On being a mama, and being a mama of a small child.

There are a couple of recent guest posts at Feministe written by a woman named Maia regarding children in public spaces and what it means to be a mama. I was horribly late to the comment-party (-FAIL), and when my “thank you” got to be more than 200 words, it got transferred here. So.

The bit of Maia’s post that stood out to me:

im not a feminist ( yeah, i said it…shrug). but i dont understand people who claim to be feminist on one hand, and on the other hand think that children should be designated to certain public and private spaces, not mixing in ‘normal’ public areas, such as restaurants, stores, airplanes, etc. cause in us culture, when you create little reservations for children, you are really creating little reservations for mothers. it is the mother who will be sent away to take care of the child. and how is that supporting all women and girls?

I am the mother of a small child, who, long before becoming the mother of a small child, had the opportunity to watch small children in situations that most people in my area (US Midwest at the time) wouldn’t consider “appropriate” places to bring kids.

The four year old child of my voice teacher ran and played with other kids up until the few moments before my teacher’s recital began, when the kid climbed up into a chair, sat face forward and paid attention to what was going on, with only a small reminder from his mama to do so. This was normal for him, going to concerts and being quiet when they started, because he’d gotten the opportunity to do it.

Thing is: if you take kids places that don’t specifically cater to kids, they learn to do the things the adults do. My two year old already knows, when we go to our local cafe, that you go get in a chair and sit down, that when we go to hear music somewhere, you listen to the music. There are times we go home early, sure, but that’s usually for kiddo’s well being (too tired or hungry).

Expecting children to be on airplanes is the reasonable thing to do, yet some fellow airline travelers seem to think that my child getting to go see the grandparents is some sort of infringement on their right to quiet. If they know they are bothered by children and would take the time to buy a $2 package of earplugs at the dollar store, they might be much less bothered when/if the hollering begins. Pressurizing and depressurizing the cabin hurts some people’s ears, and if you’re not verbal yet, the only way to deal with that is screaming.

I haven’t encountered self-proclaimed feminists with this attitude yet. My usual interactions with the why-are-children-in-my-WAY crowd have either been with complete strangers or with people whom I know to not be particularly interested in treating children like human beings (or women, for that matter, although they’d deny both charges).

The key to treating someone like they’re actually human is not getting in the way of their self-determination. If my child doesn’t want to say “hi” to a complete stranger, I don’t make that happen. I have watched my nieces and nephews (chiefly my nieces, of course) be told to smile, to give people kisses, to say hi and bye when they didn’t want to, all in the name of being “polite” or “respectful” or “because this is what you DO”. My eldest nephew, for example, went through a phase where he didn’t want to say hello or goodbye, but halfway through our visit he’d just come up and start talking to me. He wanted to approach me on his own terms, and I let him. When the adults around him started to insist he go through the formalities with me, a relative stranger, I brushed them off, telling them I wasn’t bothered by the lack of salutations.

The other thing is, the way we treat children teaches them how they’re supposed to treat themselves and others. If you ignore their needs, you are teaching them that it’s ok to do that to other people, and that their needs aren’t really important. I certainly learned that lesson well. I’m grateful I woke up to

One small note: I call myself a radical feminist. I don’t know if that label says all the time what I want it to say, that the problems of misogyny and racism and ableism are at the very roots of our society, so what needs to happen is for all that to be rooted out – that it won’t get better with patches and creams, cosmetic changes like allowing (some) women to vote or making the wage gap not-as-bad or making abortion theoretically legal but only marginally obtainable. The problem is at the root, so the solution has to go there. I don’t know what my part in it is, but when I just read what bfp and other WOC say about their lives, that just kids just being kids while black or brown gets them arrested and abused, that the places mainstream feminism has repeatedly ignored women of color gets them killed.

This shit has to stop. I am not going to go off all delusional like the Great White Woman Who Saves The Brown People From Themselves. What I can do, right now, is raise my child to treat others like human beings. What I need to do further than that, I don’t know. But I’m not going to go expecting WOC to tell me, either. It’s my job to educate myself.

6 thoughts on “On being a mama, and being a mama of a small child.

