02 August, 2011

Debating Adults-Only Spaces

There has been quite a debate on the whole issue of adults-only spaces on Mel’s blog.  It was prompted by an article that commented on various businesses choosing to make adults-only spaces available, including Malaysian Airlines First Class cabins on particular long-haul flights.  The article implied that these changes were prompted by the wishes of childfree adults.  I won’t get into the inference that makes about those childfree adults.  I’ve covered that before.

Mel argued that children are people too, and shouldn’t be discriminated against, in the same way that we wouldn’t discriminate against women, or different ethnic or racial groups.  Her reasoning was that behaviours should be banned, not groups of people.

She garnered a lot of support for this view, with many posters aghast at the thought that children should be banned from “public spaces.”  There were some very emotional comments about how decisions like this seemed to want to force parents to only ever travel economy (coach) or by car.   They missed the point completely.  Perhaps understandably, being a US-centric site, the respondents didn’t realise (or ignored my comments) that Malaysian Airlines first class is very different to a domestic first class product on US airlines.  Malaysian Airlines also offers a business class product that is itself quite luxurious, with lie-flat beds, and is open to children and babies.  Parents were not required to travel only economy class.  They were certainly not “banned from flying” yet numerous responders argued against this.   

There were also emotional responses to the idea of adults-only Harry Potter showings, adults-only restaurants (or adults-only evenings in restaurants), or resorts, as if they thought children would be restricted from every restaurant, or every movie, or every resort.  Clearly, this is not the case and is a rather absurd notion, and has never been suggested.  But even the idea of one restaurant in an entire town restricting its dinner services to adults-only, or of one airline restricting one class to adults-only (although in reality, it only restricts babies under 2), seemed to make the commenters angry.

There was a polite minority who were torn on the issue, and some who had no problem with the idea, generally arguing that:
a) businesses were not public spaces (like public libraries, for example).  Let’s face it, you can’t get much further from a public space than a quality Asian airline’s exclusive first class lounge and cabin, and
b) that businesses make decisions about who their customers are all the time.  If these decisions don’t work economically, the businesses will be either forced to change, or to close down. 

That’s why I don’t understand the objections to such policies.  After all, my friends and family with children support these policies.  This is not a conspiracy of the childless or childfree against parents, as presented in the article.  As many parents as non-parents support these moves. 

In the UK, a major holiday company has officially launched Thomson Couples, an all new adults-only holiday experience aimed at couples who want to spend time abroad in a child-free environment, away from their own kids, and other people’s.  An article on this decision can be found here. Ryanair may or may not introduce adults-only flights later this year.  It announced the decision on April Fools' Day, but the press release is still on their website in August, so the status of the announcement isn't known.  These though are business decisions from successful, profitable businesses that already cater strongly to families..

And when it comes to restaurants, my sister wouldn’t blink an eyelid at the idea of an adults-only restaurant.  She relishes adults-only time, conversation, music, and good food and wine.  Her daughter (my adorable three year old niece) doesn’t.  One day she might.  Then that’s fine.  My Malaysian relatives wouldn’t travel First Class on their airline with their babies, though they would travel business class.  But they’d all appreciate the degree of child-free luxury in First Class.  My friend relishes leaving her children with their grand-parents, and making a child-free flight to Hong Kong.  Parents like to have adults-only time too.  And there’s nothing wrong with that.

So I was very surprised at the vehemence of the responses to the suggestion that a business could choose to restrict children, even if only at specific times, or from specific spaces. 

Some comments in particular stayed with me:

It’s not the children who should be banned, it’s the parents who bring children places they don’t belong or who fail to address the issue when their children are behaving in a disruptive manner.  This was a recurrent theme.  And I do agree with it.  After all, Mel’s premise that behaviours should be banned, not whole groups, is reasonable.  But the practicalities are that children are not going to go to these spaces on their own.  And if the parents don't take the children, then there isn’t a problem.  It’s when parents put children into environments when too often they can’t understand the behaviour requirements and are mentally and physically unable to adhere to them that a restriction becomes an issue at all.

