Have you ever hesitated to travel by air with a baby? The idea of it strikes fear into the heart of many parents. “What if the baby cries?!” You’re stuck on an airplane with hundreds of other people. What will they think?
Have you ever hesitated to take a toddler to a restaurant? Making dinner every. single. night. is exhausting for families with young kids. But going out to eat can also be a scary proposition. Toddlers want to run and explore, not sit in a chair. And what if they make a mess?
Have you ever been afraid to take a preschooler shopping? What if your child wants to buy everything in sight? What if a huge meltdown ensues? What will the other shoppers think?
Have you ever felt uncomfortable breastfeeding your baby in public? What about your toddler? What about your preschool-aged child? After a while, won’t people think they’re a little too old? What if someone confronts you?
Thanks to many moms spearheading the effort to normalize breastfeeding, more and more of us are feeling comfortable nursing our babies when they need it. Some of us even feel comfortable nursing our toddlers and beyond when they ask. We feel empowered to do the basic task of feeding our babies while we go about our day, living our lives.
What we need next is a movement to normalize childhood. Babies cry. Toddlers run around and get into everything. Preschoolers have epic meltdowns. Maybe not every day. But some days. We should feel empowered to go about our daily lives without living in fear of our children being, well, children. We should feel empowered not only to feed our children, but to let them participate in the world.
It’s time to accept the fact that not only do babies and young children have the right to eat in public, they have the right to BE in public.
Travel with your children. Eat at restaurants together. Go places where there are other people of all ages. This is their childhood. It’s happening right now. It can be tempting to put off everyday adventures, everyday living until they are just a little older and things are just a little more convenient, and a little less messy. The downside is that we spend our lives stuck in a holding pattern, just waiting for our turn to live a full life.
Don’t wait. Live a full life now. Inconvenience yourself a little. Inconvenience other people a little. This doesn’t mean that children should be allowed to destroy property, hurt other people, or yell and scream where others expect to have quiet conversations. They aren’t exempt from the basic human courtesies that we as parents are responsible for guiding them toward and modeling for them. But it does mean that children should be allowed to touch a few things that aren’t fragile or dangerous. They should be free to talk to other people or refrain from talking to people as they see fit. They should be allowed to cry and be angry. Children are just as much a part of our society as adults. Let’s accept them and embrace them exactly as they are now. Being a child is not simply training for being an adult, just as being an adult is not simply training for being a senior citizen.
Get out together and participate fully in the world. Yes, it might get messy. Yes, it could get a little loud. Yes, a meltdown might occur. That’s ok. That’s childhood. Let’s normalize it.