Excluding Babies Excludes Mothers

By now you may have heard the story where Donald Trump first said a crying baby was totally fine, and then changed his mind and shamed the mother for thinking that it would be appropriate for a crying baby to be in the same space as him while he was talking.

Right at the point in my life when I thought I could not have anything in common with a woman at a Trump rally, I feel nothing but empathy for her. Because y’all, this is my absolute worse nightmare, or at least it was not that long ago. If you have been with me since the early days you remember the blog posts from when I had two very small children and a husband spending weekends doing graduate school work.

In those days, if it was an evening or a weekend the kids were with me. (A public school teacher and a graduate student don’t really have a line in the budget for babysitting outside of working hours.) Which meant I was always asking the question, Can I bring my baby?

Sometimes the answer is yes! Of course! And they mean it. Sometimes the answer is no, and you don’t go. Sometimes the answer is we have childcare! and you kiss a stranger. But very often the answer is, yes bring the kids, but the person saying the yes is into the idea of babies, not actual tiny humans at the event they have worked so hard to put on.

It is just really hard to balance is this or is this not a space for my baby. And I care about this because disqualifying babies often leaves mothers out of the conversation too.

It is the most mortifying thing to be told your kid is invited and then to be treated like you are a complete idiot who doesn’t know anything because you brought a baby there. I know because it has happened to me. It has happened at churches and restaurants and local meetings where I really really wanted to have a voice in the policies they were discussing. But the baby got fussy, and the same people who were patting the babies head and telling you how great they think it is that you brought your tiny darling are giving you the side eye and whispering to their neighbor just loud enough so you take notice that they cannot hear and they really wanted to.

So you pack up yourself and your kiddos as quickly as possible, (How did they manage to strew everything in your diaper bag all over the floor in 3 minutes?) unfold your double stroller, plop both kids in without buckling and hustle yourself out of there as fast as possible. Inevitably one of your darlings squirms herself out of the seat you were just about to buckle her into and manages to bump her head on the floor. And then those folk really  hear a crying baby. Instead of attending whatever event was important enough for you to get three people ready and showered and out of the house before noon on a Saturday, you are going through the Dunkin’ Donuts drive thru and feeding everyone chocolate munchkins while all three of you cry in the minivan….or…you know….so I have heard.

But that hasn’t always been my experience. I have also had people notice that I was nervous and put a hand on my shoulder and tell me to stay . Tell me that a fussy baby did not disqualify me from having a seat at the table and a voice in the conversation. Once, while I was still nervous about calling myself a writer, the most respected person at the table told me to SIT DOWN when I was excusing myself because of some child shenanigans and the dignity it restored in me cannot be under stated. I was reminded that there was room enough for me, even with this very messy life I had.

I admitted to a friend for the first time in my life that I was called to preach after watching Jen Hatmaker at a woman’s event an hour from my home. The only reason I could attend was because childcare was provided. Otherwise, I would have been at home instead of watching a woman whose style reminds me of my own, totally own the pulpit. It was a game changer for me, and if my kids weren’t invited I would not have been there.

Child friendly policies in community meetings, churches, politics, and really anywhere else important conversations are happening isn’t about liking or not liking babies. It is about whether or not you are making your event accessible to women.

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4 thoughts on “Excluding Babies Excludes Mothers

  1. This has been an issue in my small local church. We have a nursery with a professional caregiver from 15 minutes before the worship service begins until about 30 minutes after it ends. We have a small parlor near the sanctuary with comfortable sofas and stuffed chairs, and our sound system extends to this room so that anyone sitting there can hear the service/sermon. We welcome families with young children in the service and most children above 2-1/2 years old leave for age-appropriate church school class after a blessing before the sermon begins. We’ve also had families come with young children who stayed through the entire service even though the children were carrying on their own loud conversations with their parents throughout the service. It’s these last families who challenge me. Their children’s talking, which is completely normal at their age, does prevent others in the congregation from hearing the service. I wonder how people handle this. Sometimes I think that it’s not important to hear everything that the worship team prepared if it makes the family with children feel unwelcome — but I also feel that we do a lot to make a welcoming space for them that doesn’t interfere with others in the sanctuary. How do others experience this? It’s something I worry about a lot!

    • It sounds like you have a plan. Which is really all I am asking, have a plan. I have ALWAYS used the nursery because I need to not have my kids touch me during church, but other people I know want the kiddos with them. I don’t know what the answer is either. Church, done right, is messy.

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