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.

27 thoughts on “No Kids Allowed?

  1. Babies are a part of the real world just like old people, overweight people and people with disabilities.  I have had to sit next to people with horrific body odor from either lack of hygiene or medical devices, doesn’t matter how well contained..you can still smell the urine and its worse than a babies diaper. Has anyone sat in a plane with an Autistic child?  Its called life and once we allow people to create a “cookie cutter” world because they don’t have to put up with the hassle of reality, what is next?   Do we still think its fair that senior citizens have housing communities because children are such a hassle?   Old people are a hassle too and children put up with them.  This practice is illegal if we can get a baby with deep pockets.

  2. This is why I love reading Dr McCarthy’s blog. It’s common sense phrased in a way that makes you really see the other person’s side of things. Here here!

  3. That is ridiculous, saying “don’t worry your kids will be worth while and useful when they get older and can do something for you”!! Being a mother of two small children I also agree that have some quite time awat from children can be nice, but how do you expect children to learn to beahave in nice places if they’re not even allowed in there?

    1. I think when Dr. McCarthy said “And without kids, there won’t be people to take care of us when we are old and feeble. They get useful later.” she was directing that statement at people who don’t have or want children and consider themselves “anti-kid”. I think the point is that even if you don’t have kids, they will be a part of your life at some point, as politicians, business leaders, doctors, etc. who will be making decisions that affect the care that is available to you when you age, so it’s in your interest to accept kids as a part of life even if you don’t have them. At least, that’s how I took the statement. And I totally agree with you about giving kids the opportunity to learn – with a little respect and consideration on all sides, there wouldn’t be a problem at all.

  4. I agree with what you say. I also taught my kids to behave in church, restaurants, etc. If you don’t bring them to these places and teach them to behave there, they never will. My problem is when parents look the other way as if everyones child acts “this way”. You know your kids, if you know they won’t behave somewhere, don’t take them. If you must, then keep your eyes on them!

  5. I love everything you have to say.  And I agree – it’s all about respect.  I have two small children myself. I just don’t see the harm in having a kid-free option.  It’s not like EVERY restaurant is going to be kid-free.  Whether you’re taking a small child out to eat  or you’ve hired a babysitter, it’s part of the “Where should we go?” process.  Kid-friendly vs Kid-free.  I view it as an option.  
    There are age requirements for other things, such are clubs, driving, drinking… we could argue that our child is responsible and ready before the appropriate age, but as respect to others and for safety reasons, those are the rules. 
    There are certain places for children at certain ages, and if a certain restaurant is one of those places, why is that so terrible?  It’s merely a choice.  Not only that, a restaurant is a business, and it has the right to make that choice.  If you don’t like it – don’t include that restaurant in your kid-free nights out.  I LOVE children, and like you – the noise is background music to me.  But I choose the radio and adult chatter for my background music when I go out without my kids.   It’s a choice.

  6. i hear you. (over all the noise…) my son started “talking” at 9 months, and now, 23 years later, hasn’t stopped. we, on several occasions, had to take him out of the restaurant for a little walk, not waiting for the other diners or the waiter to force us out with glares and dirty looks. i hope civility can come back into vogue before rules and laws get imposed. think about “chitty chitty bang bang,” when all the kids were gone from the village – how dreary and lifeless it was. after almost losing a child to heart disease (thank you, children’s hospital!) i don’t want to live in world that will not tolerate children being who they are.

  7. Dr. Claire McCarthy, I love the way in which you expressed yourself in your article.  You just about said it all.  I don’t disagree or find fault with anything you stated.  I truely believe that it is up to us as parents and grandparents to help our children when to use their library voices and how they are expected to conduct themselves in certain places.  This can be a trying task, but how else can they learn, but from us to teach.  With my grandchildren, we only go to family oriented restaurants who welcome our little ones.  When my grown children take their children out, they go where their little ones are very welcome and where they are treated kindly by staff.  When any of us need adult time, we hire a babysitter.  Sometimes my husband and I are the babysitters and enjoy giving our children their time out alone.  With regard to all the other “no kids allowed rules”, that’s very discriminatory and we all have to respect real life.  Thanks for a great article.

