Clementine Ford: I Used To Be An A**hole Who Hated Kids. Don't Be Like Me.
“What’s something you used to be a real a**hole about?” asked the journalist, Erin Riley, on Twitter this week.
That’s easy, I thought to myself, rifling through the mental card-catalogue of things I used to be a real a**hole about until I came to the thing I used to be the most real a**hole about.
“Judging parents and sneering at kids in public,” I replied. “A bonafide a**hole.”
Before I became a parent, I was such an a**hole about kids. Like most white, western a**holes, I reserved some of my fiercest a**holery for children. How dare they be in MY public space! With their rude, selfish parents (read: MOTHERS) who refuse to bloody well control them! I took delight in rattling off a selection of antiquated views, leaning into that particular brand of cynicism with an enthusiastic glee.
“Children should be seen and not heard,” I remarked to my friends as we quaffed cheap box wine at the pub on Sunday afternoons and grimaced at the feral rugrats scampering about.
We were barely out of childhood ourselves and almost certainly one million times more obnoxious than the toddlers careening around the beer garden, but ignorance maketh the a**hole. So it ever was, so it ever shall be.
“Children shouldn’t be allowed on planes!” I’d exclaim to other passengers on airlines as we cast judgemental looks towards whichever poor soul (read: MOTHER) who had to contend with the pained cries of a baby unable to adjust the pressure in their ears. “They should be forced to travel in the baggage compartment, where they won’t annoy those of us who’ve actually paid.”
Ho ho ho, what an extremely clever and witty rapscallion I was! Such a provocative thinker! Edgy hilarity ensues! Children are disgusting and I’m the only one brave enough to say it!
What a monumental a**hole.
There’s a scene in Sonia Orchard’s disturbing, brilliant novel Into The Fire in which one of the protagonists, a woman who yearns to be pregnant and have a child of her own, is aghast and disgusted by the behaviour of her old frenemy’s two toddlers. They’ve been staying in her sophisticated home, with its cream coloured furniture and silk woven rugs. There are crumbs and food smears everywhere, and the lingering smell of bodies and poo.
The woman, the one who wants children but doesn't yet have them, is horrified by the mess and animalistic behaviour that has suddenly invaded her pristine environment. She physically recoils from them, disgusted at how unabashedly childlike they are and how incapable their mother appears to be of controlling them.
When I read this, I felt that same flash of uncomfortable recognition and shame. The easy and gleeful judgement of children and their behaviour is more often than not a criticism of parenting (read: MOTHERS) and how much better our own choices would be, should we ever find ourselves in a position to have to make them.
READ MORE: 8 Reasons Why Having Kids Ruined My Life
I was never more of an expert on parenting than when I was child-free and telling anyone who listened how my children would be raised differently than these freerange terrors. Naturally, they would never cry or squeal in public and they would never, ever run amok in a crowded cafe. Why would they need to when they’d be sitting still at our table, delicately eating their black pudding and sautéed cavalo nero, and occasionally chuckling at the droll and incredibly witty conversation that was taking place amongst our table mates?
It seems to me to be a curiously white, western thing we have, this social and cultural opposition to children. I mentioned this recently to a group of Filipino women who work for an airline in the Philippines. They seemed genuinely perplexed when I spoke about all the sneering directed at parents and children on Australian airlines (and any resulting comment threads on articles about children on airplanes).
Their reaction was in stark contrast to an experience I had on a flight recently. A mum was quietly rocking her baby at the front of the plane, making soft shooshing noises as the child drifted off to sleep. Standing near the toilet, I watched as one of the flight attendants pompously directed her back towards the middle of the plane. When she had moved to that far less comfortable position, he then bent down and exchanged a joke and a laugh with the suited male passenger in the front row whose welfare had clearly been threatened by the intrusion of having to see a mother care for her child right in front of him and his slightly more expensive seat.
Nothing levelled me more than having my own child, and realising that you can’t actually ‘control’ children and nor should you try to. Sometimes they will cry and sometimes they will be rambunctious and sometimes they’ll be annoying.
Because guess what? They’re human! And we can all be massive a**holes sometimes!
The best we can do to help raise kids who ‘know how to behave’ is guide them and model good behaviour and help them to realise what it means to be a part of a respectful community. If only half of the world’s adults would realise how integral their own behaviour is to this lesson!
How else are children meant to learn ‘how to behave’ -- compassionately, kindly and with empathy -- if we don’t model it to them through our own actions? Help parents when you see them struggling. Reassure children who seem to be distressed. Gently tell children who are misbehaving that they need to dial it back. They’re kids. They’re not wilfully setting out to f**k up your day, so don’t be an a**hole about it!
Listen, if I have to deal with men taking up three seats with their legs and their ridiculously oversized backpacks and explanations about how actually, this thing isn’t sexist at all, then everyone else can deal with children -- who haven’t even yet learned how to do those things yet.
Now, those people are some real a**holes.