Why You Hate Kids: An Addendum

So last week, @JacintaNandi wrote on her Exberliner blog, Amok Mama that people in Germany hate kids. Or, in her words:

“In Germany in general and Berlin in particular, it is really, really cool to hate kids. Kids are loud, kids are annoying, kids are stressful, kids are kind of disgusting. People complain about kids on the U-Bahn, people complain about kids at the lake, people complain about kids in the supermarket and people complain about kids in the Hinterhof. People complain about Prenzlauer Berg yummy mummies, those smug slags with their Kinderwagens bigger than an SUV. People complain about bad parents, those useless losers whose kids are totally out-of-control on public transport. People complain. About kids. A LOT.”

This, I have to say, is not a statement I disagree with. There’s a lot of hatred toward children going on. But it’s not a phenomenon limited to Germany, nor to Berlin. It’s rampant in the Western world, and has been for generations. It’s just taking on new forms. And becoming more obvious in major metropolises.
There’s a good reason for the hatred: kids are narcissists. And everybody hates narcissists. Especially the grown-up narcissists. You can’t appreciate anyone else’s narcissism when you’re totally wrapped in your own, now can you? And a kid screaming at the top of his lungs because he hasn’t gotten his own way is a total intrusion on your well-earned god-given right to silence in the supermarket. Verdammt nochmal!
Kid hatred’s grown because our privileged culture’s sense of entitlement has grown. We have rules and expectations for how our lives will work and kids come shrieking across the stage on which our lives are being acted out and destroy fucking everything. Because they’re living their lives in the only way they know how: totally self-centered.

In Germany, especially in these examples Jacinta’s given above, this is more visible because we live in a culture of silence. People here are like fucking librarians — me included — shushing everyone in sight, at least until they get drunk. Kids shatter that silence, and we don’t notice this in the Anglo-Saxon world because English speakers are the loudest people on the planet, always walking dramatically into a room and begging for attention with our booming voices. Ever see anybody get a stare down for using their mobile phone on the subway in the States? No, because everybody does it. A couple years back, on a post-rush hour commuter train, an American next to me mused that it must be illegal to use your cell phone on the train because she could see no other reason why the commuters wouldn’t be using theirs. Um, respect? I told her. Because Germans will tell you you’re being an asshole if you do? It’s the same with kids. If they break the golden rule of silence in Germany, they are going to get tutted. It’s how the culture here works, like it or not.

I think what Jacinta gets wrong in this article is narrowing this kinder-feindlichkeit to Germany. It’s not an exclusively Teutonic hatred. Hell, I think German kids are waaaaay better behaved than some of the monsters I saw in the States. No wait, I take that back. The kids act the same — it’s the adults who are way worse behaved in the US. When I got on a Lufthansa flight from Germany, not a single person batted an eye and the flight attendants were phenomenally helpful. When I hit up a cross-country flight in the US a few months later, I got, at the end of the flight, thank yous from other passengers for, “controlling my child” and therefore making the six hour journey less hellacious than those around me had anticipated. Never mind that I had just left my husband and was about to have a nervous breakdown, of course I am totally fucking aware of YOUR need for peace and quiet to read some shitty romance novel you’re about to tuck into the seatback and forget every word of. The difference is that Americans and Brits passive-aggressively seethe about the kids around them and then go online to bitch about it. Or the parents try and avoid the confrontation altogether by handing the kid an iPad and making it suck down some Benadryl. The hatred is there, it just takes a different form.

Which is unfortunate, I must say, because kids are generally pretty awesome. I don’t believe that all children are inherently good, just as strongly as I believe that there are some parents who need to learn how to parent. But I also don’t believe that I’d have the same response as Jacinta would to a woman who’d asked me to quiet my kid. I wouldn’t, or we wouldn’t, as she says: “cringe and we bow down, we say sorry, we shrug our shoulders apologetically, we whisper to our kids to be quiet. We basically try to take up as least space as possible. Because we know we’re the most worthless people in society. Because we know we don’t ‘deserve’ to be here.”