  8. I guess I was blessed. All of my children and Grandchildren, did not
    need color crayons, or books to entertain them  when we took them out to
    eat. Actually they enjoyed checking out the bathrooms lol It was the
    mothers  look and it caused them to say “what” in a questionable manner 
    or just stop what they were about to do. I was always commented on their
    behavior. Great kids that turned out very productive.  I don’t know what
    I did right because there were  many things I did wrong. I am so proud of them. especially for all they  went through. Some of which they do not even remember.many But I do know
    it was the manner in which I handled it when we were out. Same thing if
    we went to someones house. Then they were allowed to bring something to
    entertain them. And if I may tell you a quick story on how kids will get
    around this…my Great Niece was about 18 months. My sister in law baby
    sat her during the day. My mother in law by that time was in a rocker
    and got around  less and less. One day my niece wanted that one piece of
    crystal that was on the coffee table that my sister in law left there purposely
    to teach her. My niece  marched into the bedroom, called her Memie’ and took her by the hand to the coffee table and said “memie…GET THAT as she  pointed to the crystal. 🙂 Children should be allowed only if the mother  HAS THE LOOK lol Seriously…Many kids are being dx’d with ADD/ADHD…no no no it’s the  parents.

  9. And this is sadly why we rarely attend our church anymore. Glares from people who thought our child (with Down syndrome) should be quieter. Our church doesn’t offer a nursery, and I’m feeling heartbroken and guilty that we can’t attend a place where everyone should be welcome.

    1. I am so sorry this happened to you.  This is just people not understanding.  Maybe if they got to know you and your wonderful child better, they would be more welcoming.  I hope that you keep trying, and I hope that people are kinder to you.

  10. Sadly, however, there are parents who don’t teach their kids appropriate behavior. We just got back from camping in Acadia National Park. A young family next to us was setting up their campsite at midnight…both toddlers were screaming and crying for 1 1/2 hoursw making sleep impossible for us and many other campers. They should have gotten a hotel room if they were arriving so late. Then for two mornings in a row…same thing…both kids up screaming at 6:30 a.m. We complained to the rangers. It was not until then that the parents figured out that they needed to intervene with their kid’s behavior and started trying to quiet them or sat with them in the car. Quiet time at the campground is 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. We were so happy when they checked out. I found the situation to be ver inconsiderate as these parents were not doing their best. It was two days of hellish sleep for sure.

  11.  At 64 I am the oldest of seven and yes we are all alive.
     The look of terror on the faces of patrons and staff as we marched to our table, at any restaurant our parents took us to, is the same today I am sure when a large family is served except, today that reaction is even for one child.
     My parents took very seriously the admonition “Spare the rod, spoil the child”. The instruction every time prior to getting out of the car to go eat was very clear with sometimes demonstrations when needed.
      Should  one of us need correction in the eatery while dining, correction was immediate and if judged, the board of education was applied to the seat of knowledge, outside, in front of the picture window of the place.
     Today it would be a felony to do what Mom and Dad did.
     Invaribly when leaving the restaurant my parents were complemented and asked sincerely to “come back soon”!
     None of us has been convicted of anything other than a minor misdemeanor.
     With what just happened in England with the recent youth riots, do we need any more evidence, that maybe we need to go back to the future?

  12. As a grandmother of two, I can say without doubt that I love children. On the other hand, when their behaviour is unacceptable, they need to be removed from the venue immediately. Too many times I have been the unhappy diner who has to tolerate parents that not only don’t remove the offending child but outright ignore them and leave them to ruin everyone else’s meal etc. As another person said, being child free is a choice…an option that venues should be able to offer. Couples should be able to get a babysitter and have a child-free night for the sake of their marriage and/or sanity!

  13. I have a huge problem when my husband and I are dining out at 7 or 8 at night at a more adult restaurant and we have to sit next to (or sometimes not even next to, that’s how loud they are) children who are making all kinds of noise and moving around and whatnot.  We dine out later on purpose–to give parents a chance to go out with their kids earlier in the night.  Why are kids eating dinner at that time when they should be in bed?  We don’t have kids yet, but I know I will still feel the same way when I have kids and will make an effort to bring my children to a more family-oriented restaurant, if at all.  And when we have kids and go out to dinner just the two of us for a quiet date night, I won’t want to hear someone else’s kids either.  I would definitely visit a restaurant with a no kids allowed rule. 

    1. I love when people say that they “feel the same way when I have kids”. Not to say that you won’t, necessarily, but just that everyone eats their words on that phrase. There are many things I said I would never do. Many of them I don’t do, but some things that I claimed I wouldn’t do…well, they just happen. Not because I am bending to pressure, but because a lot of the time you just don’t have all the facts before hand. Facts about how you will feel, how your child will feel, behave etc. Again it is a question of understanding. You may think you know that all children should be in bed at that hour, but you don’t know that family. Every family has a unique set of circumstances and unless you ask, you do not know.