  1. The problem is not every kid is your teacher’s kid or your two year old. Not every parent is your teacher or you.

    Many people take kids to places like theatres and expect them to learn that theatre = sitting down and being quiet while watching by omosis. They don’t get down on the kid’s level and explain what’s needed, they don’t do anything if their kid acts out and ruins things for others, they don’t take their kid outside if he or she has a meltdown and they most certainly don’t bother to consider if their kid is ready to go to something like that.

    Dare to complain or even say anything about it though? And they swing on you like a mama bear, their angel is “perfect” and “won’t learn if she never has any experience”. Nevermind that a child can be taught about sitting down quietly for a period before they go somewhere like a theatre, nevermind that a good parent knows the limit of their child’s patience and ability to remain quiet and doesn’t take them places they can’t handle.

    That’s the difference, the good parents apologise and try to remove the kid from whatever situation is too much, the bad ones just sit there like a lump and get affronted because people are irritated at them for not being responsible.

    Personally I don’t think anyone has a problem with kids being in public spaces, it’s just that some spaces are intended for adults not kids, just like some spaces are intended for kids not adults, some parents however seem to think nothing of taking their un-parented children everywhere including spaces clearly intended for an adult audience.

    Saying children should not be permitted in a bar is no different than saying random adult strangers shouldn’t wander into a daycare. There’s nothing in the bar for children and nothing in the daycare for random adults.

    As for airplanes? Not all children are equipped to travel long distances and not all flights are children friendly, something like the red eye with it’s late night flights is not something I would take a child on.

    Earplugs don’t block out a child’s screaming in a confined space, besides if I want to talk to someone I’m travelling with, why should we used sign language to do so because someone’s kid is practically howling the wings off the plane without any intercession from his or her parent?

    Also it’s not really you if your child is behaved, fact is a lot of people get on flights and have to put up with shrieking kids kicking their seats, it tends to sour people especially those of us with spinal injuries. Not to mention the sort of people who let their kid’s kick other people’s seats are usually the sort of parents who take severe umbrage at being asked to please stop their little darling from kicking the seat.

    Basically the real reason you and your child may face hostility in public is not because everyone is mean to kids but because so many parents forget that parent is a verb as well as a noun.

    After dealing with kid after kid who has never even heard of the term behaviour let alone knows what it is, I’m usually so short on patience that another screaming kid is not something I want to hear even if the kid does have a reason for howling.

    As for bfp’s comment, it’s unverified and the one tale I know is partially true isn’t correct either, the child hit by a guy in the supermarket was a toddler not a baby (they weren’t in the queue either) and she was slapped after a guy had previously asked her mother to please quiet her and the mother had failed to do that or to take the over-wrought kid out of the shop to calm down. Personally I don’t approve of what he did but I do note that he got charged fairly heavily for doing it (to the point where if he’d grabbed the kid and sexually molested her? He’d have got a shorter sentence).

    • Dawn – thanks for coming by and commenting. I’m only at liberty to address a couple of things right now, and may come back to other points later.

      “won’t learn if she never has any experience”. Nevermind that a child can be taught about sitting down quietly for a period before they go somewhere like a theatre, nevermind that a good parent knows the limit of their child’s patience and ability to remain quiet and doesn’t take them places they can’t handle.

      And yet there are always people who think they know better than the parent what that child’s limits are, and what they should be. And still, my rights end where yours begin. If my child was kicking the back of your chair, it’s my responsibility to try to stop the child, but then what can you do for yourself? It is possible to switch seats, after all, and I’ve seen people do that for reasons other than dealing with physical pain. The point of my post is to respond to those people who act like a child being around them is me inflicting discomfort on their world, and that mothers of small children are automatically responsible to fix the entire situation for everybody. If I’m uncomfortable, or if some kid is kicking the back of my chair, I can take steps to deal with it myself.

      As for airplanes? Not all children are equipped to travel long distances and not all flights are children friendly, something like the red eye with it’s late night flights is not something I would take a child on.

      No flights are child-friendly, thanks. Being less than two years old and having to sit in the same place for two and a half hours is not child friendly, but it’s better than driving for 15 hours, which is the same reason the few unfriendly adults on the midday flights I’ve taken my child on have been traveling this way. How is it fair to say kids don’t ‘belong’ in such places, when that’s the only way they get to see some of the people who love them?