This seems a very Anglo-Saxon response — the same one that has Americans apologizing at every bloody thing, and one that I’ve worked hard to minimize without being arrogant myself. Instead, I’d tell the lady to fuck right on off, as I’ve done in the past, on more than one occasion. Assholes are assholes, wherever you are in the world, and if someone can’t handle a bit of noise in her space, then she’s got every right to high-tail it on over to another one. Maybe there, there won’t be any kids.


5 thoughts on “Why You Hate Kids: An Addendum

  1. Ralph December 18, 2013 / 12:10 am

    Hostility toward children is not solely a German phenomenon, although Germans may see that way: “Kinderfeindlichkeit,” like “Waldsterben,” turns up again and again in German news.

    Are kids narcissists? No. Wrong word. At least, not narcissists in the same way adults can be.

    I have read that Berliners, especially those in neighborhoods like Prenzlauer Berg, do abhor children. Especially the children of well-off yuppies. Baby carriages set afire, etc. This takes place in the wider context of the struggle between the older, poorer residents of such districts and newcomers with cushy jobs and ample incomes, so it is as much about children as it is about envy and frustration and the injuries of perceived superior class and wealth.

    I do hope that you’re having better experiences in Cologne than Jacinta in Berlin. I don’t think Cologne is a particularly good place to raise a kid, though I could imagine that Berlin is far worse. I was in Cologne last Saturday, wandering around, and felt depressed and overwhelmed. The air polluted, the Christmas buy-me hysteria excessive, traffic loud and aggressive. Not such a good place for children.

    Why even bother telling the kid-haters to fuck off? Aren’t they sad people? Sad in a way you and I can probably not imagine? People who despise children are denying an essential part of their humanity. They are on the losing side of history and their childless future will be bleak.

    • Milly December 19, 2013 / 12:55 pm

      @Ralph: I’m using the word narcissist here loosely to denote a person who doesn’t have empathy and who is self-centered. Children are both — empathy is an important developmental milestone that kids don’t begin to get at least until they’re 3, and it’s limited even then. As we can see from many adults today, it’s even limited later in life. And that’s the problem I’m denoting here: a self-centered, lack of empathy that’s prevalent today in Germany and the US.

      And as regards “I have read that Berliners, especially those in neighborhoods like Prenzlauer Berg, do abhor children. Especially the children of well-off yuppies. Baby carriages set afire, etc.”…. clearly this is an issue of entitlement and class privilege. We don’t have the enormous class divide in Cologne that’s taken over Berlin but it does exist and though I think it’s wrong to take this out on children, I think it’s a separate issue from what Jacinta’s arguing when she says there’s a problem of Kinderfeindlichkeit. IMHO

      • Ralph December 20, 2013 / 8:11 pm

        “As we can see from many adults today, it’s even limited later in life.”

        Sad but true, it seems.

        Narcissism, defined as abnormal admiration of or obsession with one’s looks, successes, etc., is best applied to adults because, as you write, it is normal, not abnormal, for a child to be self-centered; the process of individuation that ideally should end in recognition of and empathy with others takes time (though even small children have compassionate feelings when witnessing suffering).

        It’s a big trap, narcissism.

        I agree that Jacinta is generalizing about Germans, though Berlin has issues of its own. Berlin is not what it is reputed to be.

        To you and yours, Milly, best wishes for 2014.

  2. barbtaub January 5, 2014 / 10:17 pm

    I recently attended a family event — my father’s funeral, in fact — which had several noisy young children and babies. As I watched people try to speak and sing and pray despite the noise, I also saw something else. As sad as the occasion, everyone smiled at the babies. Everyone laughed at the escapee toddler. And — at least I believe this — everyone thought about how much my father loved babies (he had ten of his own after all) and thus how perfect it was to have them there.

    I’ll just end with a recollection of the time we were in a hotel elevator in St. Louis, and my youngest was crying. A lady turned to me and suggested perfectly seriously that I give her Benadryl to make her sleep while we were in the hotel. A few days later, we were coming down in the same elevator with my husband’s department head and his wife when the same busybody got on. Seeing that my daughter was sleeping, she turned to me. “I see you took my advice. Isn’t it a lot more peaceful when you give her the drugs?” She got off, but you better believe our friends are still teasing me.

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