It’s about more than one mother of a 4-month-old made to leave a stage-side spot at a California Brad Paisley concert. Was it because she was breastfeeding, as she says, or did police officials give her the option of moving to a seated area or getting a refund and leaving because, as they say, they were concerned for the baby’s safety and hearing?
It’s also about how much life does and should change when you have children. Is it fair to the infant, and others who then watch their language, attitude and step when a child shows up in an unlikely place? Should a parent become a hermit when baby-sitting family members are far flung, the child is well-behaved and an evening out could lessen the stress and make everyone a little happier?
The issue is also bigger than the California mother, who also took along an 8-year-old daughter. On a recent visit to New York City, infants strapped to dads and moms were a fairly common sight in some Brooklyn bars. Kiddie guests have also been seen underfoot in restaurants and at parties with onlookers both sympathetic and annoyed.
Dr. Tricia Bent-Goodley sees all sides of the issue. She is professor of social work and director of Howard University Women as Change Agents, the Washington, D.C., university’s leadership initiative for women. And she is the mother of 10- and 13-year-old sons, who finds maintaining work and life balance difficult, even with a supportive spouse. “It takes a lot of conversation and coordination.”
While she did not speak to the specific example of the concert-going mother, which differs in the telling depending on the point of view, Bent-Goodley said she sees “a bigger, broader issue of women feeling like they want to be able to live their lives” and still want to be able to parent. And it does always seem to reflect more publicly and disapprovingly on mom than dad. Common sense and good judgment means “you have to make the decision that you’re going to have to forgo certain things in order to protect your child,” she said. (Movies with traumatic or scary images are questionable choices.)
But the discussion also speaks to women feeling so confined by some of the limitations that have been placed on them, she said. “We have to as a society begin to think about what kind of support that we provide for women to feel that that they can still be a person even after they become moms.” Does helping to provide respite care that’s affordable help a parent be a better parent? A transient society has made it more challenging, without close-by family members ready to step in.
My own son “heard” his first concert when I was seven months pregnant. Though I questioned the wisdom of sitting in the bleachers as a drunk’s beer trickled down my back, I credit early exposure to the Talking Heads with setting him on the right musical path. In the toddler years that followed, my husband and I bought the VCR to see the movies we had been missing, though I did sit in the back of the theater breastfeeding on occasion. Anyone who says it’s easy has a full-time nanny.
Bent-Goodley, 43, said her generation grew up feeling like woman can do everything. The next step, she said, is “creating systems and structures that allow women to be whole people after they become mothers.”
But having a child does change everything, which is why it’s a responsibility that no woman or man should take lightly. You have to use sound judgment, and put the children’s needs before your own.
And you have to live with your choices, knowing that there will always be observers eager to offer their own judgment.