Do we hate kids?

THIS story is getting a lot of comments, said my sister recently, pointing me to a story on the Melbourne Age website about a woman whose husband asked a couple with a screaming baby to leave a cafe.

That was a bit of an understatement, considering the story got well over 1,200 comments from people around Australia and across the globe on the issue of annoying kids in public places. The husband's actions - in asking the parents of a screaming toddler to take the child elsewhere because 'it's my Sunday too' - were applauded. Few expressed any sympathy with the family of the baby - a family who had been asked, by other customers in that same cafe previously, to keep their kid quiet, and had responded each time with foul language and rather unsavoury hand gestures.

It was not one day later before a tale of crying babies (and their parents) asked to leave a cafe came from this side of the ditch as well. The owners of Mt Maunganui's Providores asked Courtney Pope, the mother of a four-month-old, to leave the cafe as a result of her being unable to settle her crying son.

In a Bay of Plenty Times poll, almost 90 per cent sided with the cafe's actions, while a Herald poll showed a little bit more patience with bawling bubs in public - just 31 per cent couldn't bear it while 61 per cent claimed to be ok with it "as long as some effort was being made to calm" the child.

But the issue of people wanting to tell kids to pipe down in public places - and parents defensive, aggressive, or oblivious to the annoyance they are causing - is becoming almost commonplace. Remember Charles Chauvel on the plane? A rather mundane exchange on a national flight that caused headlines, opinion polls and lots of bombast from all sides of the debate.

It seems to me, someone who reads lots of parenting-related material, that these stories will only become more common, as small families increasingly rub up against the child-free and empty nesters in the urban rat race.

I do think almost all this antipathy can be sheeted back to lax parenting; parents who sit idly by in public while their kids create a real nuisance of themselves, saying nothing or ineffectually chiding them. This is by no means all families, but it has given the public at large the impression that modern parenting is all about indulging your children and bridling unpleasantly when anyone says anything about your darling that is less than glowing. The feeling that we must all tolerate painful kids means that when people can vent anonymously on the internet they do - and boy, how they do! Parents are narcissistic, children are spoiled, they shouldn't be flying, or in cafes, or almost anywhere public at all except in areas designated 'for children' - these are far from uncommon sentiments.

It's a shame some parents give the rest of us a bad name. Because most I know do not willingly inflict poor behaviour on public places - they simply want to acclimatise their kids to city living by exposing them to meals out, travel, and the rest of those things. Some mothers and fathers need a strong coffee after a night of interrupted sleep and just want to get out of the house for a caffeine fix. Others are simply taken by surprise at a sudden outburst of insanity from their toddlers and need a few minutes to figure out what the problem is. Some of the responses can be a bit wet, but rarely are the parents getting any pleasure out of the daft antics either.

Toddlers are almost always a trial in any setting and can be a real nightmare without firm guidelines and a close eye on them at all times. I think that from the age the child is walking and onwards, parents need to be on the ball and actively socialising their kids that when out in public, a certain level of bearable behaviour is necessary.

But to my mind, babies are another issue. They communicate through crying, they are not always easy to please, and being frazzled and at a loss is almost a rite of passage for all parents.

Certainly it's not fair to belligerently inflict a screaming baby on the general public at length, but on the other side of the coin, do we really want to be part of a society where children are considered a nuisance from the day they are born?

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