      Earplugs don’t block out a child’s screaming in a confined space

      No, but they do take the edge off. Ask me how I know.

      besides if I want to talk to someone I’m travelling with, why should we used sign language to do so because someone’s kid is practically howling the wings off the plane without any intercession from his or her parent

      I see in your comment a lot of assumptions that the parents aren’t doing anything, that they aren’t parenting. This is may or may not be the case, and really isn’t for anyone else to decide. I have had to bow to the inevitable when my child wouldn’t take a bottle or a snack to help alleviate the obvious ear pain, and yet adult human beings can’t recognize that the child can’t help it, and if what I’m trying doesn’t help, I can’t help it either? Yes, it’s an inconvenience to not be able to carry on a conversation. But that’s it. An inconvenience. Expecting parenting to fix children’s behavior on your timetable is unrealistic at best.

      the child hit by a guy in the supermarket was a toddler not a baby (they weren’t in the queue either) and she was slapped after a guy had previously asked her mother to please quiet her and the mother had failed to do that or to take the over-wrought kid out of the shop to calm down.

      And somehow, the fact the child was a toddler and not a babe-in-arms excuses the fact that a fully grown STRANGER felt entitled enough to 1) comment on the woman’s parenting and 2) to physically STRIKE a small child? How is this not shocking behavior? I’m GLAD he was heavily charged, because adult human beings should be able to restrain themselves from physical violence. Yes, it’s a crime that molestation and sexual abuse get lesser sentences than this guy did, but how does that make what he did not worthy of the punishment he received? The attitude that you’re presenting here, that somehow the mother’s behavior was responsible for his reaction, is classic victim blaming, and the sort of thing that contributes to the lesser sentencing of child molesters, for a start.

      That’s all I have for the moment. I have a child to parent.

      • Jo,

        We can see when you’re trying, most people are sympathetic if nothing works. The problem is parents who are totally oblivious or worse go up like volcanos at the mere suggestion that it would be nice if their little darlings didn’t kick our seats.

        Also you can’t always switch seats on an airplane or in a packed theatre, not to mention I’m in a wheelchair if my wheelchair is next to my friend’s seat, why should my friend who I may need for an emergency be required to move himself because someone refuses to parent?

        Our annoyance is aimed at the sort of parents who won’t stop shopping to attend the shrieks of their child which are getting louder and louder or take them outside so at least they’re not howling in a confined space.

        All we ask is that parents try their best, that they consider that their kid might be incapable of sitting still for two hours of swan lake and thus find a solution if they want to see it that doesn’t involve irritating and ruining the evening for everyone around them.

        The problem is parents who don’t even try, who expect the rest of us to just have an unlimited supply of patience and forgiveness as their child engages in behaviour that makes a chimpanzee look civilised. They think their child will magically become well-behaved without any intercession from them or they simply act as if becoming a parent doesn’t require any sacrifices at all, you no doubt well know that parenting is full of scarifices.

        My point with the planes is that some people have kids and don’t think about picking the best flight to minimise wear and tear on everyone including the kid, there’s a difference between a red eye flight and a cranky exhausted kid who can’t sleep and a daytime flight with a kid whose perhaps just excited to go see a relative he loves. The latter I can put up with, the former makes me think the parent is inconsiderate to both their child and other people.

        Personally I’d love it if families had their own space on flights, perhaps with more leg room so the kids can get up and move around and some kind of soundproofing to keep noise to a minimum, a small daycare room would be nice. I don’t see why it’s impossible for both parents and non-parents to be accommodated.

        That said since we don’t have such available for now, it would definitely be more enjoyable to fly if it wasn’t for a percentage of inconsiderate parents.

        The parents we non-parents often complain about are often doing nothing, they’ve usually brought nothing for their child to do nor any entertainment for them, they ignore their child but woe be tide the stranger who says anything to the kid like “please don’t kick my seat” or who askes the parent to do their job. You’d think you’d threatened to throw them and their kids out of the airplane door the way some react.

        Basically I’m assuming nothing, I don’t scowl at parents who I can see are actually trying and having no dice, or who do remove their kids if possible to deal with the issue so they cause minimal disturbance, the ones I get angry at and scowl at are the ones who think their job stopped in the delivery suite and now it’s down to the rest of us to worship the ground their children walk on.

        My point was that the stories? I couldn’t find any sources for, and the one story I know the source for was misreported which casts doubt on the rest of them.

