can of worms

Okay, now that I’ve said my piece about last night’s hilarious but unfortunate verbal battle, I can focus my attention on the OTHER Twitter kafuffle: the hot button topic of children at Northern Voice.

Contrary to what most people think, I don’t hate children. In fact, I was on the side of most of the parents contributing to last night’s debate – but it’s such an emotional topic for some that they’re blind to what’s actually being said and instead focus on preconceived notions like I’m a baby eating child hater who thinks all parents should be shunned and/or kept locked in a room with their spawn so the rest of us don’t have to deal with them.

Northern Voice has always been listed as a “child-friendly” event, with a room set aside for parents to set up some sort of day care system if they wish. The last three words are the important ones: it’s up to the parents to arrange something; not the Northern Voice organizers. They’ll provide the space; YOU work out the childcare yourself. As far as I know, that’s the way it’s always been – but this year, no one arranged anything. People brought their children, and there was nowhere to put them. Babies made noise, people were unable to hear speeches, and all of a sudden it’s a big war between the snotty douchebag child haters against the self-righteous entitled breeders.

Can’t we all just get along?

I am NOT against children being at Northern Voice. I do not, however, think that the panels or sessions are an appropriate place for your child, no matter how angelic and smart they are. Just like parents are entitled to attend any event they want; the childfree are also entitled to a space free from distractions. Why would you want to subject your child to Northern Voice sessions, anyway? Face it – grown ups are boring and a lot of the talks are completely inappropriate for kids.

Children don’t come with an off/on switch. How can anyone guarantee that their kid will be completely silent the entire time when someone is presenting? You can’t, and because you can’t, the sessions are not the place for kids. Everyone – childful and childfree alike – paid a great deal of money to attend, and everyone deserves to get the full experience from Northern Voice. You can’t tell me that your time there wouldn’t have been drastically different if you were trying to listen to Tod’s podcast talk while a baby cried 4 rows behind you, or a toddler ran up and down the aisles giggling while Steff was pouring her heart out. It isn’t fair to ANYONE – attendees OR speakers – to have to compete with that kind of fracas going on in the background, and that is why I think kids shouldn’t be allowed in the presentation/keynote rooms.

At the conference itself? Bring ‘em on!

If Northern Voice had child-minding services set up, there’s no reason why all sides can’t be happy. I understand that this has costs associated with it, which opens up a whole other can of worms: who pays for it? It’s not fair to make everyone pay more to cover the few who can’t/won’t find an alternative for their kid(s), but there’s potential for hardship (and non-stop bitching about being penalized for being a parent) if people had to pay extra to cover on-site babysitting. The only two possible answers I see would be to either a) collect and arrange volunteers beforehand to cover shifts of childcare (which could potentially bring about a whole host of insurance or legal issues), or find a sponsor to donate/pay for childcare. These are just two options; there could be more. It doesn’t have to be as difficult as people seem to want to make it.

As an aside, childfree does not equal child hater. Plenty of people who don’t have children like them just fine, and are childfree for reasons they do not owe you to disclose. During last night’s heated debate, it was repeatedly stated that children should not only be allowed at Northern Voice, they should be allowed to contribute to panels – then maybe all the asshole kid hating douchebag hipsters would see that kids aren’t so bad!

Really? REALLY? You honestly think the best way to change our minds about children is to force us to interact with them? Why on EARTH would you subject your child to basically performing for people who don’t care? Because that’s really it – I don’t *care* how special and smart and sociable and talented little Suzie or Johnny is. I’m sure your kids are lovely, but I go to Northern Voice to interact with like-minded bloggers and to meet people. I was astounded at how many times I saw someone say “parents went to the sessions of non-parents; they should have to come to OUR sessions too” – what? Are you serious? One of my favourite things about Northern Voice is the CHOICE offered to people; three or more simultaneous sessions running at the same time so you can attend the things that matter to YOU. I don’t actively look at the schedule and think “Well, I don’t really need to go to Facebook 101, but the only other session at that time is Quantum Physics and Social Media, which is run by a – ugh – parent. Facebook 101 it is!”. Even if I wasn’t the president of Team No Babies, why would I go to a panel entitled: Family Matters: Blogging For Mommies and Daddies? I wouldn’t. Just like I expect most of you won’t make an appearance at my Northern Voice 2011 session, “The Politics of Bukkake: Facials in Gay Porn”. And that’s okay – I won’t be offended. Why are you?

