Last week, The Little French café in Newcastle posted on Facebook clarifying the exact way they used the phrase ‘child-friendly’. The post, now deleted, read,
‘If you are looking for a cafe with a children’s menu, baby chinos, a play area, lounges for your children to jump on, vast space for your prams, an area for your children to run rampant, and annoy other customers, whilst you are oblivious to them – then the short answer is No we are not child friendly, HOWEVER, if you would like to bring your children here, and they are happy to sit at a table with you, while you enjoy a coffee, and are well behaved, please come in. Otherwise, there are plenty of places that are specifically designed to entertain your children.’
Not surprisingly, Facebook lit up like a Christmas tree. Both ends of the spectrum showed up to say their piece. On one hand there was abundant applause for the woman who was brave enough to say what they believe everyone thinks in secret, but also angry parents shaking their fists in disgust. Then the whole fuss even made the paper (http://www.theherald.com.au/story/2640520/cafe-sparks-debate-over-kids-in-coffee-shops/?cs=305).
Hmmm…. Yes, I am completely in favor of disciplining small children and teaching them respect, but the concept that any amount of discipline will make (most) toddlers sit quietly in a chair while their parents leisurely sip coffee seems a little idealistic to me. The fact is small children are not up to speed in the social etiquette department. They have a plethora of behaviors that are helping them discover about how the world works that can actually be quite irritating. For example, they have little appreciation of personal space (e.g. if I see it, it’s mine even if it’s on another person’s table) or the inability to navigate emotions (e.g. throwing themselves on the floor screaming because their sister accidently touched their knee). Of course parents are meant to help kids navigate this journey, but it’s pretty unrealistic to think little kids can do this like an adult can.
At the same time I sympathize with this owner who is trying to make a living. Maybe there are some public spaces that are just not good matches for toddlers and I am entirely content for that to be the case.
BUT I do have something I want to say. This is just one little example of debates that unsettle me. I reckon 2014 is a tough time to be a kid. The debates are just so polarized. Kids are either seen as the center of the universe upon which parents hinge their fulfillment in life (scarily something that they will never be able to live up to) or they are an annoyance that would be better kept at home until properly trained as a useful member of society. There is growing hostility, seeing them as impositions on the freedoms of more fully functioning members of society.
What place do kids have in society? How should we view them?
Certainly in the Bible kids are seen as a blessing not an irritant. Adam and Eve were commanded to be fruitful and fill the earth (Gen 1:28). This command then morphs to be used in terms of promises. That is, it can be seen in the promises given to God’s people through Abraham about blessing through the multiplication of descendants (Gen 15:5, 22:17). Barrenness is often seen as a challenge to the promise and there are examples of this sovereignly being overturned (e.g. Sarah, Hannah). Even after the exile when the people were scattered God promises restoration in terms of multiplying the people again (Isa 54:1-3). Children are neither the center of the world, nor are they inconveniences, but God’s blessing to prosper his people.
However, in the NT, we must note that things are slightly different. God’s people are still growing in number but they are now those who are adopted through union with Christ’s death and resurrection rather than a physical nation. The great scandal is that Gentiles are adopted as sons (Rom 8:14, Gal 3:26, 4:5, Heb 12:5-7). In one sense, evangelism seems key to growing God’s people now.
However, the high view of children still remains and you could argue that God’s kingdom might be multiplied through having kids. The fact that the Bible shows us a high view of sex in marriage makes me think God still likes kids (e.g. 1 Cor 7). This is because, when it was written, in the absence of the reliable contraception, it was assumed that sex (often) resulted in children. It is a modern idea that we might be able to have sex without children following. We are still meant to be a community that celebrates little people.
Consider Jesus’ reaction to kids. The disciples rebuked those who brought their children to Him (Matt 19:13-14). They didn’t want them climbing on the chairs, eating the sugar packets, throwing tantrums and bothering patrons. Fair enough. But Jesus sticks up for them and gathers them in.
He says kids tell us something about the kingdom. That is, that it is made up of people like them. Lots of people use this as an excuse for anti-intellectualism or having a ‘simple’ faith, but this is not the point Jesus is making. Rather he is saying children are dependent. So are those in God’s Kingdom. They are helpless to save themselves and depend on Jesus for every breath.
Society loves self-reliance -people who are self-made. In fact, it’s the things we achieve that often define us. That’s probably why kids (and also the disabled, elderly or mentally unwell) are sadly often treated as ‘sub-human’.
But clearly in God’s economy, it’s not what you do that is key to being precious and loved, but how you depend on what was done for you. And we would do well to treat others as God has so treated us. That means, loving people who are not going to get you ahead in terms of what society values. They are not well connected, they are not rich and don’t have good styling taste. In fact, to be honest, sometimes they can be hard work.
As a mother, I can attest that my kids are a great source of blessing. Not just in terms of being a constant source of hilarious amusement and tender cuddles and snuggles, but more importantly, in building God’s kingdom as the next generation to serve Him. However, motherhood is full of sacrifice. Much of which is thankless. Praise God, that I was shown unconditional love first in Christ so that I can freely give it to my daughters.
In a society that is all wrong-headed when it comes to thinking about kids, let’s be the ones who are happy to give them a go.