Thursday, September 29, 2011

Seen and Heard

A couple weeks ago, The Exponent II blog had a poll about children in sacrament meeting at church. In late July and August, there was a lot of talk surrounding restaurants with anti-child policies and airlines segregating children from first class.

I wanted to tackle the topic then, but I couldn't without a lot of frustration and incoherency. The best I came up with was my comment on the Exponent's post,

These sorts of conversations really irk me because they tend to turn into an us vs. them. Those “other” parents over there aren’t being attentive enough, proactive enough, etc.

The thing is, though, I don’t know a single parent who actually wants their child to disrupt a meeting and annoy every one. I don’t think that person exists.

I work with a lot of newly postpartum women and I guess when I see a parent who isn’t responding to a “rowdy” child (a description that varies person to person- how is a parent supposed to know what everyone’s definition of a “good” child is and meet that kind of standard?) I wonder what the extra circumstances are. Maybe the mom put clothes on for the first time in a week that morning in order to come to church and is just trying to make it 20 more minutes because it’s the first time she got to hear an adult talk to her in days. Maybe the father is alone with 5 children, one who needs a diaper change, but can’t leave to do that because the other 4 won’t have someone to watch them. Maybe a child just has really loud happy screams and isn’t upset at all.

As a parent, the attitude that you just have to deal with not being able to be in sacrament meeting for the decade or so of having small children is a punishment. “Sorry, we don’t want you to participate in our Zion. Zion isn’t for children or parents with small children.” Or it’s a “well, we had to deal with it, so now you have to” vengeance.

If there is a parent who truly is ignoring an upset child, it seems to me it wouldn’t be by choice but by physically being unable to: whether there are other children needing attention or the parent has mentally “checked out” due to not having the extra patience in their own emotional cup or a mental panic attack or other. Whatever the reason, that parent needs help, not eyes of judgment and people telling them they and their family aren’t wanted there. Church is about making the tent bigger, not throwing people out into a foyer.

I am a firm believer in children being allowed in public. It's part of why I'm a lactivist: children and mothers should be allowed to be everywhere everyone else is. I don't know why that's such a point of conflict for others.

It's actually a reason why I want to homeschool. One of the greatest downsides to public school for me was ingraining the segregation of ages. As a second grader, I thought first graders were "below" me. I always wondered why a sophomore would talk to a freshman- they were lowering themselves! It took me years to figure out that my professors in college had office hours, not just to appear helpful, but to actually help the lowly undergrads. Apparently they wanted us to do well in their classes! Today, I still find myself thinking on those lines: I really struggle to know how to talk to elderly people and I find myself caught in the thinking, "Yes! School's back in session so now all those rowdy kids won't be on the playgrounds when I'm there with my kids!" I'm working on fixing this.

If you know Margaret, you know she's the most friendly person ever. She remembers faces and names remarkably well and if you show up at a park or come over to our house and she recognizes you, she can't contain her excitement. She jumps up and down, shouts, "_____ is here! _____ is here!" and runs over to greet the person. She greets babies, toddlers, children, parents of her friends, elderly people at church, family, etc., all this way. I am afraid that the age segregation at school would kill this beautiful enthusiasm.

I want my children to know how to talk to the elderly, and adore younger children, like the boy pictured below. I was at an unschooling activity when I realized Isaac had gone missing. I found this little boy (9? 10?) playing with him on his skateboard. There were plenty of other boys his age, but he was having fun with Isaac. I thanked him for playing with Isaac and told him he didn't have to watch him, but he continued to play with Isaac for a while longer. It was adorable. And better than me. I would have tried to ditch a baby for older "cooler" playmates at that age for sure.

That's the kind of socialization I want for my children, people skills that they can't get in a classroom of peers 6 hours a day. But for them to get that, they have to be welcome everywhere: the library, the post office, the restaurants, church. After all, they can't learn what they can't practice. I know I didn't.

A homeschooled boy playing with Isaac. He's older, but not
too cool to play with a baby on a skateboard.
So yeah. This post is everywhere. Somehow it got off on homeschooling when I started it with children in church. This is why I hadn't posted on this yet! I feel very passionately that children are people, not nuisances, even though I have to remind myself that sometimes. Definitely haven't reached perfection over here.

Love your babies, hang out with your babies, bring your babies in public places.


  1. This subject really gets my hackles up. Children are people and should not be discriminated against in public places. I'm looking forward to the day when someone is brave enough to sue a restaurant or other place for not allowing children. Replace children with any other group of people and there'd be a civil suit right away.

    Just a counter point to your socialization reasons for homeschooling. Maybe it's because I went to a very small school, but I played with kids of all ages and hung out with them in high school. And, for sure once I started working as a teenager I interacted with people of all ages. I've supervised people both younger and older than me successfully. To this day, my friends consist of people 10 yrs younger all the way to senior citizens.

