I don’t like children – but banning them from public spaces is completely unhinged

There’s an episode of Sex and the City – the OG, not any of the films or reboots – that really struck a chord with me back in my twenties. The girls are out for lunch, and the topic of conversation turns to kids.

“I am so sick of these people with their children,” says Samantha, scathingly. “I’m telling you, they’re everywhere. Sitting next to me in first class, eating at the next table at Jean-Georges. This place is for double cappuccinos, not double strollers.”

“Damn straight – you tell ’em, sister!” I thought, though thankfully didn’t say it aloud (I could never have pulled off “sister”, even at the age of 23).

At the time, no one I knew had children. They were like alien creatures: tiny, strange, loud, erratic. I rarely had to share any kind of space with them – while I was getting pissed at shiny wine bars, they were, presumably, singing about visually impaired mice at soft play – but I instinctively felt that Samantha must be right. People simply shouldn’t be going to nice places with their offspring to ruin it for the rest of us. Total vibe killer.

Apparently, 23-year-old me wasn’t the only one adhering to the questionable belief that children should be neither seen nor heard in modern society. The endless bitter discourse has kicked off once more after a man’s post, featuring a picture of him next to a sign outside a pub, went viral on social media. “Dog-friendly / child-free” reads the chalkboard; “Found my new local,” reads his caption.

What was likely a flippant post quickly attracted the ire of parents the internet over, while singles and child-free adults stood behind their new, chosen champion. Shots were fired. Battle lines were drawn. “Screaming kids are the bane of my life,” wrote one staunch defender of the original tweet. “I went to a WINE TASTING recently and someone brought their toddler who was allowed to run around shouting, banging things, causing general disruption. Kid-free areas should exist.”

Those with children, unsurprisingly, tended not to agree with this sentiment. “I don’t say this often but I genuinely hope they go out of business,” commented one; “Imagine celebrating the exclusion of any other demographic from a public space,” replied another.

This debate is not new. Some situation arises every few months that brings it wailing and raging to the fore, capable of prompting even the most sensible of grown-ups to metaphorically stamp their feet, pound their fists on the floor and throw the kinds of tantrums that the child-free contingent claim to be so against. If it’s not someone extolling the virtues of adult-only zones on flights that’s causing controversy online, it’s someone complaining about a kid-free wedding, or refusing to share the price of a friend’s babysitter. The reason I brought up the SATC scene is that it first aired in 2003; which means we were having this exact same vitriolic debate more than 20 years ago. Surely we’re all exhausted by now?

I’ll hold my hands up and say it – I don’t really like children all that much. I don’t have my own, and much as I love my nieces, most rugrats I could take or leave (and would most likely leave, to be brutally honest). I’m the woman at the christening who, when proffered the blessed child, backs away in favour of finding the beige buffet. The person who has to frantically scrawl the WhatsApp chat for a mention of my friend’s new baby before we meet up, because I’ve forgotten their name. I often see them as a mild annoyance – a nuisance element that means the person I’m having lunch with can only keep half an ear on the constantly interrupted conversation, to ensure their kid doesn’t ingest rocks, or stick a pencil up their nose, or whack the waitress on her shins with a spoon.

Samantha from ‘Sex and the City’ was defeated by pesto when she tried to enforce child-free spaces (HBO)

And yet, for all that, I am not so completely unhinged as to presume that my right to a peaceful and zen-like public space trumps the right of children – and, by association, their care-givers – to coexist in the world. Who am I, Cruella de Vil? Part of being a grown-up and not a child is having the maturity to realise that, hey, the world doesn’t actually revolve around you. And another classic: you can’t always have what you want. It’s pure narcissism to expect otherwise. Adulthood is all about accepting the thousands of micro-compromises that must be made on a daily basis, including learning to rub along with people that you don’t much care for. I don’t like the intimidating rowdiness of sports fans en masse, for example – but does that mean that men in football shirts should be banned from the local pub on match day?

Part of being a grown-up and not a child is having the maturity to realise that, hey, the world doesn’t actually revolve around you

And in fact, that’s the intrinsic beauty of the British pub. It’s one of the few places left in modern life where you’ll find every demographic of society sharing the same space: families, friends, couples, lone alcoholics propping up the bar; young, old, and everything in between. I truly believe that being in the presence of people unlike ourselves – being forced to, for example, practice patience and tolerance while a parent chases their screaming toddler round a beer garden – makes us better, more compassionate people. Conversely, othering and segregating one section of society purely for childless people’s benefit makes us smaller, narrower people.

Back to that SATC episode. Samantha later admonishes a mother and her son at a restaurant, suggesting that “Perhaps you could take him somewhere more appropriate for a Happy Meal, so that I could have a happier one.” His measured response is to chuck a handful of pasta and pesto on her white suit. I can’t say I blame him. As humans, we have to learn to share the one world we have; otherwise, we all deserve to be pesto-ed.

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