I had originally posted this on my blog last summer, but I thought it would be interesting to discuss here. It's a rant, a bit extreme, but focused on a very real issue.

Okay serious rant to follow. What is with our country moving towards more and more discrimination. Entire groups of people are being banned from restaurants and public places. Reminiscent of the days of segregation, signs are being put up banning a certain demographic from eating or swimming in certain places. But instead of signs proclaiming "Whites Only" or "No Colored People Allowed" these signs state "No Children Allowed."

Apparently as the baby boomers kick their kids out of the house and more and more people are choosing to not have kids, they don't want to be bothered by other people's kids. They would rather not have to interact with that segment of the population and so are pushing for mandates and rules to protect themselves from children. I understand laws that prevent children from entering strip clubs or R rated movies, but this is going too far. It started in restaurants, private establishments that could discriminate as they choose. Then there were subdivisions (gated usually) that barred anyone under 18 from living there (and often even visiting). But now apparently public beaches in Illinois are banning children to meet the baby boomers' demands for comfort. If this PUBLIC beach had put up signs banning women, or Mexicans, or Muslims there would be huge public outcry and an avalanche of lawsuits. But the ban on children is being met with praise and thanks for the opportunity for the self-center to not have to deal with that pesky and annoying minority - children.

And that is what children are - a voiceless minority that is generally despised because they are not adults. I've become increasingly annoyed by the death glares I get if I bring my toddler into certain stores or restaurants. I'm sick of always being seated in the far back corner by the kitchen in restaurants. But to be denied access because baby boomers are living up to their label of being the "me generation" is just too much. And this isn't happening behind closed doors either. I've heard earfuls from empty nesters and the childless (usually bitchy bitter women at craft fairs) about how much they hate children. Stories of how they would spank strangers' children because the mom obviously wasn't going to give the kid the walloping they deserve for crying in a store. Or telling me that all restaurants should ban children or at least parents refrain from exposing other people to their children by eating out. As one lady put it, places like McDonald's exist if parents insist on eating out with kids. So abuse of children and encouraging childhood obesity are better options that making a self-centered adult spend time in the presence of a child.

My response - GET OVER YOURSELVES! Stop being self-centered jerks. Life is not all about you. Stop discriminating against children because you are too lazy to understand them or too selfish to care. Just FYI - I'll will continue to take my child out to eat and to play at the beach and no I won't hit them if they get too loud. I will not give into segregation and will do my best to be an advocate for the voiceless.

(amazingly enough I agree with Al Mohler on this one. Age segregated communities, churches, or societies are not healthy)

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posted by Julie at 8:00:00 AM |


At October 22, 2007 at 10:41 AM, Anonymous Sarah Jane Rhee


I TOTALLY agree with you on this. I've been thinking of doing a post on my blog just about children as sort of a public service announcement—you know, things like the basics of child development, how to communicate with them, the types of discipline that are helpful versus harmful, etc. It seems to me that a lot of folks who don't empathize with kids fall into two categories: 1) they don't have kids of their own and don’t spend any positive time with other people's kids; 2) they have kids but rule over them with an iron, authoritarian hand and don't understand why ALL parents don't do the same.

I have to admit that before I became a parent, I was pretty clueless about kids too. I tsk-tsk-tsk'ed when witnessing a child meltdown in a public place, not knowing that such meltdowns are NOT an indication of the child's character formation or the parent's parenting skills. I often have to explain to my childless friends why Cadence sometimes behaves the way she does, that as a 3 year old her impulse-control is not quite yet developed, and how those impulses are not bad but may need redirection in how they are manifested behaviorally. My friends seem fascinated when I share with them what I've learned about children, and they do seem to gain more empathy towards kids as a result.

Some people may think that "discrimination" is too harsh a word to describe much of our society's attitude towards children. I think it's pretty accurate, though. I have actually seen comments on-line by people who believe that they should lobby their government to ban kids from public places. It's really sad. Anytime we marginalize a segment of the population, we lose out. People who try to keep kids out of their places of comfort and convenience will definitely lose out on the joy and lessons that children offer so freely and naturally if we just let them be.


At October 22, 2007 at 5:14 PM, Blogger Sarah

This is really sad. I think this kind of negative attitude toward children is so anti-thetical to the kingdom of God. But it's the logical next step when abortion is acceptable.

I have a Japanese friend who told me when he had his son, it changed his whole perspective on so many things. He said, "A world without children would be a horrible place." That always stuck with me (and this was before I started having kids). I'm reminded of the movie Children of Men...


