A few months after I had my baby, William, I decided to hit the mall for some new clothes/I was bored and what else is there to do except shop (or pop some tags as the kids are saying.. and by kids, I mean me.). I popped into one store and after picking out some clothes I headed to the change rooms. To my disappointment, there were no benches, chairs or anything in the change rooms. I approached the cashier and asked politely if there were any benches around so that I could put my baby down while I try on the clothes (W was only about 3 months old- no rolling or sudden movements..). Her response? “No, we don’t have benches.. but we have a stool.”
A stool? Seriously? I almost laughed at her right then and there. Instead, I politely said, “okay no that won’t work, he’s still little see?” while I pointed at the obviously tiny form snuggled in the carrier. And then I left. I remember thinking to myself, “why do they make it so difficult?”
A little while later, I flew on my own from Calgary to Ottawa to visit family. Upon arriving at security with William in the carrier at 7 AM, the security guards asked me to take him out of the carrier, which basically meant taking the carrier off. I also had to take off my shoes, and do the normal thing of pushing my bags through- all while holding my baby, my passport and boarding pass and unpacking a laptop. While everyone stood around and watched. William was naturally fussy from being woken up so I was bouncing him a bit trying to juggle everything. The oh-so-helpful-not-helpful-at-all security guard then said the following, “No no!! Don’t rock your baby!! You shouldn’t rock him, you’ll have to rock him forever, it’s not good for him! No no!!”. I was dumbfounded….seriously?! Paralyzed with embarrassment and feeling unable to say anything, I nodded and managed a weak smile and continued trying to get my act together. Thankfully, the woman behind me was stronger and told him off for me. She also held W for me so I could get my stuff together. I was soo grateful, but still so embarassed! How did he get off thinking he could say those things?!
Around the same time, James and I went to Valoo Veelage (Okay, it’s Value Village- I was trying to be fancy). Upon entering the doors, we were faced with a conundrum: there were metal poles that were creating a barrier between us and the store, making it impossible for us to get our stroller through. We had actually take William out, take all our stuff out of the stroller, collapse it, and put everything back in order on the other side of the barrier. Any parent knows how frustrating this is when it takes you like half an hour to get out the door in the first place. All that I could think of at the time was, “what if I was a harried single mother coming here and now there is literally a barrier between me and getting what I need? It took me ages to get here in the first place, now I have to what? Put my child, who can’t sit up, on the floor so that I can collapse my stroller and get through the barriers? Forget it, this is way too hard. I can’t do this.” Le sigh.
Lastly, during a Calgary winter, I attempted to take William down the street for an outing and nearly got hit by a car because there was snow piled up against each entrance and exist onto the sidewalks making it nearly impossible to smoothly get off the street when the lights changed. Upon calling the city to complain, they told me likely nothing would change. Upon telling other mom friends about this, I found out that this is a common problem across Canada- even to the point of mothers and babies actually getting hit as a result. SERIOUSLY?!
These are just four examples of experiences I have had as a new mum in our progressive 21st Century society. I know many mums who have had similar experiences, and who have had even worse comments made to them about the number of children they have, how they look too young to be having children etc etc. In the opposite way, I received a surprising number of comments from strangers about William being in a baby carrier with me, or him as a newborn, or when I was heavily pregnant.
Bottom line, people’s surprise towards seeing babies and pregnant women tells me something: Seeing children and pregnant women is becoming something of a rarity. And because it’s rare, individuals are no longer familiar with the proper behaviour that goes along with seeing stressed out mothers, with having mothers with strollers who need clean sidewalks, with having mothers who are just trying to make it through the day and don’t need parenting advice, or weight comments or comments about how you look dead tired.
It is as though our society is no longer use to having children as an essential part of our societal norms that negative comments are said, ignorant advice/suggestions are given, surprising remarks are uttered and store policies are made thoughtlessly. Children are becoming such a rarity in our culture that society is forgetting how to operate with them. Children are no longer seen as a vital, and essential part of our society. We make policies that do not reflect their existence or value.
Perhaps you are saying to yourself, “well these are unfair expectations”. Well, I’m n
ot so sure about that and this is why: Other societies do it better. Much, much, much better. Here is one example: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-22751415
Finland policy makers say they do this to show that families matter to the state. That the state recognizes the value and importance of children in the culture, and that children are important.
By Canadian cities putting up physical barriers between couples and a store, being accomodate at the airport and generally thoughtless when it comes to parking (i can count the number of stores that have family parking), and family-friendly environments, they are communicates a message: Children are not that important to us. You
having a child, being pregnant, perhaps single and alone as well.. not important to us. Survive if you can with us, and if you can’t.. well that part we can help you with.
How? So far, I have seen far more thought put into the abortion debate than I have seen put into implementing family-friendly policies in this country. So far, I have seen that the Canadian government and Canadians fight harder to make abortions available, than they fight for families and children. So far, I have seen 100,000 children killed every year in this country and 100,000 women hurt by abortion. The reality is that Canada does not cherish it’s families, thats why there is no fight for them from the state.
Mamas, do not accept the status quo! If you do not speak up and say, “ My Canada should treat me better” then who will?? No one. You can fight.
Here is what I suggest you do:
– Write a short editorial to the newspaper relating your experience. Sometimes public opinion is the only thing that helps things change.
– If you are treated negatively by a store clerk because you have a child, tell them that their behaviour is not okay. If you don’t, maybe no one will.. maybe one person at time we can start to change things.
– Talk to your MP about advocating for family-friendly policies and what that could look like. MPs fight for things they know their constituencies care about.. so again, if you don’t show you care, then neither will they, then neither will the government and there you have it.
– Lead by example for your children and for other people. Be extra thoughtful, extra thankful, extra compassionate. This rubs off on people. Let’s make it so that it’s not a huge surprise for a mama every time someone is thoughtful to them!
It’s the age of saying of treat others as you would like to be treated. In short: YOU be the change!