In considering “normal/appropriate” public behavior it’s not fair to expect children under a certain age to consistently behave like adults.  I agree.  Therefore why should they be brought into particular environments where they cannot and should not be expected to consistently behave like adults?  It’s not fair on the children, it’s not fair on the parents, and it’s not fair on the other customers.  So what is wrong with businesses that make that decision if the parents won’t?  Sensible parents – as many of those who responded attested – would simply not choose to take their children to places where they couldn’t meet the behaviour requirements. 

I stay at home if I want absolute quiet.”  So everywhere else is open to children?  Everywhere?  So if I want a day or an hour to be spent without children, I have to stay at home?  Isn’t this as bad as suggesting that you shouldn’t go out if you have children?  Surely we can ensure that everyone gets their own space?

“...we have to put up with the occasional painful reminder ...” Thanks for your compassion, fellow infertility sufferer.  You’re arguing that I never have the right to go somewhere where I might be allowed to feel just a normal member of society, but instead should always be subjected to the painful reminders that I could not have children.  I expect to go places where I might either delight in the adorableness of a child, or feel painful stabs that I’ll never be a mother and my husband will never be a father, or experience both at the same time.  That’s fine.  Just occasionally though it’d be nice to be free of that.

Denying me and my kids the right to go somewhere is a bit cheeky.”  Why?  You want to deny me the right to go somewhere where there are only adults.  Isn’t that a bit cheeky too?  What’s the difference?  Why can’t we both have spaces that appeal to our desires.

What next, child-only planes?  Family-only? Apparently yes (see the article I referred to above about Thomson Holidays and Ryanair).  And why not?  The parents on the family-only flights would not have to spend the time worrying about their children bothering their neighbours, but could perhaps relax and enjoy the flight with other like-minded people.

My favourite response was “Suck it up is what I chose to do” from a mother who admitted she wouldn’t take her children into these spaces anyway, so what does she care if she can or can’t? 

In the end my conclusions are:                                                                                                                           
  1. This is not about banning children.  It is about choosing to offer different or complementary services with adults-only options (eg Ryanair or Thomson Holidays, Malaysian Airlines first class, or at a movie theatre or evening dining at a 5 star restaurant).  That means everyone is catered for.  Surely that’s a win-win?  And what can be wrong with that?  Perhaps it is the language used - for example “children are banned” - that has fuelled this debate?
  2. In my opinion, this debate has nothing to do with banning children and children’s rights.  Quite frankly, babies and children don’t care about going First Class or eating out at a posh restaurant.  They go where their parents take them.  This is about the parents’ rights being curtailed; unable to take their children wherever they want to go, regardless of the wishes of either the business or the other customers
  3. Clearly, my right to choose to go somewhere where there are no children is less important than a parent’s right to take their child wherever they want to go.  Parents’ rights appear to rule over all others.  Those of us without children know that; we live in a very pro-family society.  But wait.  That’s not right, surely?  Minorities have rights too.  However, my thoughts and feelings were/are not an issue for most of the respondents to the blog post.

    And once again, as a childless/free woman, I felt ignored, marginalised, and without a vote in society.  My thoughts, wishes, desires don’t count.  I don’t count, and the reason I don’t count is because I don’t have children.  My pain doesn’t count, and the reason my pain doesn’t count is because I don’t have children.  I was surprised how much this debate affected me.  And I was surprised at where this had happened.  I didn’t expect to be made to feel that way on an infertility blog.

Interesting Note that Really Says It All:  I surveyed the responses, checking those in favour of child-free spaces and those against.  Not surprisingly the division was strongly between parents (or the pregnant, or the about to adopt) who were against restrictions on children/adults-only places, and non-parents, with only a few exceptions, who were either not bothered by the restrictions, or indeed, were actively in favour of them.

Another Note:  To be fair to the respondents, most of them said they either wouldn’t take their children to restaurants or movies, or if they did they would remove them if they became disruptive.  Whilst that is often too late and has already spoiled the experience of the other customers (not to mention the parent), this is a responsible attitude and I commend it. 

Further Note:  I am not a child-hater.  I think it’s obvious that I don’t expect everywhere I go to be without children but I’ll say it just to make the point crystal clear.  I love being able to go to a child-friendly cafe with my niece.  Just like I love being able to go to an adults-only restaurant too.

