When you first become a parent, helpful friends, parenting books and Web sites list certain activities as de rigueur while you’re on maternity leave or beginning your stint at home. In addition to taking bonding-filled parent/child yoga classes and finding a moms or dads group, another oft-recommended outing is a matinee movie screening especially for parents and babies.
Locating a bring-your-baby yoga class is relatively easy. Finding a group of fellow parents sharing children the same age, interests and a Zip code is challenging but rewarding.
But try and track down a theater offering regular movie screenings for parents and babies and you’ll become convinced that these events are an elaborate urban legend.
The concept: Theaters offer daytime screenings of first-run movies and encourage parents and babies to attend. The lights are kept on to facilitate feedings and infant care during the show, and the volume is lowered so as not to startle or over-stimulate little ones. Nursing and bottle feeding during the movie are welcome. And the best yet for new parents? Crying and other baby sounds will earn you sympathetic, rather than annoyed, looks from other parent patrons.
The programs took off in the early 2000s in major metro areas and sported punny names like Rattle and Reel, Reel Moms and Cry Babies. Washington was home to several of these programs. (In 2003, The Washington Post covered a Reel Moms screening at the Rio Cinema in Gaithersburg that was so popular that at least 140 Gracos and Peg-Peregos were lined up in the designated stroller parking.)
Unfortunately, several local theaters that offered the parent-and-baby movies have discontinued the practice. Other theaters offer regular baby-friendly show times, but the programs are not listed on their Web sites or well publicized.
Kristin Gehlhaus, a self-proclaimed “big movie person” from Silver Spring and a mother of two, attended the weekly baby-friendly movie screenings at the Regal Majestic in Silver Spring most Wednesday mornings during her maternity leaves in 2005 and 2008.
“The year my daughter was born, I saw almost all of the Academy Award-nominees for best picture,” she said. “When you have a young baby, this is one of your only chances to see a first-run film right on the big screen.”
Gehlhaus was surprised that the screenings received such little hype. “They don’t advertise the shows very much, and I remember attending a show once and my baby, my aunt and I were the only people in the entire theater,” she said. “That is strange to me; it’s such an ideal opportunity for a parent.”
Thankfully, several theaters and chains are bringing back or revamping their movie-and-baby programs, while others recently have started such series for the first time.
The Rio in Gaithersburg, now a member of the AMC Theatre chain, participates in Bring Your Baby Matinees program that is sponsored by the pregnancy Web site thebump.com on the first Tuesday of the month. AMC locations in Georgetown, Alexandria, Tysons Corner and Woodbridge are also taking part.
The American Film Institute’s Silver Theatre and Cultural Center began Silver Babies in 2011. The program features screenings of two matinees in a baby-friendly environment every other Friday.
“This is a program we have always wanted to offer for patrons. We thought we were kind of late to the game, but it worked out. We’ve enjoyed doing it,” said Todd Hitchcock, the theater’s director of programming. “Attendance has been good; we get a lot of positive feedback from parents.”
Parents with babies may want to take advantage of these events while their children are less than a year old. The movie selections are chosen for parents (think “Braveheart” rather than “Brave”), so once children begin paying attention to the action on-screen the content may not be appropriate.
And while toddlers are welcome at such showings, they may have other ideas. Jill Berry, a Woodbine mother who writes the parenting blog Musings From Me, learned that her 18-month-old son was not interested in a movie date with Mom.
“I guess I missed the bit where you take the infant in the sling who just nurses and falls asleep and you can enjoy the show,” Berry said. “My son sat there and ate his healthy snack, then we moved on to the M&Ms, and then he just wanted to walk up and down the stairs in the back. We lasted all of 40 minutes.”
Although toddlers may balk, one interest group that is welcome and warming to the “movie moms” clubs is fathers. “We are seeing a lot of dads, which is great,” Hitchcock said.
McFadden is a freelance writer and founded her blog, A Parent in Silver Spring, in 2008.
AFI Silver Babies
Where: AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center, 8633 Colesville Rd., Silver Spring. 301-495-6700.
When: The first two matinees of the day, every other Friday.
Next show: Friday and Aug. 24. Call for showtimes and movie selections or subscribe to the AFI newsletter for weekly updates.
Cost: Adults, $8.50; babies, free. Parent groups can call ahead for a special group rate.
AMC Bring Your Baby Matinees
Where: AMC Loews Georgetown 14, 3111 K St. NW. 202-342-6033.
AMC Loews Rio Cinemas 18, 9811 Washingtonian Ctr., Gaithersburg. 301-948-6673.
AMC Hoffman Center 22, 206 Swamp Fox Rd., Alexandria. 703-236-1083.
AMC Potomac Mills 18, 2700 Potomac Mills Cir., Woodbridge. 703-490-5151.
AMC Tysons Corner 16, 7850e Tysons Corner Center, McLean. 703-734-6212.
When: The first Tuesday of the month at about noon; showtimes vary.
Next show: Sept. 4. Go to www.amctheatres.com/programs/bring-your-baby for the featured movie of the month.
Cost: Adults, regular matinee price (varies by location); babies, free.
Mommy & Me at Regal Cinemas Potomac Yard Stadium 16
Where: 3575 Jefferson Davis Hwy., Alexandria. 703-739-4054.
When: The first matinee of the day, every other Tuesday.
Next show: Tuesday and Aug. 28. Call the day before for time and movie information, or
e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org to receive regular updates.
Cost: Adults, $9.50; Babies, free.
Mommy & Me at Regal Majestic Stadium 20 & Imax
Where: 900 Ellsworth Dr., Silver Spring. 301-565-8884.
When: Every Wednesday morning, showtimes vary. Call on Tuesday for movie time and selection.
Cost: Adults, $10; babies, free.