I spend a lot of time- arguably too much- on social media. It's proved a boon in the real connections it has helped me maintain, the virtual friendships it has fostered, the advice it has proffered, the information it has provided. But through it, I've also become all too aware of much of society's negative perceptions of motherhood and family life.
Though I've blessedly never experienced any push-back myself, I've read countless anecdotes about the horribly discouraging (to say the least) experiences of breastfeeding mothers who tried to nourish their children in public. I've encountered ridiculous levels of outrage over beautiful, tasteful breastfeeding imagery. I've run into articles about restaurants (like this one) who are proudly embracing their kid un-friendliness, or banning children altogether, and the jaw-dropping comments that their actions evoke from people who seem to believe that anyone with children should never venture out of their front door.
I know that the Internet seems to be specially designed to bring out the worst in people, and that the troll phenomenon so often spoken of is fueled by a particular type who seem to relish in simply "stirring the pot." I also know that some people have been jaded by their experiences with really poorly behaved children, and have erroneously come to the conclusion that such bad behavior always equals bad parenting.
I can empathize a bit with the problem of warped perception. Back when I was a teenager, and first saw a woman breastfeeding in the Baskin Robbins where I worked (very modestly, by the way), I felt pretty shocked and appalled. I'd never seen it before. I thought it was weird. However, I figured it was her choice to make, and if she was comfortable doing it, it was not my place to say anything or to stop her. It took becoming a mother myself to change my natural response at the sight of it to pride and solidarity.
The same goes for how I look at badly-behaved children now, as opposed to a decade or so ago. I've come to learn that unless you have your own, or spend a lot of time with them, it can be difficult to truly understand how contrary they can be, even in the best of circumstances. Though I still wholeheartedly believe that good, caring discipline can go a long way, it certainly can't cover everything, especially when it comes to children under the age of five or so. And what about children with special needs, whose struggles are not readily identifiable? Their particular challenges could very well prove to be life-long, leading to unexpected behavior throughout a much broader range of ages.
Honestly, though, it didn't take much life experience to bring me around. Even before I had my own children, my friends started having them. While it didn't come close to giving me the whole picture, it certainly gave me some idea. And to the degree that I had no personal experience, I certainly had some amount of imagination, and a desire for understanding. So who are these people, so filled with rage and judgement, and how do they spend their whole lives so insulated from the difficulties that parents everywhere must face? How can they so lack compassion? Short of that, how do they not see the shortfalls in their own logic?
The world is in constant motion. Not many of us could shut ourselves off from it for long, least of all those with children. There are groceries to buy, errands to run, social events to attend, communities to stay active in. Beyond that? Lives to live. Not even just for the parents, who admittedly knew they'd be making some amount of sacrifice when they took on their roles. Their children- loud, raucous, messy, unpredictable, and perhaps "annoying" though they may be- make up the entirety of the many generations of our future. Should they not be allowed to experience the present along with the rest of us?
That's not to say that every place is appropriate for children. But while there are some places that children should never be, and some places designed exclusively for them, I'd venture to say that most public places are designed for the benefit of everyone.
I'm probably the least-qualified to make a complaint about all of this. My experiences in public, as a parent, have been generally good thus far, though they have been fairly limited. However, especially as I continue to hear more and more of the same kinds of negative narratives, I can't help feeling fearful and judged all the same. I know that the next time I have to feed my hungry infant while I'm out, I'll be looking over my shoulder that much more often. On the next (rare) occasion I have to bring my children to a restaurant I'll be obsessing that much more frantically over every bit of food they throw to the floor, every sound they emit, every action that they take.
Supposedly, it's the childless (or is it child-free?) patrons all around me that are having their experience ruined by the presence of my children. Maybe they should come and take a taste of my anxiety-laden meal sometime- then we'll see whose dinner really came out badly, in the end.