Do Americans hate children?
McDain’s Restaurant, outside of Pittsburgh, recently instituted a ban on very young kids. Owner Mike Vuick reported an “overwhelmingly positive” response from customers. The internet is overloaded with screeds like this one, lambasting selfish parents who take their kids to grocery stores (the horror!), five-star restaurants (c’mon … really?) and – get this – on airplanes.
“There is absolutely nothing worse than the sound of a crying baby,” wrote a commenter identified only as “Michael” in response to an opinion piece on The Week regarding child-free flights. “I think the breeders should have to sit together, so that those of us who DON'T like children, don't have to deal with the little brats on a long flight.”
Certainly, these are outliers. Most Americans have children, so presumably, they like them. But it does seem as though our culture has become increasingly intolerant of kids. And if you’ve ever traveled abroad, you may have noticed stark differences in the way Americans view and treat children versus the way other cultures do.
When Patti Carr Cocciolo, of Culver City, Calif., traveled to Bali with her husband and two small sons, she was struck by how loving and kind the locals were to children. Her kids, then 6 months and 2 years, cried, fussed, and did all the things very small children do. Still, the locals were enchanted.
“I have never seen a culture that loves children so,” wrote Cocciolo in an e-mail. “I think about this often when I walk into a restaurant or onto an airplane here in the States with my kids and face the sneers and rolling eyes of adults. I often want to ask them, ‘Weren't you once a child?’”
I went from being an irritated eye-roller to a nervous, grateful parent in the span of a week when my husband, Steve, and I adopted a child from Ethiopia two years ago. It was a long journey there, and we were delayed 13 hours at Dulles. By the time we caught our red-eye to Addis Ababa, we needed sleep. Badly.
But the Ethiopian Airlines flight was full of kids up way past their bedtimes. The little moppets ran up and down the aisles, giggling and playing. Steve and I tried dirty looks, we tried huffing and crossing our arms, but no one noticed.
Oh, the irony that just a few days later, we were the scared, brand-new parents of a 13-month-old. On the Ethiopian Airlines leg of the flight, our son barely made a squeak before being surrounded by clucking mamas, eager to hold and soothe our son. Kids running through the aisles – like the ones that had driven us mad just a week earlier – stopped by to entertain him. We thanked these kind people over and over, but as one man explained to us, “In Ethiopia, the children belong to everyone.”
That “it takes a village” mentality ended when we switched carriers. When we boarded the American flight with our little guy – who was silent, incidentally – the passengers across the aisle from us mumbled grumpily. When I asked a flight attendant to help me pull down the diaper-changing apparatus in the lavatory, she refused, citing “liability issues.”
Perhaps the difference is due to the number of childless people in Western cultures. In the U.S., more people delay having children, or opt out entirely, choices that are far less common in developing countries like Ethiopia or Indonesia.
Or perhaps our irritation with children is a reflection of our priorities. We get two weeks of vacation in this country, so when we have “off time,” we don’t want to be bothered by childish noises, much less a kid who hangs over your airplane seat and says “Hi!” a thousand times.
But for every story of people being snarky, said Cocciolo, there’s another of people who’ve helped her with her luggage, or held one child as she buckled another into a car seat. “For every person who’s sneered, there’s that angel who can really make it happen, and that person is usually a parent or a grandparent.”
Do you think Americans are less tolerant than other cultures when it comes to children? Or more tolerant?