Final Note:  I’m very nervous about posting this.  But when I began this blog, I decided I would always be honest, and wouldn’t shy away from my views.  This is me, this is how living life without children affects me. No Kidding. This is what you get. 


  1. I was in Guatemala visiting family, and we also went to pay a visit to a friend who was staying in a resort by a lake. A beautiful place, which happened to have an adult-only policy. One of our party ignored that policy and brought her 6 year old. She got mad when she was kindly told that the child was not allowed on the premises, and she left arguing that her child was being very quiet and was just enjoying the view. What she failed to notice before storming out were the several gay couples around us who were being openly affectionate. Later, when we told her about the gay-friendly environment, she was a little less angry.

    This was not a public place. This was a very private place. And we did have the choice to go somewhere else (and we later did) where kids were OK. If I learned anything is that there are several reasons for adult-only environments to exist.

  2. Dear Mali,

    thank you for writing this post. thank you for putting into words what I was thinking/feeling... Glad you posted.

    But Pearl, while I'm sure you mean well, you made my blood boil. I admit to not knowing one bit about Guatemala but I'm living in Amsterdam and it's Gay Pride week. And I sure hope all visitors and inhabitants of EVERY age feel free to be openly and publicly affectionate. Not just parents with children holding hands.
    (Sorry for ranting)

  3. Great post, and great topic. Interesting point about the feeling like your vote isn't counted. This is an (potential) issue that affects child-free people and parents alike, and should ideally take input from people from those circumstances, even if it is a minority. Thought you worded this post well and honestly.

  4. I nearly posted on this too, but will leave my thoughts in a comment:

    - Every parent on the Internet claims that they take their child away from a situation where they're being disruptive. Either its only parents without internet access who don't, or someone is telling porkies! Or parents develop a skewed view on what's disruptive when its their kid and it inconveniences them to sort the behaviour out.

    - I don't understand why some people get so het up about the prospect of a few child-free commercial spaces. And agree with you on 2 - it's not like they inherently damage a child's human rights, because I bet children don't particularly like restaurants where they can't run around.

    - Society used to be relatively small-child-unfriendly. I don't think that was right. But the new child-friendly ethos seem to have led to a group of parents who drag their kids everywhere, even places that small children have no business running around in. Or anyone has no business running around in. These parents seem to think they're doing some sort of Rosa-Parks- esque moral crusade, but really they're just annoying arseholes. I mean, I like kids and will happily eat out with my nieces and nephews. But taking your tiny baby to a play with a small audience in an enclosed space isn't fair on anyone.

    - There was a lot of chat about 'banning behaviours' on the original post. But you could ban someone who doesn't have the ability to sit quietly, someone who can't eat the food the restaurant serves, someone who can't use the toilets, someone who can't eat with cutlery. I bet parents would get upset as they would inherently mean small children wouldn't be allowed in an establisment with those requirements, but then, they're also perfectly reasonable things to require of a restaurant/hotel patron.

  5. Valery, I'm sorry I upset you. I don't have kids, but if I did, I don't think it would bother me if a gay couple were kissing in front of them. Sadly, not everybody thinks the way I do, especially in Latin America.

  6. Fascinating post, and I agree with your points, Mali! I recently issued an invitation to some people and noted that it (for various reasons) needed to be a child-free event. I was very apologetic and knew that it meant some people would not come—but everyone seemed to be very understanding about the whole thing and wondered why I was feeling apologetic in the first place.

  7. That was me in the first comment you quoted! I'm childless, not by choice and I too feel that our rights are diminished - that parental rights seem to override ours. I like adults only areas and think that they are appropriate in places. But in other areas, I don't think banning children is the answer. Parents need to realize that their rights do not eclipse those of others. There are some places where children simply do not belong. There are other places where children belong, but if the child is being disruptive, you need to deal with it, not expect others to just put up with it.

  8. I have just returned from staying in an hotel in Menorca which was called "adults only" but in reality allowed children over the age of 14. And it was the most relaxing holiday I have ever had.

  9. Thank you thank you thank you. I felt so alone and in the minority and completely insignificant on Mel's blog (with the exception of one or two sane voices). I have some more thoughts on how the comments made me feel that I might blog on sometime.