I don’t hate children, okay? Stop villainizing me and assuming everything I say is going to be 100% anti-child. I’m on your side. I think kids should be allowed at Northern Voice. I just don’t think they belong in the sessions – we ALL deserve to get everything we can out of the experience.

And the silence was only broken by the sound of his best friend’s zipper.

41 thoughts on “can of worms

  1. For the record, I totally didn’t assume you (or anyone else) was a kid-hater. And I understood your viewpoint completely. My point was simply that if on-site childcare was possible – even if it was organized by the parents attending, and the childcare room was always available for it (which it has not been for the last two years) – the conference would have a larger turnout, because a lot of parents are involved in tech/blogging are restricted from events because they’re not kid-friendly.

    My aside was that the onus is on parents to be responsible for their kids’ noise/activity – I was hyper-aware if mine was bothering anyone, even by barely-audible whispering in the back of the room during The Book Broads’ panel.

    But to add a little bit of argument, some kids are actually interest the topics, and some parents in Vancouver are homeschoolers/unschoolers whose kids’ education is built upon presentations and such that they’re actually interested in.

    • I think this really sums it up. I totally agree that the onus is on the parent.

      I wasn’t at Northern Voice, but child-friendly doesn’t mean it’s okay to interrupt other peoples fun. I’ve seen coughing used as an example that would have been acceptable, and I disagree. If someone was having a coughing fit, I would expect them to leave the room too. One cough is annoying, but unavoidable. Any prolonged interruption, and I’d like it if people had the decency to do the right thing WITHOUT being asked to step outside.

      As much as people hate it when you compare kids to pets, there are times when it’s valid: I have a high maintenance dog. A lot of people don’t like dogs, and even more specifically don’t like MY dog. And I do my damndest not to inflict her on people who don’t enjoy her particular brand of crazy. And, to be honest, it took me a while to learn the boundaries there, so new parents can get a bit of a pass while they figure out what is and isn’t acceptable. But the amount of defensiveness I saw in people via Twitter just surprises me. Why do people think it’s okay to annoy other people just because they have a kid?

  2. (Disclaimer: I didn’t go to NV this year, and I don’t have children.)

    I grew up having to spend a lot of time at colleges, sitting quietly in the backs of classrooms while my parents taught their classes or did their work, being bored out of my mind because I couldn’t move around and had no toys to play with, and this got me thinking:

    Parents who bring their kids to lectures are only really helping themselves. Not other attendees, and not their kids.

    Toddlers and little kids want room to run around and scream and make noises and play without being shushed or scolded. I don’t really know what babies want, but a big lecture hall with an amplified speaker may not be their favourite place to hang out. Sure, they probably want to be with their parent more than a stranger or a babysitter, but I expect the venue isn’t enjoyable or suitable for children of any young age.

    It does suck that babysitting and childcare cost so much (I don’t know how people can afford to be parents, frankly). But such a scenario seems like a bit of a punishment for everyone involved, and it would be a good idea to set up a proper childcare service at such an event in future, whether officially or unofficially. Then potentially everyone would be happy and get to enjoy the conference in full.

  3. True story: I’m a single parent who got asked to be on a panel on Saturday (when the sprout is out of school). No problem, I asked a friend if I could drop him off for a couple of hours, it’s all good. Except the friend gets sick, and I now have no childcare. I talked to the organizers, and they seemed pretty laid back about it all, so I brought my 6-year-old to my panel. He sat in the front row, and was shockingly well behaved (even I was surprised by how good he was!), so everything was fine.
    But, it could have easily gone another way, where I would have had to leave the panel to take him outside if he was upset/bored, etc.
    I’d love it if there was some kind of childcare on site next year, and I’d be happy to pay.

  4. I’m really amazed this has become so heated. I’ve noticed that in Vancouver in particular (compared to other cities I have lived in) is very polarized on children vs. no children. People seem to have very strong feelings.