At October 22, 2007 at 7:27 PM, Blogger LietoFine

I totally agree too! Even the local pool has rules about which pool the kids are allowed in. I have to wonder if many of these people have one or two horror stories about kids and it's just turned them off the whole idea of having kids around ("when we were out at the restaurant this kid came over and stuck his finger in my food", etc.). Even I see a lot of kids that seem like they don't have any respect for other people (not just adults but kids too) and maybe that puts people off the whole segment.

Cristi :]


At October 22, 2007 at 9:33 PM, Blogger Sarah

Sarah Jane, I like the concept of positive discipline that is developmentally appropriate, but feel less than equipped. (My daughter is 13 months - she's my first). Can you recommend any good books or resources?


At October 23, 2007 at 2:36 AM, Anonymous J. Michael Matkin

In my experience, there are a couple of things going on with this. Certainly, there are some folks out there who - for one reason or another - find children in general an intrusion on their ideal world. Barbara Kingsolver has railed at length about these folks, so I won't add to what she's written.

A larger group, however, are those who suffer from what I call 'my dog' syndrome. I have a couple of dogs who occasionally enjoy barking at whatever. Frankly, I've had them so long that I really don't notice much anymore, unless they are really wild or especially loud. My neighbor, on the other hand, notices every time they bark. It isn't that he is especially sensitive; it's that he isn't used to them, and has no affection for them.

No, I'm not trying to equate kids and dogs. I'm just saying that very few people are going to find our kids as cute or as fascinating or as awe-inspiring as we do. There's nothing new about that. The recent trends toward restricting children from certain events or places (I was part of a discussion recently that revolved, in part, around whether or not small children should be specifically excluded from wedding ceremonies) are one of those consumer-driven market responses to that lack of interest that other people have in making room for other people's kids. Whether or not my daughter's tantrum is annoying or not is a matter of perspective, not fact. I live with it because I love her. Those who don't aren't going to find it that small a matter.

I also think that a lot of us exacerbate the problem by the way that we dote endlessly on our child. I deliberately use the singular here; having more than one kid tends to thin out the wide-eyed obsession that frequently attends a first child, both because you've been through some of the same routine before and because you have less time and energy. I adore my daughters, but that doesn't mean that I don't find them boring sometimes (I know it's a sin to admit that you don't find your children endlessly engrossing, but mea maxima culpa), and if I do then I can't blame others for feeling the same way. They tend to be a pretty small group anyway.

About a year ago, my sister-in-law got married. They had the wedding at an adult-only resort in Cancun. My wife and I were initially reluctant to go, partly because we're not all that keen on resorts but also because we were unhappy that our daughters would be excluded. We had also not been away from the kids at all since we got them, so we weren't sure how they would react to mom and dad being gone for almost a week. Turned out that it all worked out fine. My mom got to spend a week with the girls, and my wife and I got a chance to remember that we were husband and wife before we were ever mommy and daddy. By that stage, we were in need of some reminding. We wouldn't have had that if we'd been able to bring the kids along.


At October 23, 2007 at 6:00 AM, Blogger One Voice of Many

I agree with J Michael.
I try to walk the fine line of allowing my children to be age appropriate without allowing them to get crazy and annoying to everyone around them. My sister in law allows her children to make dinner unbearable for anyone in the restaurant because "kids will be kids". That's true but kids also need to learn boundaries. I'm not saying they should be pounded for making noise. But, careful instruction by parents is needful if we are to create a success next generation of adults. Successful in terms of them being self confident yet considerate of others.

Anyway, J. Michael is love the "my dog" illustration and you're right. After a while we do become numb to the energy that many children exude. That energy can be quite overwhelming for those that aren't quite conditioned to it.



At October 23, 2007 at 12:30 PM, Anonymous Scott

J. Michael and Michelle,

Thanks for being great voices of reason. If this forum continues to be a place where these type of healthy exchanges take place, I am going to be a faithful reader.
Being a first time dad for about 5 1/2 months, I can use all the help I get.

In a consumeristic society you don't have to worry about children being overlooked, they are after all the next "consumers," so it becomes socieity's best interest to dictate and create the eventual demands for the products that they will eventually supply. I am not worried about "child" discrimination. I worry about actually the opposite. Children growing up believing the world revolves around them and their wants, needs and desires.

The age group that needs to be concerned is the senior citizens demographics, because society will view them with their fixed incomes and diminishing physical capacity as no longer able to be "productive" (read able to create or consume good and services.