  14. Wow….imagine folks putting the best construction on things and being respectful of those young people who may struggle when we are present..these things would lessen everyone’s burden. We can not possibly understand why another person is behaving a certain way..as a foster mom I have come to rely on a type of faith… choose to show compassion and understanding, withhold judgement… It makes all the difference…throw in a little humility and the next thing your saying is “We will do better next time, because now I understand.”

  15. Wow, this is a tough one for me. As much as you share with us that you (and most genuinely considerate parents) will do things like take their kids out of a public place (restaurant, for example) when they are misbehaving or screaming and crying — some most definitely don’t. And it only takes one disruptive family to ruin a whole restaurant full of people’s time. Maybe though, instead of banning children (though I’m not completely sure I’m opposed to the idea) those restaurants should feel just as comfortable to ask an unruly family to leave as they would be comfortable to ask an unruly adult patron to leave. 

    Even then…it’s not so black and white is it? What one person sees as unruly and disruptive, someone else may see as cute and lively. It’s hard for the world to just get along. It just is.

  16. Very well put.  As a mother of two children, I agree that sometimes I’d like to get out and have a kid-free night.  Though to be honest, I rarely even hear other people’s children or just sigh of relief when its not one of my own crying.  But I agree that mutual respect is required in these situations.  My general rule of thumb is to not bring my children to places that are not kid-friendly, but if I have to, I generally try to go earlier in the evening before the child-less couples are out.  And even then, there is rarely time for dessert, or even enjoying the meal as its a quick in and out before a meltdown occurs.  Therefore, its hardly worth my while.  But to have them banned altogether is unreasonable.  There are some children that are well behaved in those circumstances.  If I take my 5-year-old out alone, she is perfectly capable of acting properly and having a grown up conversation.  My 2-year-old is another story.
    And churches should have a nursery if they’re going to expect families with children to actually attend services.

  17. there is no reason when I am spending my hard earned money on a meal-flights…that I should have to deal with someones kid making noise

  18. Dr. McCarthy,

    Thanks for yet another wonderful, open, balanced, and thought provoking post.

    Reading your point of view and your often courageous and always honest sharing of how you and your family navigate the many trials, tribulations, and joys of parenthood, and of your having to make conscientious and mindful decisions and choices in light of your professional training, is a welcome respite from the oft fractured and lacking in civility public space of dialog in contemporary America.

    I also find reading the comments of your many fans and readers to be of great value, and helpful to me in better understanding my peers, colleagues, and fellow citizens, be they of like mind or not.

    I can identify with many of the commenters perspectives and opinions and experiences, perhaps the first and most fundamental requirement for community.

    I think the point made that has me thinking the most is stephen’s comment yesterday at 11:01AM that he, “hope[s] civility can come back into vogue before rules and laws get imposed”. 

    It strikes me that this is the very heart of the matter, and extends to so many issues, certainly when it comes to how we as a society choose to treat and rear our children, and as in so many other aspects of life wherein competing claims, often equally valid and understandable, must be worked out in the public sphere we each are part of and can’t avoid participating in.

    The Institute for Civility in Government defines ‘civility’ thusly, “Civility is claiming and caring for one’s identity, needs and beliefs without degrading someone else’s in the process.”

    I think the “runaway train” of rules and rule making everywhere in every community large and small, the retreat to censure, strictures, proscriptive legal and societal rules and law making, and the ever greater encroachment of this process into and against the very way we run our and our families lives and our communities, is a symptom of a growing decay in civility caused in my humble view by a decay in ‘community’, i.e., a loss of ‘community’ which then causes an entirely predictable and understandable loss and degradation of self identification with community.

    For if I do not identify with my community, or the community I do personally identfy with is so small and narrow, then I am surely going to be at odds with and in conflict with all other communities, be they restaurant goers who need and want absolute calm and quiet while they dine, or be they my neighbors across the street.

    As we continue to break up into ever smaller fractured groups of greater distinction from each other group, as we continue to identify ourselves in ever small and more highly specific ways according to our individual affinities, associations, political interests, personal and life agendas, needs and wants, preferences and annoyances, we move away from each other, away from those who do not share on one or more of these dimensions our personal choices and needs.