        I never said it excuses anything but a toddler is not a baby as bfp said it was, a baby would be even more vulnerable to being struck like that. The guy was way out of line but it’s kind of messed up legally imho that he would have gotten less time for sexually abusing the kid than he did for hitting her. I don’t think he should have gotten off scott free but he could have been charged with assault easily, instead he get’s charged with felony child cruelty? Somehow I think he might walk if only because it’s going to be hard to convict him of such a serious charge based on one incident.

        Personally I’m wondering why the mother didn’t take the kid outside, they weren’t in a queue, it would have removed the kid away from the guy who’d already spoken to them apparently. I’m not saying that what he did was right, but honestly the kid kicks off, you pick em up and take em outside where their screams aren’t contained and where it’s likely to be calmer until they calm down.

  2. That paragraph stood out to me, too, but for a different reason. Why on earth has feministing recruited a blogger who is *not a feminist* and who was kind of a jerk about the way she announced it??

    Secondly, I think she set up a straw-feminist only to knock it down. The vast majority of feminists I know are, um, WOMEN for one thing, and have been responsible at some point in their lives for small children, either via parenthood, babysitting, or younger siblings. Those of us who have been out with children in public know that sometimes things go sideways and the kiddo loses it, or their time limit for still-and-quiet is exceeded due to slow service or other unavoidable circumstances, or whatever the case, shit happens. Blaming feminists in particular for being assy about kids in public is kind of shitty, particularly on a feminist blog.

    That said, I do think there are places where it’s inappropriate to bring children who can’t sit still for the duration: expensive restaurants, PG+ rated movies, and bars, for example. I blame the parents for making the poor choice to do so, not the children. I thought it odd that the blogger was pissy when her friend asked if she had her kid with her at the bar. I can totally relate to that. Honestly, sometimes, even if I want to see a friend who’s a mom, I’m not in the mood for lunch with a toddler. As a non-parent, I have that luxury. I’d rather wait until she’s free to have an adult conversation, or until I have the sanity points to eat with a three-year-old. I believe I’m entitled to make that choice.

    As miserable as it is to fly with a crying baby nearby, I always feel worse for the kid and hir parent(s), who are surely having a worse flight than me. People need and/or want to get places, and they take their kids with them. End of story. You want a child-free flight, charter a private plane. Otherwise, grouchy plane passengers, shut it. And the few times I’ve had to ask a child to stop kicking the back of my seat, zie complied, instantly, and that was the end of it.

    I do get my panties in a bunch when parents permit their children to run around screaming anywhere that isn’t a designated playground. I had this happen to me at lunch the other day, and I do feel like it was happening *to me* because the parents just sat and ate while their kids took laps around a restaurant. It was awful, and dangerous for the servers, and not the kids’ fault. At all. They were old enough to sit still for a few minutes (probably 7 or 8 years old), but nobody had told them to. The problem wasn’t the presence of children; it was the presence of completely un-monitored children acting like they were at the park.

  3. Hi Jocelyn,

    I found this post to be very thoughtful and thought provoking. As a mama of three, I have often felt myself to be on the fringes in order to make someone more comfortable with me or my children. I know myself to be in this situation much more frequently than their father. I have left a room to nurse an infant in order to make others more comfortable. I have also ushered a “loud” child from a public situation more times than I can count. As I have become more comfortable with myself as a mother, a woman, and most importantly, a human being, I have not allowed myself to be in that situation as much.

    I agree with 99.5% of what you say. However, I do have to take exception to the comments about your nieces. As the mother of your only nieces, one of which you have only met once before she was really talking, I think you may have exaggerated your comments to make a good point. I don’t instruct my daughters (5 and 16 months) to be more pleasing to strangers than my son, as you suggest. In fact, the opposite is true. Right or wrong, I feel more protective of my girls in today’s society. I don’t want them to be overly familiar or pleasing to strangers. Being the mother to a female is a unique experience and perspective. It is different than being the mother of a male child. In some ways we encourage our girls to be even more strong than we do their brother. We know they will need this strength of character to see them through a society that still does not see a woman as equal.

    • Rachel,

      I’m sorry your comment got lost in moderation. I have it fixed now!

      I was going to reply but I have a toddler to deal with. Again. Maybe later on this afternoon, if *someone* will take a nap.

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