Regarding the original post, kids should be allowed to be kids, but there is nothing "anti" child about teaching your kids some respect for others. There is no "anti" child agenda going on if a public place wants to restrict its access so that other adults can be together without having someone breast feeding next to their salad, or smelling a diaper while trying to enjoy their wine, or having a snotty child crying all the time, when they just want to create some community with their neighbors.

Some of us parents have got to lighten up a little. Geez.

Finally, I agree that age segregated societies are not healthy ones (though I will find someone else to agree on about that, I would hate to give Al Mohler credit for anything), but that doesn't mean you have to blend the ages at all times. It won't be many years and your kids will be begging for a "no parents allowed" part of their lives. I guess we can cry discrimination again then.


At October 23, 2007 at 3:33 PM, Blogger Julie

Scott - Sorry for not being "the voice of reason" just because I don't agree with you. But to continue in hopefully healthy dialogue...

You wrote, There is no "anti" child agenda going on if a public place wants to restrict its access so that other adults can be together without having someone breast feeding next to their salad, or smelling a diaper while trying to enjoy their wine, or having a snotty child crying all the time,"

What if people decided that they didn't want to have to look at people of a certain color while sipping their wine, or have to be reminded that other religions exist while they eat their salad? Would it be okay to them to say ban black people and Muslims wearing the veil from public places? Or what about the handicapped? Should Stephen Hawking be banned from public places because someone has to feed him and change his diapers?

I assume your answer to those would be that it is not okay, so why are children different? Why are forms of discrimination that would be shocking against other races or religions applauded when applied to children?


At October 23, 2007 at 7:11 PM, Blogger One Voice of Many

Julie and Scott - hope you don't mind if I leave a comment.

Julie - I wonder if it doesn't seem to be that offensive to have some places 'child-free' while, of course, having a 'no handicap' sign put up might be. Handicap isn't something that can be trained out of someone. It is what it is. An unruly child can and should be trained into better public behavior. A mom CAN take the child out of the room to nurse if it does offend some. It might be inconvenient -- it actually IS inconvenient as I nursed all three of my children -- but, it's possible. Race is another characteristic that is what it is.

I'm not saying that I'm a fan of places that say 'no children'. Frankly, they'd not get my business because I prefer to be with my children. But ... I can't say that it meets the same kind of discrimination as would be for race, gender, religion or handicap.

I keep going back to we, as parents, might need to take that as a sign that maybe we have been too relaxed with our children's public behavior. Maybe we've all taken the stand of "they're just kids for goodness sakes" way too often not realizing how very uncomfortable we've allowed the chaos to make the experience for those around us.



At October 23, 2007 at 7:19 PM, Anonymous scott


I am for healthy dialog and don't expect anyone to agree with me. I am a newbie dad and certainly recognize that I may be off. I appreciate your contributions and I am sure that you welcome input from those that don't agree with you without taking offense.

That said, I do think that throwing around strong words like "discrimination" is just over the top in this situation. I don't go into women's restrooms, but I don't think I am being discriminated against. I go to area's designated for men. I also don't jump into the little "balls" at McDonalds, but alas, I do not cry discrimination. There is nothing wrong with saying this is an adult friendly area, just as there is nothing wrong with saying a place is a kid zone.

If there is a lack of places for you to take your children, then move somewhere else. There are plenty of options for adults and children to commingle here in the South, but to call this discrimination is to cheapen those instance where real discrimination exists. We have experience with that in the South as well and my guess is my friends down at the excellent Civil Rights Museum in Birmingham would be either amused or infuriated by the use of discrimination in this case.


At October 24, 2007 at 6:57 AM, Blogger Julie

Michelle - I think it is very telling in our society that natural aspects of life such as breastfeeding have become offensive. At least that shows that the formula company's propaganda is working. I understand about unruly children, but to ban all children just because of the potential for an unruly one showing up just doesn't make sense. I've been in restaurants with rude, loud, and annoying grown men. But I don't think restaurants would ban all men based on a few bad experiences. And just so you know, a lot of the social quirks of the handicapped can't be trained out of them. They are part of who they are even if they are uncomfortable and annoying.

Scott - Discrimination is discrimination no matter who it is against. No one group owns that term no matter what emotional weight it may carry. (this is a real issue as around here some of the African Americans were attempting to force Hispanics to stop using the term. It lead to the churches have some good reconcilation and understanding talks for everyone). Discrimination is defined as "treatment or consideration of, or making a distinction in favor of or against, a person or thing based on the group, class, or category to which that person or thing belongs rather than on individual merit" Barring children from a rollercoaster is a safety issue (as is barring an adult from the ball pit), but barring them from a beach is a preference issue and it just displays the selfishness of out society to always get our way imho.


