Not the Star I Paid to See

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Picking up where I left off yesterday on the matter of unpleasant parents:

Another good thing about the way Mormons deal with kids: everyone (well, almost everyone) learns very early that there are places where it's just not appropriate to bring children. This doesn't cause kids much pain or resentment, because a lot of those adult forums are plain boring, and kids are rightfully glad to escape them. You learn that your parents can go off and leave with you a babysitter and it won't kill you, the babysitter OR your parents--in fact, if the babysitter is cool enough, you might even have fun, and you usually get something special for dinner.

The last ward (a Mormon congregation) I attended was an young adult/student ward at the Institute at the U of Arizona. There were no kids in this ward, because you had to be a childless university student and/or single person over the age of 18 but under 35 to attend it. The idea was to help young people meet potential mates, though childless couples in which at least one spouse was enrolled as a student could also attend this ward.

But there was this divorced woman in her late 20s who insisted on bringing her five-year-old daughter with her, and largely because the bishop felt sorry for her, both mother and child were allowed to attend. The daughter went to all the meetings with her mother, including Relief Society, the meeting for women. Well. One Sunday I was teaching the lesson, and I made an off-hand comment about how there was no Santa Claus.

Well!

The child was upset to learn that there was no Santa Claus, and the mother was incensed that I let that secret slip, and wanted me reprimanded. However, the RS president dealt with the matter in what I consider the most appropriate way: she told the woman, "If you don't want your child to hear adult conversations, don't bring your child to adult forums."

I really resent parents who refuse to get babysitters, who insist on bringing their kids with them to ANY and EVERYTHING they want to do. Neither I nor my sister (who had four kids of her own, but she and my brother-in-law got a babysitter) will ever forget the 2002 midnight premier of The Two Towers, mostly because some young couple brought their three-year-old. He cried for a good long while, and the parents let him. He kept saying, "I'm tired! It's noisy here. I want to go home." And finally, since he couldn't go home, the poor boy did what he could to escape the noise: he went out in the hall and fell asleep on the floor--and the parents left him there. There is no way in which such profoundly selfish behavior constitutes acceptable parenting. In fact, it might even considered criminally negligent--what if someone had stolen the kid? It wouldn't have been hard. And although the greatest wrong was done to the child, I also felt sorry for everyone else in that theater: we should not have had to listen to him cry. The parents should not have brought him, and when he began to cry, they should have left the theater.

The theaters where I live now try to prevent such situations; there's a sign at the box office with the picture of a really cute baby. Underneath is a caption reading, "Cute as you are, you are not the star I paid to see." The sign explains that no child under six years of age will be admitted to any R-rated movie beginning after 6 p.m. (I always used to wonder who would bring a child under six to ANY R-rated movie, no matter what time it showed. Then I found out.)

Restrictions like that really infuriate one of my friends, who fairly burst with pride as she told me how she'd taken her six-month-old child to a showing of Brokeback Mountain. And I kept thinking, "Brokeback Mountain is a really great movie, but you're an ass." She spent all this time telling me how lonely and depressing it is to be around a kid all day without other adult company, and how hard it is to get people to accommodate her motherhood. And then she and her husband and child and I went to dinner, and a fair portion of the meal was spent retrieving the silverware the child constantly threw on the floor. I have 14 nieces and nephews; I understand that small children need to be entertained. But I also understand that entertaining children requires energy, and that if you want a certain kind of adult conversation, you don't involve a kid. And as I listened to my friend go on and on about how lonely she is, I thought, "Could part of the problem be that you alienate people who would be DELIGHTED to give you the adult conversation you claim to crave, if you were just willing to pay a babysitter?"

In other words, I accept that if I visit friends who have children, part of my time will be spent getting to know and interacting with their children--and in many ways, I enjoy that, because as I said, I like kids! But if you assume that my primary motive in making the effort to visit you (particularly if it involves forking out several hundred bucks on airfare) is to watch you watch your child shred magazines, or if there's nary a single kid-free moment in a period exceeding seven or eight hours, or if over 50% of what you say to me is about your kid and the style of parenting you've adopted, well, I probably won't be back to see you until the kid's at least in junior high--and for god's sake, don't ask if you can bring the kid and visit me! Because cute as s/he might be, your child is not the star I really want to see. And as I have other friends who manage to raise children while retaining an identity other than parent, I'll just hang out with them.

20 Comments

These posts are so spot on, I offer my admiration for you telling it like it is and with intelligence and wit.

