That was first time we had a stranger tell us and our sons how and where to enjoy their meals. It wasn't the last time. On more than one occasion I've had strangers in restaurants complain to me about Ethan and Ryan's behavior. Sometimes they had legitimate concerns. Most times, however, they complain about things that really aren't issues in our world: "Your child is standing by the window." "Are those your sons looking at the fish?" and my personal favorite "Did you know your children are playing under your table?" (For the record, yes, I am aware of where the guys are and what they are doing, and yes, I am ready to intervene if they are underfoot.)
I just finished reading an entry in Raising My Boychick in which Arwyn addresses this issue. After reading her take on it, I want to have cards printed with the following excerpts from her blog and hand one to the next person who says, "Are you sure it's alright for your kids to eat standing up?"
I recently ran across a piece of child-hate (no, I’m not telling you where) that said, in part, “Sure, I think children are people, but their parents need to make sure they act like it in public! People in restaurants don’t crawl on the floor or dance between the tables!” Really? Because I’m pretty sure what you were talking about just then was a person who was, in fact, dancing between the empty tables.I have no illusion that the person who receives the card will read it or take it heart, but if only one person reads it and realizes that rather than expressing concern s/he is, in fact, trying to control Ethan and Ryan and me than it will be well worth the effort. All children deserve the right to go out in public without having to act exactly the way people around believe "a child" ought to behave.
This is but one example of the widespread phenomenon of child-hate disguised as simply a “concerned citizen”: children are OK in public, as long as they don’t in any way attract an adult’s attention. It usually comes with a hefty dose of mother-blame (which is a type of misogyny, remember), in the form of “she should control her kids, or keep them at home!”
When the parent-blaming child-shaming folk say “I treat kids like people by expecting them to act like it” what they’re really saying is “I expect kids to act like adults”, which boils down to the belief that only adults are people. Because if you actually recognize that children are in fact persons, then you would be able to see that yes, actually, people do do those things in public, and the proof is dancing right in front of you.
What does it mean, exactly, to honor their personhood? It means simply that we start with the radical idea that children are people: that they have the right to bodily integrity; that their needs are no less important than ours, that their desires are no less worthy than ours; that their feelings matter, that their ideas matter, that they matter; that they should be respected for who they are, not just valued (or devalued) for what they do for us.
So that child, dancing in the aisle while you are dining? Their personhood means they have just as much right to be there as you do. If they are unreasonably blocking the way, or damaging property, or causing such a commotion that no other patron is able to also be comfortable in that space — in other words, if they are actually doing something objectively objectionable — then of course you have a cause to complain. And perhaps that was the case in the original screed I read: I cannot know. But regardless, if in the course of your complaint, no matter how legitimate, you state that children need to act like adults (especially using the code word “people”) or not be allowed out in public? If your objection is, at its base, that they are a child in public, daring to act like a child? Then you are an anti-child bigot, and you are the problem in that restaurant that needs to be sent home until you can act like a person.