At October 24, 2007 at 8:23 AM, Blogger LietoFine

Hey Julie - You said it so much better than I could have. Under normal circumstances I would not take my child to a fancy restaurant because he would not do very well in that environment, but I don't need a rule to tell me that. The people who do take their children to a restaurant like that most likely wouldn't care if there is a rule or not. I would guess they're the same people that don't catch on that their children are being rude or annoying (or don't care). The difference with adults is that I think we give them permission to be rude (especially older adults) because they've earned it or something. Whether for adults or children, I don't think a rule is effective like education would be - breastfeeding in public is not the same as an excretory process, hitting and screaming in public is not ok, making rude comments to people is also not ok. But really the vocal people (especially the ones making rude comments) are not often open to hearing the other side of their argument.

Cristi :]


At October 24, 2007 at 1:26 PM, Blogger One Voice of Many

This comment has been removed by the author.


At October 24, 2007 at 5:42 PM, Blogger kim

What I've found especially bizarre as the mother of a toddler is attending a church (made up mostly of Baby Boomers) that primarily has fellowship events designated as adults-only. In the two years I've been there, there has been no child care offered during these events to encourage parents to attend, nor have there been anywhere near as many family-friendly or child-centered fellowship activities. It seems to me that the church of all places should make a space for children as well as adults. (My husband and I are planning on searching for another congregation that is more understanding of the needs of young families.)


At October 25, 2007 at 8:06 AM, Blogger Andrew

We can't forget that children do not have the same rights that adults have. It is proper and reasonable to discriminate (treat differently)'against' children under certain circumstances. Since children are in the process of developing and learning about society, their elders have the responsibility for creating appropriate boundaries for them. This does not give a moral license for selfishness on the part of the adults, but it goes give them freedom to exert control and set up areas of restriction in the lives of children. This creation of boundaries is ultimately beneficial to children. It models for them important societal and interpersonal ideas like structure, power, and the limitations of freedom. If children had the freedom and power that adults have, then they would not have the opportunity to learn these important boundaries. It is easy to see the deleterious effect that overly permissive parents have on children in a single family; simply project those effects to the rest of society and you'll have a world where children are as free as adults.


At October 25, 2007 at 8:41 AM, Anonymous J. Michael Matkin

I'd like to move our discussion back to Julie's original post, and see if there's something here with which we can move forward. To put it another way, how do we approach our role as parents in a culture where there are folks who are entirely impatient with children?

First, begin with repentance. Humility requires that we start by examining ourselves. Have we pulled the log out of our own eye? How much of our attitude towards our children is guided by Christian faith and practice, and how much by cultural norms and romantic notions? In other words, have we made idols out of our children, out of 'childhood' itself? Are some of these people reacting not to our children but to our idolatry?

Second, we need to hear what Julie is saying and be aware that the presence of children in public life, in all their messiness, is not a matter of mere taste but is a critical feature of healthy social life, and we need to live accordingly. To that end, I'm not sure that rights-based language like 'discrimination' is the way we ought to go. I understand why we use it, but it is expressive of that very same cultural matrix of individualism that is the root of the very attitude that we're so concerned with in this discussion. Using this kind of language tends to reinforce the very beast that we need to be starving to death.

There is a wonderful opportunity here for us to be theologically reflective and self-critical about our pattern of thinking in a way that brings life to our entire society. We can't expect to raise children who value fidelity to the kingdom of God above the culture if we ourselves only present them with a vision of the kingdom that is couched in the language that undermines what we're trying to accomplish. We need new language, and the new way of thinking about joy and justice that goes with it.

That new language should express a fuller experience and understanding of joy and justice than our culture possesses, language that finds its roots in the gospel rather than the culture. Early Christians essentially 'created' new words like agape (love) and laos (people), investing these orphan words with new meaning derived entirely from their experience of life in Christ, and we can do the same. New language gives us a way of resisting the culture's corrosive effects on our way of thinking, and gives us a tool for bearing witness to the deeper hope for healthy human life that blooms out of the gospel.

Third, take pains to create places of hospitality. Do this with our children. In fact, if our kids are old enough, let them take the lead in suggesting ways to open a hospitable space in our lives. As adults, experience has taught us to be careful and guarded in how we approach the Other. Those safeguards keep us from harm, but also from good. By encouraging our children to begin from an affirmative stance towards other people our kids can in turn be our teachers, leading us back to a softness of heart while at the same time we walk alongside them to give them encouragement and security as they learn (and remind us in the process) what it means to reach out without exaggerated fears or weary self-centeredness. Here we obey, and lead our children in obeying, the biblical exhortation to overcome evil with good.

