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Anti-Kid Biz Culture Puts Freeze on Stay-Home Moms

Monday, February 28, 2011

Shops, restaurants, hotels and airlines are saying no to kids. During a long, harsh winter Allison Stevens says the hostility has made motherhood isolating and turned the nearest family-friendly IKEA into a beacon.

Subhead: 
Shops, restaurants, hotels and airlines are saying no to kids. During a long, harsh winter Allison Stevens says the hostility has made motherhood isolating and turned the nearest family-friendly IKEA into a beacon.



WASHINGTON (WOMENSENEWS)--This column might come off sounding like an ad for IKEA. It might even raise suspicion that I have shares in the Swedish furniture and home design giant company.

No such thing. I have no ties to IKEA, except for the sentimental gratitude of an often-at-home mom who's wound up feeling like a recluse this winter due to the rejection of so many other types of businesses.

Earlier this month, the United Kingdom Business Travel and Meeting Show touched my social-reject-feeling-nerve by calling for a ban on children on certain airline flights after the trade group conducted a survey finding that 74 percent of business travelers rank children as their top in-flight annoyance.

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"It's understandably frustrating for business travelers who have paid a premium in expectation that they can work and sleep in comfort, to have that peace disturbed by fidgeting, noisy children," said Dave Chapple, event director of the group, in a statement.

I wish I knew what some of those companies were so I could immediately stop buying their products.

Don't get me wrong. I know that children can be supremely annoying on airlines and everywhere else, for that matter. They're loud, wriggly, messy and unpredictable.

A few years ago, my family walked through the door of a nearby Indian restaurant. "Carry out?" the host pleaded. "No," I said flatly, but I confess I regretted the choice later. Jack, then just over 1 year old, practically started a food fight that night.

But instead of talking about banning families on certain flights, how about going the other direction and making them more friendly to parents so the flight goes more smoothly for everyone?

Why should business travelers have the say-so when young families account for a huge portion of airline ticket sales and consumer purchases?

A Good Start

A good place to start would be equipping airplane bathrooms with changing tables. I'd also appreciate snack options that appeal to kids. More assistance for parents--especially single ones traveling with young kids--would also be great.

And how about support for breastfeeding moms, rather than scorn? (In 2006, a woman was kicked off a plane for nursing her infant; she later sued.)

This country could stand to be a lot more family-friendly on the ground, too, whether with more family care restrooms at public malls, more restaurants with play areas for kids or even cafes with playgrounds (check out Family Grounds Café or Little Beans in Chicago).

As a mom of two young boys, I find it next to impossible to do the things I took for granted just a few short years ago, whether it's eating out in a restaurant, going shopping, sipping a latte in a local café or, yes, taking a long-distance vacation.

Renting a house or booking a hotel room can also be a big dose of discrimination as many proprietors exclude young children from the acceptable guest list.

And it's especially entrenched in cities like mine, where few businesses cater to families, especially those with young children; established businesses, meanwhile, practically have "Adults Only" signs on their doors.

Suburbs Better Than Cities

Suburbs seem to do a much better job of this than cities.

I haven't found more than two indoor play areas within a 45-minute drive of our house on Capitol Hill, and I know of only two restaurants in our neighborhood that open their doors to kids with a "family" night.

The lack of options hasn't encouraged the best eating habits. Since my kids were born, I've found myself driving under those infamous Golden Arches more often than I'd like to admit. I'd opt for healthier restaurants if they were out there, though.

Asking for a more family-friendly business culture may sound at best naïve in a recession and at worst like another mandate from our so-called nanny state. But this isn't some kind of utopia I'm imagining. I visit this place every time I go to IKEA.

This magical world near our home has family care restrooms decorated to appeal to young children. There's a supervised play area that allows parents to shop while IKEA employees mind the little ones.

This feature is such a bonus--and so rare--that some friends of mine schedule play dates at the nearest IKEA even though it is miles away.

Our nearest IKEA also has family-friendly parking, where parents of young children can park near the door; a kid-friendly policy that encourages children to play in certain areas of the store; and an in-store restaurant that has affordable and--here's the shocker--healthy options. There's even a play area in the restaurant where kids can burn off energy while adults enjoy a (somewhat) leisurely lunch.

IKEA is a huge success, with locations all over the world. Other businesses should learn from their example.

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Allison Stevens is a writer in Washington, D.C. She covers women's issues for a variety of groups and publications.