    I agree with you on this one though, but then again, I don’t have children so I guess I’m already biased.

    • VancityAllie I agree and experience the change in life and friends

      I un-singled a mom 5 years ago. Prior to that I was a child eating hipster (or whatever you want to call it). I never wanted or thought I would ever have a kid. I was hip and cool and friends were easily accessible and easy going. I lived alone in a hip pad with a hip freelance career and loved it. Then I met a woman and fell in love with her and her kid. (Some days I love the kid more) Today, I am Papa.

      What i have found is exactly what VancityAllie describes. Zero tolerance [0] for kids from many non-child-barring people. Hell, they don’t even give it a chance, they just abandon the friendship. But I don’t complain. I was exactly the same. Just too cool for school I was.

  5. Being part of the debate last night, I think I should reiterate that I would be happy to pay for my child to be in onsite childcare. There was a conflict so my husband (who would have loved to come to the conference as well) couldn’t watch my son for a couple of hours on the saturday afternoon. I brought him to two panels and he was well behaved and then I skipped the last panel I wanted to see because he wasn’t in the right frame of mind.

    I don’t assumne that all the childless, whether by choice or not, hate babies/children. I also don’t assumne that they should subsidize my childcare. I do think that there would be a larger turnout of tech couples at Northern Voice if there was a viable childcare option. I agree that most of the sessions were not places for children and if not for an unusual set of circumstances my son would not have been at any of them.

  6. I haven’t ever been to NV… but I like to offer my two cents…

    Maybe part of the solution is that the speaker of a session could designate whether that particular session is child friendly or not. Then, when people are signing up they can see what is or is not child friendly and plan around that.

  7. Totally with you. Thanks for writing this, it’s what I wanted to say last night, but couldn’t well-articulate within 140 characters.

    The statement that pushed me over the edge was when the mom in question said I like to expose my child to new experiences and people as justification for taking offense at being asked to leave they keynote with her baby. To me, that says “my desires for my child trump everyone else’s right to a distraction-free conference.”

    Child-friendly DOES NOT mean Child-focused. I thank the parents who do everything they can to work within that. It was unfortunate that the acoustics in the keynote room were such that ANY noise from ANYONE (including normally innocuous cooing from a baby) would be disruptive. But such is life. I think your coughing analogy is apt here.

    I’m glad Northern Voice is still able to welcome parents with children, but it is definitely up to the PARENTS to make sure that they aren’t abusing the privilege they’ve been given of having their children welcomed into normally adult space.

    It would be easy for the organizers to take the brouhaha as a reason to say “no kids” to the next conference. Perhaps the parents in the crowd would like to check their irrational emotions at the door, and work WITH the organizers to make next year’s child-friendly aspects more attendee-friendly.

    Lashing out about how they were so hard done by (because, like it or not, child-rearing is a CHOICE), makes it very hard for me to be sympathetic to their cause.

  8. So as a father of two boys, 6 and 2, I gotta say “child friendly” or not I would never in a million imagine taking my kids to such an event. Especially, a key-note presentation.

    It is just not an environment that is suited for a young kid to sit for an extended period. That is why their is a web stream. If you couldn’t find a sitter or your spouse had to work or whatever the fact may be then you have to make do and not attend. That is the reality of being a parent.

    While the event may state “child friendly” it is the responsibility of those parents attending to leave with child in tow if the young one is making a ruckus.

    Sometimes, as a parent, it can be frustrating to not be able to attend certain events but that is what parenthood requires – it is about sacrifice.

    My kids are loud, fun, and full of life – it is awesome. However, when we are in a public place like an “adult” restaurant, the mall, a keynote speech? etc … and they are becoming unmanageable – we leave. No hesitation – no negotiation.

    I applaud any event that wants to make itself child friendly, it is admirable, but the nature of any conference event is sure to bore even the brightest of young minds, no?

    Seems like a lot of heated discussion over what in my mind would be common sense.

  9. the whole point was it was marketed as child friendly and it wasn’t.
    There was no child care….not even for people to pay for.

    Am also tired of the ‘suck it up parents you made a choice’ speech used.

