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.
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.