever been insulted or criticized like that? Do you ever find yourself talking about them as if they’re not there? Maybe there’s been a time when other people judged your children’s behaviour too harshly, eg. expecting a 3 year old to behave like an adult? Do you think society has grown a bit intolerant of kids?
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