Voices: Spare comics like Matt Forde or ban babies? Is there no third option?

·4 min read
His bottom line – that nobody should ever bring babies to adult-centred events in the first place – seems a step too far (Getty)
His bottom line – that nobody should ever bring babies to adult-centred events in the first place – seems a step too far (Getty)

“I get that it must be tough as a new parent but please, don’t bring babies to adult shows. It’s always a problem.”

So spaketh comedian, Matt Forde, on Twitter on Tuesday, after a crying baby apparently derailed part of his show. And in an entirely predictable turn of events, it turns out that people have opinions on this statement, ranging from 100 per cent endorsement of his view (maybe we should just ban babies from all public spaces, the noisy little horrors!) to 100 per cent condemnation (dear lord, what kind of monster doesn’t love a baby at a comedy night!).

Nobody ever accused Twitter of being the birthplace of nuance, but arguments like this one do make me feel slightly despairing. Do I have to pick a side here? Is this really, truly about child-hating everyday sexism, or entitled overbearing parenthood, thrusting itself to the front of every queue, screaming baby and all? Isn’t there something, maybe, between the two extremes where both sides have something reasonable to say?

Look, on the one hand, I’m a new(ish) mum myself. And I’m just not willing to be confined to the house, the park and a few select baby groups for the next three years. Softplay fills me with a kind of existential horror, whereas a nice museum or art gallery provides the kind of calm that really matters when you’re spending 18 hours a day trying to keep a tiny, cross human alive. To put it more broadly, new parents do need to be given opportunities to, y’know, do things. This is particularly important in workplaces where we either allow breastfeeding mothers to keep their babies close or risk excluding them entirely. But it matters when it comes to restaurants and shows and shops and social events, too – people with children still deserve the chance to be part of life.

That means that sometimes, they need to bring their children with them. It means sometimes putting up with the occasional squeal or keeping your eyebrow unraised when the couple on the next table crack open the nappy changing bag. It means, honestly, trying not to be quite so judgey – and avoiding the mean-spirited take of “well, you had a baby so now you have to make sacrifices.” We definitely need to stop acting as if parents who leave the house with their children in tow to go to an adult-focused leisure activity should be on some sort of social services watch list.

At the same time of course, if you’re letting your crying baby drown out your best friend’s wedding vows, or derail somebody else’s romantic meal, or even ruin a comedian’s best jokes, then maybe being reasonable and accommodating works both ways. You are not hermetically sealed into any of these situations and many parents will be familiar with the scenario of pacing the street outside the church or restaurant or show, jiggling frantically as you try to calm an unhappy baby while the event continues without you.

It’s not fun, but it’s the risk you take when you bring a baby to a non-baby-centred event. It’s totally fair to give it a go, but it’s not fair to keep giving it a go even as your child’s tonsils become the headline act.  If you’re putting your needs above the needs of everyone else attending, then just possibly, you’re the problem.

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As Taylor Swift (she’s very wise!) once wrote: “both of these things can be true”. But like all things to do with child-rearing, we seem to only see binary positions. I sympathise with Forde’s frustration – the parent in question should obviously have taken their child out when they began crying. But his bottom line – that nobody should ever bring babies to adult-centred events in the first place – seems a step too far. On a different day, is a baby who sleeps peacefully through the show really such a problem? Babies are erratic little creatures – they’re as likely to snooze as scream in my nine months’ worth of on-the-job experience. You just don’t know until you give it a try and I find it hard to condemn any parent for having a bit of hope–- even when it turns out to be misplaced.

More than this, narratives like this one play into a divide I’ve become acutely aware of since becoming a parent myself: the world’s desire to split us all into neat little categories where whether or not we have children defines us more than anything else. But in a reply to his original tweet, Forde goes on to compare the problem to people who constantly let their mobile phones ring without switching them onto silent and actually, this cuts to the true heart of things. Whether or not you have a baby along for the ride, it’s your ability to be considerate that will determine how much of a pain you are to your fellow human beings.

And we probably don’t need to pick sides beyond this one.