  2. A lawsuit would be wonderful, wouldn't it? Unfortunately children don't usually have that sort of money. ;)

    And as for the socialization, it's true that school isn't going to necessarily bar someone from making friends of different ages. I'm sure there are parents who actively makes sure their children are exposed to many different types of people. And schools are of varying sizes and children have lots of different extracurriculars. I just found that in my experience, I never did- and by 2nd grade, ageism was so fixed in my mind that it affected the way I saw people for more than a decade. And it's probably not 100% the fault of school- I was the oldest in our family, so I gained social status by considering age to be a valuable trait. But when I think about ways to prevent that in my children, keeping them with people of all ages those 30 hours a week they'd be in school really stands out to me. I don't think it'll 100% prevent ageism and I don't think school guarantees ageism. I'm just hoping that homeschooling will help a little.

  3. I love how honest you are about socialization, like in your other post about going to the movies with friends.
    I am like that a lot - it always surprises and thrills me when someone specifically wants to spend time with me, when someone chooses me to do a project together at work. I was never a cool kid so I am always suprised to be chosen.
    I have always preferred the company of adults, as a child and now. I don't know what to say to people my age who are still dating, what to talk about. They talk about sex on first dates but get grossed out if I nurse my baby. I have always gravitated to oder women. I want to talk to older moms and learn what they know about raising children. I want to hear about family life, regardless of the ages of the children.
    My grandparents had many foster babies over the years, so evev when I was Margaret's age, I wanted to play with the babies at church, not the girls my age.
    There is a homeschool family at church and I am so impressed with the nine year old son. He loves all people and sees no difference in ages. He likes toddlers, preschoolers, high schoolers, young adults, the elderly...he just loves people. In return, everyone loves him because he is such a joy. Personally, I like talking to his mom because I feel lie I can learn so much from her!
    Thank you so much for writing so openly and honestly!

  4. I really appreciate that there's someone out there who realizes tht on occastion some have to do the: "parent has mentally “checked out” due to not having the extra patience in their own emotional cup or a mental panic attack or other. "

    I think I keep track of my children and teach them when it's appropriate to be loud or not, for the most part. But when I'm having a really hard PPD day, I do exactly what you said. I check out, I'm present enough to make sure my kids are not getting hurt and not hurting others or other's property, but that's it. If that means they're having a screaming contest as we walk through a store, so be it because chances are we are only at the store so we make it through the day alive.

  5. People in my ward tend to take their babies out even if they're just making normal, HAPPY baby sounds. It annoys me; it's like they're telling the baby: "You're not allowed to be happy!" People argue that even those sounds disrupt the Spirit, but I disagree. Happy baby sounds remind me of the purity and beauty of one of God's most beautiful creations. Plus, it gives life to a boring talk too ;)

    Of course, in my ward, it's expected to sleep train your babies from a young age and wean from the breast as soon as possible, or not breastfeed at all (everyone has their reasons, of course). But in the two years I've been in the ward, I have only ever seen ONE woman nurse in Sacrament meeting. I know there are other women who breastfeed, but I think it's just expected that you go to the mother's room to do it. *sigh*

  6. Laura- Oh yeah. I definitely stay in sacrament if my child is just making happy noises. In my opinion, we need more happy in sacrament meeting! And yeah, I'm all about nursing in sacrament meeting. It's faster than taking a screaming baby out, by the time you wrangle them and walk down the aisle to the foyer. :)

    AbigailDawn- Oh I know what you mean, having had to "check out" myself. And at that point, you already feel like a "bad parent" and others' gazes don't help at all.

    Later I realized I forgot to mention special needs children: sometimes kids just can't be taught to be quiet and still on the same timetable as every one else, either. I remember a boy at my high school with Turrets Syndrome. He didn't go to church with us, but I imagine having a child with that would be an automatic, "Take your child away" card. Maybe not. I just wish we could all be a little more understanding. And I'm not perfect at this at all. Working on it, like I said.

    Ericadouglas- Thanks! I try.

  7. I often find myself baffled when people don't want children on airplanes or in restaurants because I so very rarely see children acting out. The reverse is my cousins, who were never taken to a restaurant and didn't know how to order for themselves at 7 or 8. Going out in public teaches children really important social skills that they wouldn't get if they didn't get taken out and about occasionally.

