Are ‘brat bans’ and age restrictions for restaurants the new norm? Meagan Francis sounds off.

It started with an AdWeek story about so-called “brat bans” – policies at stores, restaurants, and movie theatres that forbid or restrict children.

Within a day, the blogosphere was burning up with points and counterpoints. According to “Firecracker Mandy” of the Childfreedom blog: “I hope the brat ban truly is an idea that is catching fire because it is long overdue, especially in the current climate of overly-permissive child-rearing that seems to have taken ahold of our culture with a death grip.”

Meanwhile, over at Yahoo! Shine, Piper Weiss mused about whether such restrictions are fair to parents and suggested that no-kids policies could threaten to turn parents into second-class citizens. “As businesses respond to their new breed of ‘first-class’ clientele, are parents in danger of becoming second-class citizens?”

Here on Babble, Strollerderby’s Monica Bielanko had this to say: “I am not at all cool with banning kids from anywhere. This is America for crying out loud! When did we go from “It takes a village” and “Children are our future” to “Get the hell out of here you loud, whining brat”?

And me? As a mom of five who often takes some or all of my kids along when I travel and dine out, I’m conflicted. On the one hand, I’m generally supportive of kids being out in public, pretty much anywhere parents can go, as long as their parents are tuned-in and aware of how their kids’ behavior is affecting people around them.

But I do wonder if the “brat ban” might not make some things a little easier for us, too. As Jen Singer of MommaSaid.net shared in her recent Momversation video, when her children were babies she once took one of them to a restaurant for a family gathering, only to realize after the fact that it wasn’t a very baby-welcoming joint. Jen took her baby and left. Would she have been offended if the restaurant had imposed a baby ban? “Probably not,” says Jen. “It would have saved me a lot of aggravation, quite frankly.”

I can relate. It’s not always that easy to gauge whether or not a place is family-friendly from the foyer or website. And don’t go looking for a one-size-fits-all societal standard – you won’t find one because everybody has a different opinion. Tracey Moore handled this issue well in her recent Jezebel story, asking: “Where, exactly, is it OK to take your kid?”

At least if a restaurant has a clear policy – no kids after 9 pm, no children under age 6 – I know for sure whether or not my brood and I are welcome. And if all the people who don’t want to deal with kids go to child-free restaurants, I won’t have to worry about crossing paths with them while I’m out.

The truth is that I avoid nice restaurants with my kids – not because I’m afraid they can’t behave themselves, but because I worry other people won’t even give them a chance.

Can you blame me? Look how these discussions always seem to turn into a frenzy of mother- and child-bashing from those who would like to remind us how much “parents today” suck and “children today” are mostly ill-mannered, ill-behaved brats.

Some will insist that we are already an overly kid-centric culture. I’m not buying it. Sure, America is “child-friendly” in that we provide kids with plenty of loud, obnoxious places to eat really awful food and act like animals. But how “child-friendly” is that, really? The more we separate grownups and children for basic human activities like eating – or heck, worshiping (many churches discourage or disallow children in the sanctuary during service) – the less the two groups will learn to get along together, and the less children will learn how to become polite members of adult society.

The fact is that when you live in a human society, you’re going to come into contact with all sorts of people who disrupt life the way you might like to live it. Example: Every week I go to a local grocery store patronized heavily by elderly and disabled people in motorized shopping carts. Every week I get stuck repeatedly behind one of these carts while trying to make my way down the aisles. But I spend hundreds of dollars each month in that store! Aren’t I entitled to more convenience?

I don’t think so. Sure it annoys me sometimes, but instead of huffing around, glaring at the cart-drivers or complaining to management, I try to remember that I’m not the only person in the world, and that sooner or later, I could very well be the person in the motorized cart just trying to live my life with the rest of the human beings.

Grocery shopping and eating out are different experiences, you say? But according to whom? Why is it so impossible to enjoy an upscale dish in the same room as a reasonably-behaved child? Wouldn’t it be just as easy for parents to be annoyed by the mere presence of singles infringing on their right to have a nice, upscale family meal? In other words, who gets to set the standard here?

Of course, it’s not just kid-haters in favor of “brat bans” – I’ve heard other parents say that when they go through the trouble of getting a sitter and going out, the last thing they want to see is somebody else’s baby. It seems that in order to have a good time, these parents think they need to go someplace where they could close their eyes and believe that children do not exist.

And I think that’s : weird. But then, I’ll admit that where I live – small-town Midwest – bars and restaurants are often one and the same, and you’ll often see kids coloring a few feet away from where grownups are drinking. Nobody seems to care, so I guess this discomfort is a little difficult for me to wrap my mind around.

Tsh Oxenreider of SimpleMom.net brought up this topic on her blog and received nearly 300 responses on both sides of the aisle. When I asked Tsh what she thought about “brat bans,” she was – as I am – conflicted. “There are expected behavioral norms in certain public situations, and if kids obviously couldn’t handle those expectations, the parents need to be mindful that kids shouldn’t be there. But the #kidsshouldbebannedfrom hashtag on Twitter? Come on, grownups.”

Tsh nailed it for me. It’s not just the ill-behaved kids and clueless parents getting lumped together in these stereotypes – it’s all children and all parents. And people feel they have the right to never be annoyed or inconvenienced by them. Is that fair? Realistic? Logical?

I’ve got a solution: in addition to child-free hours, how about a separate “kid-hater-free hours” as well? It could be a genius solution! Parents could have a nice meal and perhaps even an adult beverage in relative peace, not having to spend the entire meal sweating and worrying about whether their kids’ voices might be ruining the lives of everyone around them. Kids could eat real food in child-sized portions, and parents could teach about table manners in normal voices instead of frantic whispers. No running in the aisles or climbing on chairs would be tolerated (guess what – a lot of parents hate that too.) Well-adjusted, even-tempered adults would be welcome, of course; so long as they could handle the sight of small people enjoying themselves.

Parents, we do not get totally off the hook here. There’s some truth to this idea that “parents today” are permissive and checked-out, or it wouldn’t exist. Just as my life is affected by ill-behaved adults every single day – the jerk cutting me off on the highway, the loud cell-phone user in the grocery store, and the loud, drunk jerk in the “upscale” restaurant – some behavior is not OK. We’ve got to own up to that on both sides.

But take away ill behavior and there would still be a group of people who simply don’t want kids around. Pretty much every time I read an article about bringing kids to “adult” venues, some commenter or other wants to remind us parents “not everybody finds your children as delightful as you do.” Well, duh. I don’t expect anyone to find my child “delightful,” just as I don’t find the people who would say such a stupid thing “delightful.” I just ask that my kids be treated as human beings – no better, no worse.

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