I just posted elsewhere that there is gulf among feminists who have had children and those who haven't. I find women who have not had children to be much more judgmental and demanding about the way mothers and kids are supposed to act. I just feel that it is not my responsiblity to deal with other people's kids. What kids do does not bug me much. They're immature.
I always did my best to keep my kids from annoying others, but I was not always successful. My kids, like all unabused kids, were always "on" with their stuff, which might or might not be congenial to adults or appropriate for the circumstances they found themselves in.
My sister is one of those experts on child rearing who has never had one herself. Poor thing, she has missed the experience of hauling a kicking and screaming kid out of a restaurant or experiencing the revulsion of others at her squirming yelling kid on an airplane!

New York Magazine has a wonderful feature article on a bulletin board where moms in NYC talk about their joys but mainly their complaints. There are also a couple of articles about happiness, and tellingly on happiness and children, one of the articles reports:

On a day-to-day basis, caring for children creates roughly the same level of satisfaction as washing the dishes. In fact, surveys of parents invariably find a clear dip in happiness after the Blessed Miracle of Childbirth, which continues unabated for twenty years—bottoming out during adolescence—and only returns to pre-birth levels when the child finally leaves home.

People have children sometimes to brighten their lives. They imagine a happy gurgling baby and not inconsolable screaming in the middle of the night. Even if they have kids, they forget the horror because they crave the transcendence. And then rather than helping the kid develop skills and strengths, they just try to imprint their own personalities on the child. And when you start out as a self-aborbed git, of course you child will have an excellent chance of being miserable.

You are so right about this. I'm with Dale -- spot on.

These posts are so spot on, I offer my admiration for you telling it like it is and with intelligence and wit.

Thanks, Dale! If there's anything I am happy to accept, it's your admiration. But as you can see from Hattie's comment, plenty of people feel that in this matter, I'm A) a bitch and/or B) a clueless, "poor thing," since I'm not a mom myself--the fact that I have been involved in child-rearing myself for over 30 years (and had to "haul a kicking and screaming kid out of a restaurant," albeit one I was babysitting, not one I personally gave birth to--ditto with hauling a puking child out of church, etc etc) doesn't mean I'm at all entitled to have a sense of when people are crappy parents.

Because after all, no matter how badly how society treats women who've reproduced, let's not forget that according to patriarchy, the least useful and insightful members of a culture are those women who don't pop out a kid.

Thanks for the link, Spike. I hope you find your new child more rewarding than dishwashing. I know you've been dealing with screaming in the middle of the night, so I hope that you've got plenty of cute gurgling during the day.

I don't feel sorry for women who have chosen not to have children. And I would never call anyone a bitch, especially not another woman. I'm sorry you have misunderstood me.

Thanks, Holly. And, yes, in fact the baby does give both the crying and the gurgling. That's kind of the point, for me at least. Since you know a bit about my personal circumstances -- which I won't rehearse here -- you know that it's not about happiness for me. In a personal note, and I hope you don't mind my repeating it here, you welcomed the arrival of an interesting new person into my house. That really touched me and it sums up what I think it is about. In each of the cases you discuss, the parents in question were ignoring their kids, or at least not paying attention to what the kids were trying to tell them. The parents were not treating the kids like interesting people.

So when the mom in the checkout line keeps saying, "it says sour," she's not thinking about how stores stock up merchandise in bright primary colors right at the checkout precisely in order to get kids to grab at the candy or toys, with the idea that harried parents trying to get the hell out of the store will just break down and buy the stuff. The parents are not thinking about how complicated that terrain is for a child. And taking a kid to a restaurant or a movie, well, I believe that children have to learn how to be in public, too. So I might be willing to stop at a pub on a Saturday afternoon and have a pint in the beer garden and watch the other kids playing or have people come over and coo over our gorgeous baby. But I would not go back to that pub at 8:00PM with the smokers and drinkers with a baby. Or if I went to a movie with a friend who found the film diturbing or distressing and asked if we could leave, I'd leave with them. Why wouldn't I extend the same consideration to a child?

Anyway, as I said, I've seen you interact with kids and, being a complete rookie at this myself, I think I can learn a lot from you. I'm glad to read whatever you have to say on the subject.

Since I'm not the president and have never run a country, does that invalidate my opinion on how the country's being run? I'm never speaking again.

I don't feel sorry for women who have chosen not to have children. And I would never call anyone a bitch, especially not another woman. I'm sorry you have misunderstood me.

And I'm sorry you perceive this discussion as "mom bashing," as you wrote elsewhere, Hattie. I certainly did not intend to condemn mothers in general as inadequate, which is one reason I stress that I know many excellent parents.

