QUITE often it’s the small annoyances in life that really get people riled.
In Wednesday’s paper we published a letter from a reader complaining about noisy kids and breastfeeding mums in a Nowra restaurant. Our correspondent was urging restaurants to follow the lead of some airlines and have separate sections for parents with kids.
We decided to strike up a conversation with the community via our Facebook page and, boy, did we get an impassioned response.
First out of blocks was Eve, who said the very suggestion was selfish as most people had kids. Ben quickly chimed in as the parent of two very well-behaved children, saying it was a great idea to have kid-free areas in restaurants. The comments then came thick and fast. Christine agreed with the idea. She fessed up to having four children who could be crazy and feral. A segregated area, she said, would enable parents to stop having to shoosh their little ones and avoid embarrassment.
The most amusing comment came from Troy, who reasoned that because he didn’t run amok in the McDonald’s playground, he thought it reasonable children didn’t disturb adults at the dinner table. He said he’d brought up six children and taught them to be respectful around adults.
Within two hours of posting the letter on our Facebook page, more than 300 followers had been reached and the conversation had spread through the community.
It is, as we said, a curly question. How do you balance the rights of adults with the exuberance of children? Have we lost the plot when it comes to setting behavioural boundaries on our offspring?
Back in my childhood – not quite in the days of silent radio but almost – strict limits were set. If we were to join the adults at the dinner table it was on the proviso we were well-mannered. After setting the table, we spoke only when spoken to, we passed the food without leaning over one another, we sought permission to leave and never, ever did we dare rest our elbows on the table.
Our good behaviour was rewarded with restaurant outings – back then, going out to eat was a very rare treat one looked forward to for weeks. Because we were taught not to embarrass our parents, we travelled with them – on ships, planes and trains. We were seen and not heard unless we were invited to talk. That invitation came without fail, I suspect, because we were well- behaved.
These days, it’s different. The world has become a much noisier place. So many new things compete for our attention: television, radio, billboards, the latest gadget, email, the smartphone, Facebook … and, of course, our kids. And these tuggers at elbows can be extremely loud.
A once-in-a-decade trip to Planet Ikea in Sydney last weekend illustrated this perfectly. In amongst all the stuff competing for your attention (and your wallet) – the Snit lamps, Daag tables, Prefekt chairs – were little children. Hundreds of them, all squealing at once, darting under your feet, jumping on to the chairs you were just about to sit in. It was a riot, a full-on assault on the nerves. And the parents for the most part were oblivious. Some even seemed to be encouraging the madness. (In the midst of this roiling chaos sat one little angel: a girl about seven years of age engrossed in the book she had brought to keep her amused while mum and dad shopped.)
Now there seems to be a fightback. Shopping centres, airlines, cafes and readers of this paper are drawing a line in the sand. There is a place for youthful exuberance but it’s not the restaurant, the cafe, the business class cabin and other places adults hang out.
Many of those saying enough is enough are parents themselves, hankering for the peace and quiet denied them at home. And they are not having a go at the kids as much as the parents who have not set the boundaries and been considerate of those around them.
Is anyone listening? Judging by the response to our letter they are. They might not agree with one another but at least they are having the conversation. Those with frazzled nerves and noise overload can only wish that one day it will be all quiet on the children front.