02/05/2010

Why I prefer to take my kids to 'people friendly' places.



There's been a lot of debate over the American interweb as to whether children should be seen and heard in public places. People have been indignant, moderate, and some commentators got pretty heated (sorry Kristen!).
So the sisters and I decided that what this debate really needed was the balanced and unprejudiced perspective of the Paris-Ankara Express. Here goes.

Probably the very best piece of childcare advice ever given us - hold on, actually the second best, the best was about how to share the burden of night feeds equally (I kid you not!), and probably prevented our marriage from going into self destruct mode within weeks of our daughter's birth.

Let's start again. The second best piece of childcare advice ever given us came from my father. He visited us a couple of days after I came out of hospital with our daughter, and that same evening said, just like that, 'Let's go out to dinner'. (Well not 'just like that, as he said it in French, Doh.) Husband and I looked at each other, unsure, concerned. But she's not yet a week old, we said. What if she needs a feed, what if there's smoke, what if she cries?

My father had answers for all of these. If she's hungry, you feed her. We'll sit in the non-smoking section. And if she cries, well, it's not such a big deal. She's less likely to cry while you're out in the future if she gets used to it. But, the more important thing, he said, was that we needed to get used to it; that it would make a huge difference to our lives if we felt comfortable taking her out and about and that we wouldn't unless we started now.

Thanks to that piece of advice, we didn't stop living our lives, seeing our friends, and, when the occasion arose, we did a lot of travelling with our two children. We now have two well travelled kids who love to be out and socialise. And before you ask, yes, even the autistic one (he's not keen on going to France or the UK, but that's another story...)

We have taken the children to 'kid-friendly' places, restaurants with play areas which are loud, crowded, and badly lit. The children get over-excited, bored and inevitably end up behaving badly. And I don't mean just my children.

We take them to 'adult' places. We go well equipped. That is, we carry with us a pouch with pens and papers so they can draw, and books, so they can read, should the adults tire of their conversation. Sometimes they get bored, so one of us will take them out to a corner shop, or a nearby playground, or we'll just let them loose outside if there's no cars. At our local bar/restaurant, our daughter steps over the terrace wall and goes down into the wilderness to pick sage and thyme which she then distributes to the customers.

Sometimes they'll fall asleep on a restaurant couch. And we'll be able to stay late, not having to worry about what state they'll be in in the morning. Sometimes a friend, or a waiter will take them off our hands and play with them, not out of charity, but because they feel like it. Sometimes we'll take over somebody else's kid and get them drawing pictures with ours. And sometimes our kids will misbehave, and we'll take them home.

That we're able to do all this is a function of where we live. We're able to socialise in a way that is pretty much unheard of in Europe or the States. Restaurants here are not a place where people dress up and go on 'dates' or quasi 'business' meetings with other couples dressed to the nines. People just go out because they can (restaurants are cheap, and there's a lot of them), because they fancy a certain kind of food, because they want to meet up with a bunch of people. And the world here isn't divided between kids friendly and non kids friendly. People here, are fairly accepting of the fact that, er, some people aren't quite grown up yet.

Ok, so there are places here you don't take children. Special bars where mostly men go (so things aren't ideal, here, far from it). And I wouldn't dream of taking the kids to a poncy expensive place, anymore than I would take them to see an inappropriate movie. But these are the exception. I guess, what I'm trying to say, is that most of the world is not 'unsuitable for people under 18', that it's not divided between family friendly and not family friendly. Or at least, it bloody well oughtn't to be and it will be better for all of us if we resist this perception.

3 comments:

'Im Indoors said...

'the American interweb'

Technically speaking, I believe it's called ''teh' interweb'.

kyouell said...

This is a really nice idea. I spend a lot of time looking for kid-friendly places to go (there are a lot of them in Portland, Oregon), but it would be SO.MUCH.NICER if it was just a people-friendly place. You've got me looking at it in a whole new way.

I wish now we had done a similar thing when our first was tiny. We were so scared by the idea that he needed heart surgery right away that we mostly kept him home and away from germs that might cause surgery to be postponed. Looking back I can see that was new-parent fear, not the smart, logical choice it seemed at the time.

Sandrine said...

Thank you for commenting! I don't know that I would have done anything differently in your shoes. In fact, if I'd worried either of my kids needed heart surgery I would have probably spent their early days hiding in a dark corner worrying myself and husband to death. Although my dad, who was responsible for sending us out in the first place is a cardiologist, so he would probably have known what the right thing to do was. I hope your child is all fine and dandy now and that this worry is far behind you!

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