No Kids Allowed?

My life is full of the noise of children. I have five of my own, including a 5-year-old who literally doesn’t stop talking all day. As a pediatrician, I hear lots of kid noise at work, too; it’s the soundtrack of my life. Parents will apologize because of Junior’s singing or whining, and I will very genuinely say: I didn’t even notice.

But it makes me crazy when parents don’t remove their noisy children from church. Or, on those rare occasions when my husband and I go to a restaurant that doesn’t have crayons and placemats to color on, the last people I want to sit next to are a family with little kids.

I’m not the only one who feels this way, but some people are taking it further. Some restaurants are banning children under 6. Malaysia Airlines doesn’t allow babies in first class. Movie theaters have showings that don’t allow children. There is a website, leavethembehind.com, that lists child-free vacations and resorts.

I truly do see both sides. But my reaction, when I read about the no-kids-allowed movement, isn’t about taking a side. It’s dismay. What have we come to as a society when rules take the place of basic consideration?

I have spent a lot of time and energy keeping my children quiet in church. From the quiet toys when they were little to the stop-that-this-instant dirty glances (you can be quiet and stay still for one hour a week, I tell them), it’s been a constant and consistent process. If someone really can’t be quiet, I take him or her to the back of the church.

What have we come to as a society when rules take the place of basic consideration?

As for restaurants, it never even occurred to my husband and me to take our children anywhere but a family-friendly restaurant until they were older (the 5-year-old still inexplicably ends up underneath the table).

For me, it boils down to being respectful of others. Yes, it’s a free country and I’m allowed to have kids and take them to churches or restaurants just like anybody else. But I don’t have the right to ruin everyone else’s experience in the process.

I can almost hear the No-Kids-Allowed movement cheering and thinking of asking me to be their spokesperson. Hold on, folks. This respect thing goes both ways.

Despite my best efforts, my kids have made noise in church. It can take a few seconds for me to stop the out-of-reach child from kicking the pew. Sometimes a body part gets bumped and it takes a few moments to soothe the hurt child. Every once in a while somebody forgets him or herself and says just a little too loudly, “That’s my friend from school!” or “Is it over yet?” It happens. As for restaurants, sometimes it’s not the parents’ idea to go to the nice restaurant. Sometimes it’s Uncle George or Grandma or some other well-meaning person whose feelings we don’t want to hurt. And every kid has a bad day. Some kids, like those with autism, developmental delays or other challenges, have more bad days than others. There is often more to the story when a child is being loud.

I get that some people have chosen to not have children, or not to have children yet. I completely respect that. And I can completely understand wanting some kid-free time (every parent wants that sometimes too). But being actively anti-kid crosses a line. After all, weren’t we all kids? Didn’t we all make noise? And without kids, there won’t be people to take care of us when we are old and feeble. They get useful later.

So instead of fighting over where kids should or shouldn’t be, I think we should all take a deep breath and try to (gasp!) understand the other person’s point of view. Parents, remember that as adorable as Junior may be to you, the couple next to you may really have been looking forward to some quiet during their expensive meal or the latest movie (maybe they left their own adorable Junior at home for that very reason!). And while teaching kids to be quiet and polite takes effort and often requires leaving mid-meal or mid-movie or mid-whatever, it’s a skill that not only engenders gratitude now but serves your children well throughout their lives.

And for those who want kids to be seen but not heard, hey, cut parents some slack. Most of us really want our children to behave well and are mortified when they don’t. We are doing our best. Just look at those annoying kids and imagine them as the accountant that makes a million for your retirement or the gardener who mows the lawn for you when you don’t feel like doing it anymore. Even better: offer help. Hold one child while a parent soothes the other. Pick up the dropped toy. Make a silly face, or wave. Not only might you make things quiet, you might just make a friend.

And that might make all the difference. For both sides.