    So, as we break up into ever smaller groups, each having competing interests to the other, competing agendas both personal and public, we lose the sense of community, “the community” really becomes a thousand small tribes each with a different set of claims and needs, and the public space, be it the restaurant or the debate podium, suffers from this decreasing lack of identification with the ‘other’, and our public spaces and our public dialog becomes more fractured, shrill, and highly competitive.

    Community is thus lost in the fray, civility is then lost too, and recedes into being just a memory of how people and communities used to treat each other, a memory of how people and communities with differing agendas and wants and needs used to work out their competing interests with a civility unburdened by arbitrary and exclusionary “rules”.

    I do not pretend to know where this will all lead, nor do I offer or have a solution, perhaps there is none. But I will say that this example, I believe very illustrative, of the explosion of “no children” rules, is exactly the product of our increasing loss as a society and community to to treat each other with civility, and to work with each other on working out and working through our competing interests and needs.

    To think that we have so devolved to a place where shared values in appropriate child rearing practices and child conduct in public spaces, and wherein there is little patience or support for those who do not do as we think they ought, must now be managed by rules and rule making does not for me speak to anything very good.

  19. This response from the restaurant is most likely due to people who feel they do not need to rein their children in and really have no respect for others around them.  I was at a christening on Sun. and there was a 2-3 year old laying in the aisle, over at the choir jumping up and down and no adult paid any attention.  It was disruptive to the choir. The child was quiet so I figure they thought it was fine.  Parents need to discipline their children so when  in public so to avoid public places taking drastic measures.

  20. I have had many experiences in restaurants where parents have let their children run around and disturb/interact with other diners.  The parents seem to view it as their own time out, and take no responsibility for their kids at all.  Because of this, I cheer the restaurants that have a policy of no kids.  There should be the option of finding a place where children will not be an issue, just as there are lots of places where families with kids are totally welcome.

  21. HERE HERE! Dr, you hit yet another HOME RUN! I raised my kids in similar fashion. I brought them the “quiet toys” for church but also taught them respect. I did not bring them to restaurants that they were not ready for and yet I also expected that respect from others (and did not always get respect returned)> Once when We went onto my husband’s submarine and they were subjected to fowl language (something not allowed when civilians were aboard), I turn to the man and say, “It is For a shame that my son may need to be disciplined later for the work you just taught him because you lacked self control!”

    For us, we had a son with neurological issues. Often his problems when he had a “Bad day” were from being post ictal, or medication related. I wanted to place a sign on him or on me when we had those nasty looks for people who had no children or “perfect ” kids as he raged in the grocery isles or other places. He could not help his noises or anger. We did our best and he was made to apologize the next day when possible because” there is a reason for the actions, not an excuse” ….this helped him to acknowledge that he was trying to work through this situation that the world did not always understand. He knew that others would not excuse his behavior and he could not just say “It is ok if i act out I have ……disorder”….this worked. 

    For people who want the “no kids zone” you miss out on treasures. Yes, they can be loud and obnoxiousness at times. adults can also act just as obnoxious and rude with little excuse because they should know better than to stare and point. Kids tend to be genuine. They are adults in training. Let us set great examples to the ones who are ours as well as the ones around us……

  22. I agree. It’s so annoying to have a young child around when you’re about to dine. It’s just mad.

  23. I stumbled across your article while searching for restaurants that don’t allow children.  I do not have children.  Couldn’t have any, but I did help raise my 6 nieces and nephews.  I honestly have little sympathy for parents with children who can’t be quiet or sit still.  I grew up in the 60s and 70s, and my parents (not teachers or daycare workers) taught us good manners, and that included sitting still and being quiet in church or restaurants.  We were taught to respect adults by not interrupting conversations, saying yes/no ma’am/sir, giving our seats to adults and much more.
    You can’t walk into a restaurant these days without being assaulted by the sound of crying, screaming kids and oblivious parents who could care less.  In this Jerry Springer mentality world we live in, it seems as though most people think rude, obnoxious, loud behavior is not only socially acceptable, but even desireable.  Sadly, it’s not just the children who are the offenders, but adults are just as bad.  I’d love to see signs on doors of restaurants that tell patrons to leave their children at home, as well as their cellphones.
    I would love to enjoy a meal sans screaming kids, loud adults talking on their phones, 30 televisions tuned to sports channel and loud music.  Can’t people just appreciate the art of being quiet?

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