You might not call another woman a bitch or pity women who've chosen not to have kids, but your entire comment does seemed designed to invalidate my opinion. If that wasn't your intent, well, you took a strange approach to expressing whatever it was you intended to express.

Since I'm not the president and have never run a country, does that invalidate my opinion on how the country's being run? I'm never speaking again.

Good, Dale--glad you've learned that lesson. Other lessons commenters here have tried to teach my readers: you aren't allowed to take an interest in Asian culture unless you're Asian; men can't be feminists; even those who embrace the ideology of feminism should not discuss of the privilege exercised by straight white men as a class; it's not fair or right to have a negative opinion of organized religion, since there are many good people in the world who go to church.

And taking a kid to a restaurant or a movie, well, I believe that children have to learn how to be in public, too.

I do too. And I've been to countless restaurants where the placemats can be colored on and the menu emphasizes chicken fingers. And I've sat through plenty of 80-minute long animated movies, 80 minutes being about what a four-year-old can sit through comfortably. It hasn't seemed like a trial or a burden to find places that are kid-friendly when we want to include children in our socializing. But some places are clearly designed to be places where grown-ups hang out with other grown-ups, and I think those with children should respect that.

Or if I went to a movie with a friend who found the film diturbing or distressing and asked if we could leave, I'd leave with them. Why wouldn't I extend the same consideration to a child?

Excellent summary, Spike. One of my good friends believes in reincarnation and says she is terrified of experiencing childhood again, because you are completely at the mercy of some extremely powerful person. I feel lucky that that's not my view of childhood, but I can see how it would be easy enough to feel that way.

Loving this discussion. Especially relevant right now since we've been struggling for the past six months with a new upstairs neighbor who 1) refuses to put down carpeting, even though it's stipulated on the first page of the lease and 2) lets her one year old run from one end of the apartment to the other, back and forth, full out run, for hours and hours and hours. One day from 6:30 am until 9:30 pm. Today I finally got up the courage to go upstairs at 8:30, after two hours of this (on a Sunday morning) and asked her, very gently (really! I am exceedingly polite and respectful--I totally GET that I have no right to an opinion since I don't have children of my own), if she could stop the running, since it was early on a weekend morning, and since it had been going on a very long time. Her response? In a calm, unmoved voice, no trace of an apology for this seriously life-altering level of constant noise: "No, I can't. I tried, but I can't." As the kid whizzes past her making growling sounds. She shrugged her shoulders and closed the door.

Hmm. This is very interesting. I have forgotten in the interim since I was bringing up children how grumpy and judgmental many adults are about kids. Though you do blame the parents, mostly, I guess. Well, a lot of parents are quite incompetent, that's true. I can't give myself high marks. I started out too strict and had to lighten up.
I have many heartwarming anecdotes from my days in the trenches, but here's one:
Grocery shopping: my daughter wanted me to buy her some candy. I said no. She went immediately into a full on tantrum, so I dragged her out of the store and she collapsed, howling, onto the sidewalk. A women walked by with her little granddaughter and said, "See that very bad little girl? Now that is the way you must never be."
If you approve of the Grandma, we are not on the same page.

I have forgotten in the interim since I was bringing up children how grumpy and judgmental many adults are about kids.

Whatever, Hattie. If you think I'm grumpy and judgmental about kids, you haven't been reading.

Though you do blame the parents, mostly, I guess.

I guess mostly I do. Thanks for noticing. I appreciate when someone leaves comments that actually acknowledge the substance of my writing.

If you approve of the Grandma, we are not on the same page.

I can't say I admire temper tantrums, but I recognize that small children throw them. And if you look back through these posts, you'll find someplace where I mention my typical response when I hear a child crying.

Yes, Margo, I agree that it's very unattractive of those among us who are childless to feel parents should attempt to moderate their children's behavior--FAR more unattractive than parental indifference to the effect one's child has on other people.

"the effect one's child has on other people." ah, that's the key.
There's plenty of aggravation out there besides kids, if you ask me.
What effect do slow old people blocking the sidewalk and grocery aisles have on you?
Insolent gum-chewing teenagers?
Trampy looking women smoking cigarettes on the street?
Potty middle aged guys with young Asian girlfriends?
Able-bodied beggars buying their groceries with food stamps and paying cash for two cases of beer?

I get aggravated, too. So what I do is run all my errands real early before the great unwashed make it out of bed. It has changed my life. I get everything done in half the time and maintain my pleasant demeanor (for the most part).