I'm thinking about this last point as I read Kim's comment about the situation in her church. I'm curious, Kim, if you and your husband have approached the congregation about your feelings, if you have suggested any opportunities for change, and what the response has been on their part. Hospitality in our churches (whatever their configuration or context) isn't satisfied by just having coffee and tea available, wouldn't you all agree?

Good heavens, I've written a Russian novel here. Thanks, Julie, for introducing this whole matter, because how we embrace our children in public life is often a barometer to how we embrace anyone else who is Other. It's good to be sensitive to the state of such attitudes in our culture.

To finish on an entirely different subject, I think that it would be fun to talk about how our families are celebrating the rhythm of seasonal change. Since we're heading into autumn now, with the big holiday season ahead, a post on this might prompt a timely and helpful conversation. What do you think, Julie?


At October 25, 2007 at 10:24 AM, Blogger kim

J. Michael, I have informally mentioned our thoughts to a couple of small groups of members within the church, including the church council and at least one deacon. (Our church was searching for a pastor over the last year and only recently hired one; I wonder how much that lack of leadership played a part in creating an adults-only church culture.) I phrased our complaint mostly in terms of being unable to find a fit in the congregation, due in some (large?) part to being younger than most members and having a small child. The main problem I have with the church is that no one (including the new pastor, who was present at one occasion when I said these things) has followed up with me or even mentioned my comments in the months after I voiced my concern. I am somewhat at a loss as to how to proceed with the church when it is as if I never spoke. Perhaps this speaks to a larger problem in the church than a lack of activities appropriate for preschoolers...

I agree that children need opportunities to both offer and receive hospitality (in the church and outside as well), and I think education and socialization are also central aspects of including children in public and church life. Children learn manners and social behavior from eating meals with adults. Children learn skills, values, and work ethics from helping and working alongside adults. And children learn how to model faithful Christian lives from spending time with Christian adults. Not to mention that just maybe adults can learn something from spending time with children as well.


At October 26, 2007 at 8:15 AM, Anonymous Sarah Jane Rhee

Wow. I had no idea this discussion was going on after my first comment.

A few more thoughts...

I still agree with what Julie wrote in the original post. I didn't mean, however, that kids who may be acting AGE appropriately should be allowed to act PLACE INappropriately. This is why I don't take my 3 year old to a fancy restaurant or a classical concert. I know she doesn't yet have the impulse control, and to place her in a situation that is beyond her ability to sit still or be quiet for THAT LONG of a time is just setting her up for failure. However, I don't feel that it is wrong of me to take her to a less fancy restaurant so that I can introduce her to the concept of public decorum. If she gets a bit too rowdy, my husband or I will take her for a walk to look at the pictures or other items of interest, or, if she needs more space to run, outdoors to let off some steam.

Scott-the-first-time-dad commented about not having to worry about children being overlooked due to their power as consumers. I think that the attention children are getting as potential spenders of their parents' money IS a form of neglect. Parents may lavish their kids with stuff, stuff, stuff and in doing so ignore the kids' REAL needs for genuine love and attention and guidance. As for the comment about some adults not wanting someone breastfeeding next to their salad, those adults should stay home and eat their meals, as many states now guarantee the right of a baby to eat in public (e.g. breastfeed). Do YOU want to eat that steak in a stall in the bathroom? I didn't think so. What is so offensive about a baby being nourished in the most natural way possible? All the women I know who breastfeed in public do so discreetly, so even if a woman WERE to breastfeed within your visual vicinity, you probably wouldn't see a thing. And if she WEREN'T breastfeeding, you'd probably hear a lot of hollering from the little one.

And I do feel that public attitude towards breastfeeding is a valid point to discuss regarding discrimination against children because the current attitude at large (e.g. finding breastfeeding in public offensive) withholds the right of a baby to receive FOOD when and where he/she needs it. Breastfeeding is a social justice issue. If you care about the poor, you should care about breastfeeding and NOT contribute to a public attitude that impedes the right of a child to be fed breastmilk.

One last thought. As a person of color, I don't find that using the word "discrimination" is inappropriate when it comes to violating the rights of children. If fact, I think it's very fitting. And with that, since I don't want to rewrite War and Peace here, I'll go back to my mommyblogging.


At October 29, 2007 at 11:07 PM, Blogger Mike Clawson

Andrew, regarding boundaries for kids, I think there's a big difference between boundaries that are set up for the good and safety of the child and boundaries that are set up because some adults don't like being around children.