Our ‘family friendly’ world

A few weeks ago at a local restaurant, I heard a woman quietly (and politely, I thought) ask the hostess, “Can you please seat me in an area where there aren’t many children?”

The hostess scoffed, rolled her eyes and said loudly, “Okay, but this is a family restaurant, so that’s going to be kind of hard.” Everyone in the waiting area stared, some giving dirty looks.

I think there are etiquette violations on both sides of this exchange, but I couldn’t help thinking, “They’re all family restaurants.”

We use “family restaurant” as a general term to distinguish casual dining from fine dining and alcohol-focused establishments, but “family” means something specific.

When we use phrases like “family values” or “family friendly,” we are talking about parents with young children.

The term “family” necessarily excludes couples who can’t or don’t intend to reproduce. The opposite of “family” is not “single” or “childless;” it is “adult.” When we call something “adult,” we are not necessarily classifying it as something adults want.

We are classifying it as something that is not for children.

An “adult beverage” is alcohol. An “adult store” sells sex toys. An “adult movie” is pornographic, violent or both. What we once called “children’s movies” are now called “family movies.”

We have a culture that is unfairly biased toward this notion of “family.” It makes evolutionary sense that most people will have children. It makes sense that our society seeks to protect and nurture children, and I certainly believe we should.

I do not believe, however, that the lives of people with children should be placed on a cultural pedestal, which makes the lives of people without children appear inferior.

It is socially expected to have children, particularly for women. I recently became engaged, and I have been frequently asked about when I intend to have children.

When I say, “I don’t know if I will have children or not,” or, if I’m feeling brave, “I think it is unlikely I will have children,” people respond with things like, “Oh you should! What if you regret not having them?” and, “I think you’ll change your mind once you have them.”

That latter always begs the question: “What should I do if I have one, and I don’t change my mind? Put it back?”

Even worse for women beyond a certain age, is the assumption that they must want a child and are secretly having a painful struggle with infertility. We define these women as “childless.”

Some countries are experiencing  population declines because of the number of people who decide not to have children.

Despite the increasing frequency of this lifestyle choice, public attitudes about “childless” people have not adapted at the same rate.

Back to the woman at the restaurant. She and I got seated in the same room, and there were no children. A family with three extremely disruptive children did come in a few minutes later, though.

I have no right to judge that family, and really, they are irrelevant. The point is that it is socially acceptable to want a restaurant to be “family friendly,” to allow children.

It is not socially acceptable to want a restaurant to exclude children, unless it is a bar or strip club. There is no Applebees for adults only.


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