Living in inner west Melbourne, we are blessed with quite a few kid-friendly restaurants and cafes. What I love about this area is that many establishments go out of their way to make things more enjoyable and easier for parents. I think this is a huge reason why we have such a strong, vibrant and connected community. Businesses and people look out for one another, genuinely care and try to accommodate all walks of life. It is why I choose to live in this part of Melbourne. When venturing out of our wonderful district, I am often shocked by how few venues cater for young ones and their parents.
Last night, we headed out for an early dinner and screening of my clever sister-in-law’s short film in Windsor. We were unable to secure a babysitter and, as the film was only 7 minutes long, I decided to bring my boy along and walk out if he got restless. The venue had no access for prams, and while the doorman was very helpful assisting us to lift the pram up the entrance, we next encountered 3 flights of stairs we had to navigate once inside. While this is a slight annoyance with a pram, it got me wondering, what would someone do in a wheelchair? If it seems undignified to hoist a child up stairs in a pram, then what would it feel like to an adult? Later, in search of dinner on Chapel Street, amongst the plethora of restaurants, we struggled to find anywhere that would accommodate prams and restless babies.
I found the experience irritating, and a bit depressing, and it surprised me that on a street packed full of restaurants, there was not one that was appropriate. This is not just an issue of access, it is about fair treatment for parents and children; it is about making sure that parents and kids are part of our community, rather than forgotten and at home. It is about valuing our little ones as important and equal members of our society, rather than annoyances that need to be seen and not heard.
We live in a society where post-natal depression (PND) is rampant. One in 7 women are diagnosed with PND every week and many are believed to suffer without being diagnosed. I can’t help thinking that one of the reasons that post-natal depression is so prevalent in our society is because we are asking parents to go into seclusion until their kids are grown. Parents that have had full social lives and successful careers are suddenly left at home alone with new babies and little support.
For myself, getting out of the house and amongst other people is really important. Being able to have a cup of coffee out with my baby makes a huge difference to my overall mood. So a cup of coffee out, or dinner, may seem frivolous, but it is one way in which parents can feel connected to the community, interact with others and relax in different surrounds. Happy parents make happy children and, later, happy adults.
I chose to become a parent and I love being a mum. As a teacher prior to parenthood, I was well aware of the challenges and joys of raising children. I also knew that my social life would be different. What I hadn’t anticipated was the friends that stopped inviting us out, the waiter that rolled his eyes when I nervously tried to breastfeed my son for the first time in public, the passengers that made snide comments when we walked onto an aeroplane or train, and the countless venues that have been inaccessible for our small pram.
I’m tired of hearing the phrase ‘well, they chose to be parents, so they must have known that their social life would be impacted, why do we, as customers, have to put up with a crying baby?’. That phrase irritated me even before I had kids. We choose to be parents, but I’m not sure when we choose to be treated as second-class citizens. I think general attitudes to children and parents in public need a little shake up. Children are naturally inquisitive, active and, as a result, sometimes unpredictable and noisy. That is how they are, and as a community we need to leave behind the archaic Victorian notion that they should be seen and not heard. I would much prefer a crying baby in a restaurant to a noisy drunk.
The interesting thing is that, of all of the kid-friendly cafes and restaurants I have visited and reviewed, I am yet to witness a child have a melt down. My belief is that when parents are able to relax, so are the kids. Having spaces for children that are engaging and appropriate means that dining is a pleasant experience for all involved. For a business, it also makes monetary sense; stay-at-home parents are potential week-day customers.
I really love it when businesses are creative and manage to accommodate for little ones as well as adults. Before I had kids, I remember frequenting a pub in Brunswick that had a lawn with colourful cushions outside in the very busy courtyard. Parents and kids happily spent an afternoon on the grass socialising, and those without kids could still enjoy a drink in peace. The atmosphere was enhanced with the inclusion of families rather than detracted from.
While it is obviously not practical for every business to be kid-friendly, I would love there to be more conversation in regards to this. I think it is reasonable for a business to expect that parents make sure that kids are not misbehaving and that they are not deliberately disruptive. However, I believe that if kids are catered for, there is much less reason for them to act up.
What do you think? How can venues make things easier of parents? Share your thoughts below, or, better yet, your favourite kid-friendly venue. Lets get a conversation started. It is time that parents and children are seen, heard and catered for!