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Banning the Mummy Mafia and their Squealing Children

By Yvette Vignando - 26th March 2012

In an article in the Sydney Morning Herald called Leave Home Without Them, Fenella Souter enters the debate on whether restaurant and café owners should be allowed to ban children from their premises. But rather than discussing the pros and cons of this emotive area, Souter employs a sarcastic and superior tone to ascribe feelings of “parental entitlement” to mothers during their so-called “mandatory public sharing” of the “difficult years of child-rearing.” The author smirks at mums who dare to enter cafes with their young children; these mothers are part of the “mummy mafia” and are living a “sophisticated” (insert sarcasm font) and “consumerist” way of life.  Consistent with the author’s mummy-bashing in this piece, fathers who go on outings with their children are not mentioned.

In one sentence, Souter refers to her single motherhood of some years ago. The only reason the gender and maternal experience of the author matter to me is that it increases my surprise at the lack of empathy in her piece. Souter’s one concession to empathy is: “Part of me finds it charming. Life! In all its vigour!”  The remainder of the article makes it clear that mummies should keep their ‘charm’ to the more “downmarket” playgrounds, halls and parks. And Souter claims to be bravely speaking for the “many” who are too scared to say what she and they are all thinking: children in “traditionally-adult” spaces are simply – annoying.

The article closes with more sarcasm, referencing a mother who reportedly dared to expose her three year old to Thai restaurants, art galleries and aircraft travel.  Souter’s piece de resistance is to mock the notion that this mother might even have the temerity to take her child, once aged six, to the Pittsburgh restaurant McDains that attracted plenty of media attention last year by banning children under six. “As if!” (I hear her thinking.)

Self-disclosure first: I am a mother of three boys, now aged 16, 14 and 10. I and my husband have visited Thai restaurants, cafes and flown in aircraft with all three children at various times when they were younger.  Occasionally my husband (not being a card-carrying member of the mummy-mafia) even visited cafes with the children without me.  I am no more or less consumerist than other middle class Australians, I and my children were fairly well-behaved, perhaps charming at times, and perhaps annoying at others. I also came across many of the “many”, whom Souter says she writes for, and found them also to vary from well-behaved to less charming and occasionally quite annoying.

I have been in cafes and restaurants at times when I vaguely thought to myself – ‘I wish the annoying and charmless adults in table number 5 with the loud drunken voices, and the disdainful attitude to their waiters had been banned from subjecting me to their consumerist and entitled behaviour until they had learned to behave better.’  But I admit, it’s hard to identify these kinds of people just by their appearance when they enter an establishment – so I admit defeat and have decided a ban would be unworkable, and more likely, illegal.

And by the way, I have also been annoyed by children on planes, at restaurants and even in those more ‘downmarket’ wide open spaces called parks – and like Souter and others, I wished their parents had better skills or more consideration for others.  But perhaps some of those children who unwittingly annoyed me had disabilities of some kind that I was unable to discern, or perhaps their parents had their own challenges: postnatal depression or lack of spousal support just to name a few. Who knows?  So I was simply annoyed and got on with my day.

I think Souter is wrong – taking children out into any public place is not a case of parental entitlement – it’s a case of doing what all humans in our community are entitled to do, even during their children’s so-called “difficult years”.  If children are being so badly behaved in a public place that they are interfering with other people’s safety or reasonable enjoyment, then it’s both legal and fair for the patron of that place to ask the parents to do something about it. If drunken, rude, loud adults are doing the same, it’s likewise reasonable to request that they behave or leave.  

I agree with Souter that in a fantasy world, all children would be perfectly behaved, obey their parents and show consideration for others.  And of course, in that impossibly ideal world, all adults would show similar consideration. But in this real world, copious empathy, good  manners and common sense would solve most of Souter’s concerns.

 

PS The words "mummy mafia" and "squealing children" are not mine - they are lifted from Ms Souter's article.

image freedigitalphotos.net 

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