    On homeschooling, well, I'm in school to be a teacher, so therein lies a bias, but my husband was homeschooled and has a lot of regrets about it. I don't think it has much effect in elementary grades, when a kid's social world isn't always connected to school, but he feels really alienated when people talk about how much they enjoyed certain activities in high school and feels that he missed out on a lot of extracurricular activities. I was very involved in marching band and band, which is not grade segregated and people younger than me often got solos or were made section leaders. We spent so much time together that age didn't seem to matter much at all. I think the same is true of a lot of sports and elective classes. I don't know, but I enjoyed my high school activities so much that I hate to think that people miss out on those opportunities because of homeschooling, especially in areas where there are pretty decent high school.

    It just seems like a lot of homeschoolers are really short-sighted and don't consider the long-term effects of keeping your kids away from the vast majority of other mainstreamed children their age.

    Just my thoughts.

  8. I know what you mean about the extracurriculars. I was in the marching band too (well, color guard since oboists don't march) and there's nothing quite like performing in a group and being a part of something big like that. I do want my kids to have experiences like that. A lot of schools allow homeschoolers to do extracurriculars. We'll jump that hurdle when we come to it. I don't know- maybe when it comes to that point, we'll choose to put them in school! Right now, though, I'm really leaning towards keeping them home.

  9. Lauren, I am researching homeschooling right now and socialization was one of my biggest concerns. I am finding that things are much easier as far as socialization goes for homeschoolers than they probably were when your husband was being homeschooling. For example, many school districts offer the chance for homeschooled students to take classes at the high school and participate in after school sports and other extra curriculars. Many groups also exist to support homeschooling families. Our tiny library even holds art classes for homeschoolers once a month. So, I think it is possible to get the best of both worlds if you are so inclined, as Heather is.

  10. LovelyLauren, band geeks unite! I think you point that band and other activities tend to mix ages is right. I was in band from 5 grade on and participated in sports and other activities so school was full of spending time with students of all ages.

  11. Ahh, Isaac's hair is so gorgeous!


    I've felt similarly about socialization for a very long time. I had the misfortune of being an outcast for my entire elementary school experience, so my mom finally pulled me out (along with the rest of my siblings) before Junior High began.

    School was demoralizing, and I took it out on my younger siblings until I became an adult. I can't blame public school for my behavior or attitudes when I was young, but it would be foolish to say that it didn't contribute to my overall self esteem problem and diagnosis of clinical depression at age 9.

    School obviously isn't all bad, and I tend to agree with the idea of enrolling my children in extracurricular programs as they come to desire it. However, I'd like to give them plenty of time to learn and love people regardless of age and social status, something I fully believe the hierarchical structure of school destroys.

  12. On the topic of kids being in public, I wrote this little rant about the issue back in July:

    It was in response to an article telling parents to "curb your brats."

    On the topic of socializing for homeschoolers, I agree with you about how wonderful it is that as homeschoolers our kids get to interact with such a wide range of people. I moved from an area with a large number of homeschool groups that did all kinds of activities to a small town with few homeschoolers (and the ones who are here are busy with charter school or are the "shelter them from the world" types), yet my kids *still* interact with more people on a daily basis than most schooled kids, even without the large homeschool support network.

    On the topic of kids in church, this is one reason I don't attend church. Deut. 6 says that I am to speak to my children about God while I sit down, when I rise up, as we walk and when we lie down. They are to be a part of my life and our discussions about God should be on going. I attend a home fellowship where children are welcome to sit and listen or run off and play and it is really nice!

  13. I don't know if it's just my own point of view or just luck, but I have had no problem taking my child places. We shop at a VERY child-friendly grocery store. Some of the other stores we shop at are fairly child-friendly, too. We once went into a coffee shop where I thought we got a look, but then the person ended up being very friendly to my child. If someone doesn't appear happy to see my child, I figure they just don't like children or they are having a bad day. I've NEVER had an issue at a restaurant, and we've taken him to some nicer ones, though nothing like a fancy French restaurant where people wear ties and stuff. The library loves kids--they have a childrens section, reading programs and storytime, and they encourage them to get their own library card. Maybe we just live in a really child-friendly area?? Or maybe it's because I have taken on an "I can take my child anywhere" attitude, and I do so with confidence? Or maybe people just like my kid, lol.

    Anyway, about the socialization. Michael loves people of all ages, too. I definitely don't want him to loose that either. In fact, that is one thing I like about homeschooling, too. My friend's daughter starting being mean to her little brothers shortly after she started school, so her mom pulled her. I will always remember that. Family comes first. And I just love the idea of taking my child everywhere in town so he can learn about the world he lives in.

  14. Speaking on the socialization aspect of having your kids out and about ... We started teaching Elliot early on that if he's going to look/stare at someone he needs to say hello. It just KILLS me when he's smiling and saying hello at people and they just IGNORE him. How sad is our society that people think a friendly hello from a toddler is weird? When we encounter people who respond to him positively I just want to hug them. It's sad.

  15. AMEN!!! Thank you for saying this Heather!


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