I can agree with everyone here to some point. I have been the person with the kid having the temper tantrum (and yes, they do place those chocolate bars in a sneaky way don't they Spike), I have been a single mom who could not afford a babysitter, spent many years of my life in isolation, and been the parent with the 1 yr. old running around in an apartment because I didn't have money for a babysitter, and really didn't have any where to go (you can only do parks and happy meals for so much time out of a day), and so have sympathetially (or maybe not sometimes) said that I could not really do a lot about the running kid.

All that being said, and more to the point of what I think you are trying to say, I also believe there are places children should not be. Last year a student, who is now one of my best friends, joined our class for our fourth year of school. Her son was home schooled and her ex had not provided her child support for some time. She asked the proffessor if she could bring her 12 year old to school occasionally, when topics were appropriate because there were times that his father could not take him (he was unreliable)and she could not always afford a babysitter. The prof said it was ok as long as the child did not interupt her lecture in any way or disrupt the learning of the other students. Which I thought was fair. There has never been a problem with him being in the class because he is mature enough that he can sit quietly and do his work. At one point we were all discussing it and decided that no one else in the group (including me)would attempt to bring their child(ren) because they just would not do well and it would interupt the class. At this point one of the women talked about how one of her proffessors would bring her three year old to class, even during exams, and how she thought this was inappropriate. Which, we all agreed with. Along that train of thought, I would support a child care centre being put in a university, fine, but also believe that parents need to take responsibility for their children, need to do what is best for the children, and respect others - so yeah, for all of these reasons I would not want someone to bring their three year old to class.

What effect do slow old people blocking the sidewalk and grocery aisles have on you?
Insolent gum-chewing teenagers?
Trampy looking women smoking cigarettes on the street?
Potty middle aged guys with young Asian girlfriends?
Able-bodied beggars buying their groceries with food stamps and paying cash for two cases of beer?

You know what, Hattie--some of these classes of people have no effect on me whatsoever, though I feel safe assuming you list them because they all upset you. But all such people are mature enough that if I have a problem with them, I can address them directly in order to discuss the problem. They are responsible for themselves, whereas parents are responsible for children. Three-year-olds do not bring themselves to midnight showings of movies; parents bring the children.

There's plenty of aggravation out there besides kids, if you ask me.

Let remind you, once again, as you previously acknowledged but seem to have forgotten, that my comments are intended to focus on ways in which PARENTS shirk their responsibility, rather than on the ways that children in and of themselves are inherently offensive, mostly because I don't think children are inherently offensive.

Furthermore, while it is true that a great many other annoyances exist in the world, and while it is also true that at times I have chosen to discuss my attitude towards some such annoyances, this week I have chosen to discuss my annoyance with bad parenting. I do not believe anything in the world makes this topic off-limits in the blogosphere, aside from the belief some people seem to hold that unlike government and religion, parenthood is a sacrosanct institution beyond criticism. If you find my annoyance annoying, I cordially invite you to avail yourself of whatever means at your disposal to spare yourself this unpleasantness, including refraining from reading this particular thread on my blog.

Carm--thanks for complicating and broadening the discussion here. I'm sure it's hard to raise children and I am in favor of every social measure available to make that task easier. But you are right, that a major concern for me is with parents who have no sense that there is anywhere their child should not be allowed to go.

"I get aggravated, too. So what I do is run all my errands real early before the great unwashed make it out of bed. It has changed my life. I get everything done in half the time and maintain my pleasant demeanor (for the most part)."

The great unwashed? I find this posting offensive. Holly was pointing out the faults that particular parents can have in raising their children, not with disliking children themselves, I get that. You, on the other hand, have singled out and stereotyped a whole lot of people.

Holly, you're a champ for putting up with this discussion.

It seems to me that the one group who does not enjoy a champion amongst the contributors to this discussion are bad parents. Writing as someone who has had very little sleep over the last several nights, allow me to speak up. They are selfish little blighters. They think the world revolves around them. How else is a child to learn that tantrums don't get them what they want, if we don't leave them lying in the supermarket aisle to scream? Just push your buggy around them and admire us for learning how to let that piercing wail pass directly through the brain without making our eyes water any more. We all have such admiration for children raised by wolves -- Romulus and Remus, for example -- but let a parent bite the nose of a disobedient child and it's all police and child services and what a headache.

Oops, must cut this short, my precious little muffin is cooing again. Does someone need a nappy change? Who's got a dirty bum? Who's got a cute widdle dirty bum?

Thanks, Spike, for lightening up the discussion. I hope your bundle of joy feels very tired tonight and sleeps for ten straight hours.

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This page contains a single entry by Holly published on July 22, 2006 8:38 AM.

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