As a parent, I do feel an obligation to minimize my children’s impositions on strangers. But I also tend to take for granted that people will be tolerant of very minor inconveniences, such as the extra five seconds it takes to lift a toddler to push an elevator button instead of pushing it myself. Some clearly are; I can see whenever I take my children to public places that many people get pleasure from watching them. Rancorous online discussions occasionally remind me that some people do not.
Purely from a demographic standpoint, it is unwise to place such onerous expectations on parents that nobody wants to help raise the next generation. Even now, I frequently find myself glancing around and thinking, “If I walk this library book fifty feet to that return slot, will I end up in court staring at a cell phone picture of myself ‘leaving the kids in the car’? It would be an enormous headache wake three small kids up from their naps and cross a busy street with them, but is it worth it just to ensure that doesn’t happen?”
Hopefully public outrage can persuade public authorities that terrorizing normal parents is a bad idea. Still, the truth is that families will always be at risk in a culture that sees childbearing as more exceptional than normal. If parenting is regarded as a kind of hobby, the general public will not see why they should facilitate it, nor will they feel pressure to keep their parenting standards reasonable. We need to find ways to put children and families closer to the center of public life. Only then will parents be permitted to be human.
Rachel Lu teaches philosophy at the University of St. Thomas. Follow her on Twitter @rclu.