James C Kaufman

And All That Jazz

Why does our society hate children?

Try flying with a small child and retain your love of humanity.

Posted Oct 31, 2009

As the father of a three year old boy, I've become much more attuned to the way that people treat children. What astounds me is how much, as a society, we tend to despise children. I'm not a terribly touchy-feely parent; I believe in rules and good behavior in public. I don't like ruining people's days (at least via my child), and we don't take our son to nice restaurants, movies, or live theatre when he's clearly not ready for it. But there are some situations where it is necessary to take a child into the public eye. One that's on my mind right now (because we're traveling quite soon) is plane rides. I have seen the most egregious behavior here - from adults.

This post is triggered not just by reading this article, in which the usually decent Southwest airlines booted a mom and her two-year-old son off a plane, but also by the comments that the story has elicited. On FARK.com, a news-linking website known for its amusing and snarky take on life, the story was filed under the category "Hero." The general trend was "about time," with plenty of potshots at the mom (who actually seemed to be reacting somewhat reasonably; there were no dramatic threats of lawsuits).  As can be seen here, some suggested drugging the child; one kind soul proposed putting a plastic bag over his head and another said they should have been ejected midflight.

I want to first reiterate that I can't stand bad parents or bad children, either. There are parents who are over-permissive to the point of absurdity. There are kids who are just hyper or obnoxious. I also wasn't on that Southwest flight - maybe the kid was unbearably loud or piercing or rude and the mom didn't respond appropriately. Who knows? But anyone who's been in charge of a toddler for more than three minutes knows that even the most perfect parent in the entire world can't prevent or stop every tantrum. Toddlers have to have tantrums. It's how they learn boundaries. And while I'm usually more tolerant of my son's whims in public to spare other people, I also can't break every single rule. And I can't teach him that throwing a tantrum will get him his way - I'm the one that has to live with the aftermath of that, not the rest of the people on the plane.

But what happens is that all parents and kids are lumped in with this group. People eye a parent boarding a plane with a child with instant suspicion - guilty until proven innocent. I don't like screaming in my ear, either. I also don't like people who wrestle the armrest away from me, people who lean their seat ALL the way back, and people who claim their suitcase is a purse and cram the overhead compartment with too many bags. But that's life. That's what traveling by air means. Heck, that's what it means to live in this world.

Several folks on this and other sites pointed out how much money they would pay for a child-free flight. You know what? I'd pay just as much for a child-friendly flight - where reasonably behaved kids can fly without fear of glares from miserable old ladies, put-off hipsters, and misanthropic businessmen. I know that most of the posters, hiding behind anonymity and fake names, are either trying to be funny or just giving their initial response to the situation...but wow, that's a lot of anger and hatred to be carrying with you.

I'd rather end this on a positive note. Most people, regardless of what they may think in private (or post on a website), act neutrally or even nicely. A recent PostSecret from a single mom reminded me that there are cool and tolerant people on this planet:

Indeed, when we took our son on his first cross-country flight, he had a bad time. He screamed, he was in pain from the air pressure, and generally wasn't a happy camper. People were okay, but I still remember That Guy. He came up to me and said, "I have two kids. I've been where you are. Hang in there, it'll get better."

In my life, I love my wife, my child, my family, a handful of close friends, and That Guy. I hope he's finding money or falling in love or getting elected mayor somewhere right now.

My next blog can be found here. (in which I respond to the comments on this one)

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