Do parents foist their choice to have children on others? By A Law

Having a child is a choice that parents shouldn’t foist on others. However, that empathy needs to be reciprocated

Being a parent is typically a choice. Even with an unplanned pregnancy, there’s still a choice in the decision to embrace parenthood. That choice is ours as parents and it’s a personal one at that. Insofar as reasonable, our decision to have children therefore shouldn’t be put upon others.

Even as a parent myself, there are instances where I feel parents need to respect that not everyone wants to be impacted by their child. If I’ve gone to an upscale restaurant, that might be a rare date night or a meal with friends or family. I don’t want my meal punctuated by screaming children running around me because their parents didn’t acknowledge it wasn’t a family friendly setting or, more likely, just didn’t care. It isn’t just restaurants either. I can list many places, that clearly aren’t intended for children, where I sympathise with those who feel they should be child-free zones.

Unfortunately, there are some parents who remain nonchalant to this. Yes parents need to have empathy for others without undue restricting of their children being allowed to be children. Conversely, that also needs to be reciprocated by those who aren’t parents.

Non-parents need to recognise that while they may not have children, there will be instances where a child that isn’t theirs may just happen to interrupt their child-free lives. And it won’t be anyone’s fault.

In a recent ‘A letter to…’ in The Guardian, the author anonymously wrote to their neighbours with a baby, venting about the years they’ve been subject to the sound of a crying baby throughout the night. They continued to lament at their neighbours showing neither contrition or attempts to mitigate the ‘protracted wailing [that] cost us dozens of hours of sleep at a time when our careers were stressful and demanding’.

The tone of this letter was one of frustration but also selfishness. The author and their wife, who had chosen not to have children, wanted an apology from the parents for their audacity to have a baby that actually cried. Audible crying from a baby. Who would have thought it?

What could the parents have done? Moved the child’s room? As all parents do when preparing for a baby, they would have decided that room was the most appropriate to have as the nursery. Taken steps to soundproof their walls? They may not even be aware that the baby could be heard and unnecessary structural changes to a home seems excessive preparation for new baby. And as for an apology, what exactly would they be apologising for? For having a child? For their baby doing as babies do and actually crying?

While some may feel parents have a narrow perspective that includes little more than their children, the unempathetic tone in the letter is astounding.

I wouldn’t suggest that a crying baby is going to be welcome in the wee hours of the morning. Although this isn’t the same as noisy neighbours playing music with a pulsating baseline vibrating through the furniture or raucous teenagers making a racket when their parents should have told them to have respect for the neighbours. In these scenarios, the residents/parents should apologise. A crying baby, however, is a completely different context.

My wife and I are fortunate that we have great neighbours and live either side of families with children. I’ve never felt the need to apologise for my son crying or playing. When he’s older and wants a birthday party with his friends, I’ll inform my neighbours that there might be more noise than usual and apologise in advance for any undue disruption that would be an aberration. But to apologise for what is essentially a child’s existence, is completely unwarranted.

Babies cry, it’s what they do to express their wants, needs and emotions. It’s also something that can’t be controlled by parents until they’ve met said need and pacified the baby. This is where the crux of the unreasonableness of the reader who penned the letter comes into play. It isn’t something the parents can or should be attempting to control.

I try to remain conscious of not foisting my decision to be a parent on others. I refuse to be that parent that takes my son to a nice restaurant. Until he’s older and can appreciate it, his fine dining will take place at the likes of Nandos. Our ‘boys who brunch, lads who lunch’ themed Daddy son hangouts take place in family friendly eateries where I won’t feel we’re being inappropriate having an animated conversation. I remain unapologetic for letting him behave as a toddler should do.

As a teacher, I’ve taught autistic children that were non-verbal. Their parents wanted nothing more than to be able to have a conversation with their child. It’s yet another aspect of my teaching experience that has shaped my view as a parent. I’m thankful for my son becoming a chatterbox and I won’t limit such a natural feature of his development.

Of course, there will be times when it won’t be appropriate to allow him to chat away. As a toddler, he doesn’t understand that. Consequently, it isn’t something I’m willing to restrict. That in itself brings a whole other argument about limiting our children to express themselves and the impact it can have on our communication and confidence as we enter adulthood.

Children have to be allowed to be children and sometimes that will need acceptance from others who aren’t their parents, or parents period. That principle is central within any community where a diverse range of interests and needs need to co-exist.

If I were to complain about a neighbour’s baby crying, I cannot imagine any circumstances where I wouldn’t feel sanctimonious and selfish in doing so. Yes, one might feel frustrated if being kept up by a screaming baby. And it’s understandable to want to feel some indignation at being subject to a situation that you didn’t seek or create. Although surely when it’s a child, one’s level of understanding and tolerance heightens?

I’ll be the first to admit that many parents need to check their own selfishness when it comes to their children. Despite being a parent myself, there are times when I’ve felt the same way. We cannot assume that everyone likes children or can even tolerate them. Having a child is our choice as parents and we cannot foist that on others.

Nevertheless, we all need to acknowledge that children are children. When they’re babies and toddlers, they aren’t always going to be quiet. They might make a mess. They will generally do things that might not be welcome in the life of someone who has chosen not to have children. We all need to accept that and recognise that parenting is a role that isn’t always easy. As a society, we all play a role in furthering the emotional and social growth of children and a desire to restrict that for our own gain is arguably unethical.

While any frustrations being presented by a child that isn’t yours is valid, to voice them or feel that the parents should be apologetic for what is tantamount to their child existing, shows a complete lack of empathy. Parents and non-parents have made their respective choices. Let’s show reciprocal respect for those decisions but also tolerance and understanding at the same time.

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