Sitting at a small corner table in a pub in Baden-Baden, Germany last month, I was enjoying a quiet conversation with my aunt, uncle and 11-year-old daughter when my eyes fell on the diners sitting at the table directly across from us.
Around the table was an eclectic mix of guests - what looked to be parents, grandparents, and four children ranging in age from toddler to teen. At their feet, a large, long-haired dog, sleeping soundly as the group chatted, chewed and chugged their beer.
When seated, I worried we would be asked to leave when the server spotted my daughter with us, but I quickly realized that in this small German town, children were allowed - and welcomed - everywhere we went.
From the world-famous thermal spa - which allowed children ages eight and up to join in on the relaxation water therapy - to the street-side pub patios, children were present.
In the department store, a winding staircase and long wooden slide were in the centre of the shoe section, providing a play space for children to enjoy while their parents shopped. In the corner of many restaurants, a basket of toys, and outside many pubs and coffee shops, children played hopscotch or tag while the grownups enjoyed some adult conversation nearby.
Until this trip - my first visit to Europe - I had always thought that there was a time and place for the presence of kids, but after seeing a society that allows children to be completely immersed in the community, I realized that maybe we should be doing things a little differently here in Canada.
Coming from a generation in which “children should be seen not heard,” my instinct has always been to quiet my kids and limit them to only the most kid-friendly places. But perhaps instead of keeping kids away from the more sensitive scenarios, we should teach them how to conform to different circumstances. Teach them table manners. Encourage quieter voices in certain settings. Provide them with the right tools to entertain themselves in quieter settings and address any disruptive behaviours that might mar the experience for others.
From the moment my children were born, we took them out for meals. We taught them what was and was not acceptable at the dinner table, and how to respect others when in a public place. They aren’t always well-behaved when we dine out, but we try to accustom them to varied venues.
And perhaps this is why the children that crossed my path during my visit to Germany were so comfortable, polite and welcomed in public spaces - because they were just always allowed to be present. No side glances from strangers, or anxiety from parents to keep them hushed and hidden.
It’s time for society to be more accepting of children, and for children to be more adaptable to society. If we make more places kid-friendly, and teach our kids to be place-friendly, perhaps we can be a more inclusive culture as well.
Bianca Bujan is a mom of three, writer, editor, and marketing consultant. Find her online at @bitsofbee.