    Sushigirl, I loved your point about "every parent on the internet." You made me laugh out loud. And good point about banning behaviours - you're right, it is easy to list the ones that would effectively mean an adults-only environment.

  10. This was very well said. I never commented on Mel's post because I wasn't sure what I wanted to say. I am a parent of a one year old but I didn't really agree with what Mel wrote. I don't think that banning kids from certain places is discriminatory and I don't think it's anything like banning an ethnic group. I mean, all ethnic groups have kids, everyone has been a kid, being a kid or having a kid is not something that only a certain group has to (or had to) deal with at some point. So it seems silly.

    I also thought that banning the behavior made sense, in theory but would never work in practice. I mean, if these parents are letting their kids act that way in a place where they shouldn't be, they certainly won't be accepting of being thrown out of that place. Think their kids should be able to get away with that behavior speaks to an entitlement that extends well beyond it's manifestation in that particular situation. As a teacher I always notice that the kids who give me the most attitude have parents that give me a lot of attitude too. Apples do not fall far from their trees, as we say at our school. So yeah, it's fun to say on the internet that we should just kick out people who are not policing their kids, but I'd LOATHE being the one who actually has to do that. And I'm sure the people who put these bans in place would too, hence the bans.

    The truth is that I would like to think that I would take my daughter out of a situation in which she was being disruptive but even if I did, she would have to be disruptive before I'd take her out. So even if I took her out quickly, your meal would already have been disrupted. If many kids are all being taken out as they melt down, you've already had to experience the beginnings of several melt downs. My point is even when intentions are good, when kids are around you will probably experience their disruption in some way. Basically you can't really ban the behavior, not entirely, even if everyone is on board (which they are decidedly not).

    So I guess I just wanted to say that I'm totally behind you on this. And I think that parents do feel entitled when they have kids. I think they do think they should be allowed to do whatever they want with their kids and the rest of us should just deal. I don't know why that is and I hope I don't become that parent. I wonder if it's just them being tired and beaten down all the time, eventually they just don't care about anyone else anymore. Maybe parenthood just brings out the ugliest in some (many) people. I don't know.

    I'm sorry you were left feeling marginalized (yet again) for your childfree circumstances. That is really unfortunate and I'm very disappointed in our community that it happened.

    Thanks for sharing your link on Prompt-ly.

  11. Hi,

    Found your site through Loribeth when I stopped by to let her know that Neil Pasricha of 1000 Awesome Things had posted about how great it was to not talk about children http://1000awesomethings.com/. It seemed funny that the topic showed up twice for me. He normally gets very positive comments but some are saying that he's off point with his posting. I think they're missing the point.

    I completely get what you're saying. It seems that the vocal minority (I'll assume it's vocal minority) of the childed want to have it all and the right to everything, regardless of the potential impacts to others. It's a challenge. We're not suggesting to close down parks or ChuckECheeze or any of the kid friendly places. Rather, we make a choice on whether to go to those places. I'm not quite sure why the same rationale doesn't apply in reverse and why some folks are so adamant that as parents they have the right to intrude everywhere.

    I do have to say that most of my childed friends support the opportunity to take a break from their children now and then and support the concept of places that are havens to everyone. The one exception appears to be my sister, surprisingly enough who has become completely unsympathetic to my state.

    Keep writing, I'm a periodic lurker of infertility sites, and I'm now off to read the rest of your blog.

  12. I agree wholeheartedly with this.

    As long as it's a private business, they have the right to set whatever restrictions they please within the law.
    I feel like there is almost no place you can go now without someone bringing their children no matter how young or disruptive. Even if the child/ren are being good, their presence is a distraction at best (and mostly a reminder of what I will never have, so it's always fun to have a meal or outing ruined by that familiar feeling). There are literally thousands of businesses and venues that love and want families with kids to patronize; so getting up on a soap box to condemn a small minority is pretty greedy - they want it all and no one should tell them "no" I guess.
    I'm saddened by Mel's stance (and agree that this does seem like marginalizing the infertile's choice of venues), but I do think it's typical of the majority of parents out there, so I can understand why she thinks the way she does. Doesn't mean it doesn't hurt, but I guess childless-forever folks like me are used to that sort of thing.