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:
- 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?
- 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
- 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.