Any time a discussion of children in public arises, someone is at-the-ready to complain about parents who don’t adequately (according to the speaker) watch (read: control) their children. I’ve heard this complaint about children at burns. I’ve heard it about children on airplanes. I’ve heard it about kids in restaurants. I’ve even heard it about kids on playgrounds, which completely baffles me. None of these conversations are very creative. Usually the anti-kid people are recycling the same old tired barbs. One of them, repeated over and over, is, “It’s not my job to supervise/watch/raise/babysit/look after your children.”
Hmm. Well, that sounds right. I mean, my kid is my responsibility, surely, right?
The speaker of an attitude like that actually means that they wish you’d just keep your kids at home and if not, that you’d keep your kids in your backpack instead, so that no one has to see or hear them. (Except don’t leave them in your car or someone will call the police.) When I look around at children in public, there’s not a great problem with children running around out of control. In fact, the main parenting “problem” that I see is an overwhelming amount of severe control. The great majority of children are very tightly supervised and very rigidly controlled. The hypothetical-unsupervised-child is mostly a straw man.
There’s also a deeper problem with the your-kid-your-problem attitude. If I’m out in public, caring for and keeping track of my possessions is pretty much my problem. My keys, my money, my cell phone, all my responsibility. But children are not random possessions. They are people, and they are therefore everyone’s responsibility.
When I encounter people who need help in some way, maybe they’re lost, or they need toilet paper passed under the wall in the bathroom, or they’re carrying too much stuff and need an extra hand, or they want an opinion on something they’ve tried on, or they need a ride to the gas station and back to their car, or they’re in a hurry and need to go before me in line or or or… or whatever, then I generally help out. One day Joshua and I saw a woman in distress in a Kroger and we ended up hanging out with her until she talked to police about her situation, then we hung out with her while she figured out what to do, then we paid about a hundred bucks to put her on a Greyhound bus back home. We did this because we could, because we’re people, because she was a person, and because that’s the right thing to do. Now, you don’t always have the energy or the money or the time or whatever to help everyone. But, mostly, people take care of themselves, and mostly, when someone needs help there’s someone there that could help them.
Guess what? All of that should apply to children, too. Because they’re people. Because you’re a person. Because people look out for each other. Lost kid? Hang out with ou until a guardian can be located. Crying kid? Offer the parent a helping hand or make silly faces at the kid. Bored kid in a restaurant? Strike up a conversation. Or don’t, because not everyone has to help out everyone else, and it’s true that some parents wouldn’t welcome help. If there’s a person in need, and you don’t help out because you’re tired, busy, distracted, preoccupied, in a hurry, weary, in pain, frazzled, or just not in the mood right now, that’s completely your prerogative because you’ve got your own needs, too. But don’t make the argument that it’s not your job, that it’s not your responsibility. But if there’s a person in need and you don’t help because ou is a child, that makes you a prejudiced asshole.
Kids are not cell phones. They aren’t private property. They are people who, like the rest of us, sometimes need a helping hand, a shoulder to lean on, or at the very least, a little bit of tolerance for whatever they’re going through.