    Yes…sitting quiet is not a kid thing….but the the what FOUR kids I saw on Sat were quiet as they could be for age appropriateness…

    And being that I thought NV was all crunchy and PERSONAL blogging not PROFESSIONAL blogging etc..aren’t people just supposed to chill the fuck out?

    • Childcare doesn’t just magically appear – it was up to the parents to organize something if they wanted it.

      And you DID make the choice to raise children, just as I made the choice to remain childless. There are things – not specifically this thing, but things – you do not have the freedom to do when you’re a parent that the child-free can, and like to, enjoy. How is this our fault? Why is it our responsibility to ensure all your needs are catered to?

      If you wanted or expected childcare at NV, you should have stepped up to see that it happened. That’s it.

      • I had no intention of bringing my kids..but assumed that a child friendly conference meant that they were working towards some sort of care during it….something I am sure parents would have paid for.

        And being that this was my first attempt ….I was not into being that involved….I will for sure be happy to help figuring something out for next year as I would like to attend more than one afternoon.

        I think the main point again is my choice to have kids does not mean I don’t get to attend the same stuff you do.

        It means I have to work harder at it and spend more money for sure…

    • I don’t give a whit that the children were being “quiet as they could be for age-appropriateness” because this (I am wearing out my drum-head here) is not an event about the children.

      Any disruption, regardless of whether it comes from a child who is actually being really good for his or her age, is a disruption and takes away from the enjoyment of every other person in the room (parents or not).

      It. is. not. okay.

    • There’s an important distinction between a “family friendly event” – ie, there are amenities so that parents can attend to their specific kid-caring-for needs – and “family event” – ie: the event is aimed at all members of a family.

      In the case of “family friendly,” we’re talking about an event where kids are, let’s face it, an appendage – they’re there with parents for the parents’ convenience, and the event will help provide ways to deal with that inconvenience.

      Plain and simple: Northern Voice was neither for nor about kids, nor was it under-12-age-appropriate. That doesn’t mean it was age-inappropriate, mind you, but there was not only no guarantee that all sessions will would Disney-themed, but no guarantee they would use comprehensible vocabulary or phrasing about topics that kids understand or care about. It was a grown-up event, for talking about things that grown-ups do, in grown-up words.

      So. People who have kids and want to bring them to that sort of event have to recognize two things:

      1. Your tolerance for your own children is WAY higher than everybody else’s. I know even you occasionally find other children annoying: apply this to your sprog too. In situations where people are listening, noises are annoying. Period. Even if they’re expressions of your kid’s pleasure or happiness, that doesn’t make them any less annoying. I could be laughing on my cell phone and use the same argument.

      2. Your enjoyment of grown-up events will be lessened by having to care for your children. This is INEVITABLE. Sorry, but there it is. Your kids come first, and you must expect that when you’re doing things with your children, you will miss out on some things because you must care for them instead, especially because they don’t, can’t, and shouldn’t be expected to care about what’s going on at the event. That’s life. It’s a good thing, for your kids, that you’re so dedicated. Not so good for your ability to focus for long periods of time on, for example, keynote speakers, but, well, suck it up. One day your kid will thank you for being so dedicated. And so will I.

    • I’ve been very happy to stay out of this discussion, but I do want to clarify one detail that people having been, to my mind, overstating:

      As far as I know, here’s all the conference has ever said about families and kids. From the NV About page:

      “We try to make the event family-friendly by offering space for parents to establish cooperative child-minding, and we do the main event on Saturday so non-professionals can attend.”

      That’s all we’ve offered in the past: we offer a space for kids, and one of the days is on Saturday.

      As Travis writes on the Northern Voice site today (, we suffered some bureaucratic mixup that prevented us from providing a dedicated childcare room this year (though space was still available and used).

      I think claiming that the conference is “marketed as child friendly” overstates our promise to attendees. Your mileage may vary.

  10. I told myself I’d walk far away from this discussion, but here I am.

    Seems to me we, as the NV community, could do with some good-old, down-home discussion about what “child friendly” should mean for next year’s conference.

    In the greater context of conferences, many of which don’t permit children of any age to be present, “child friendly” might simply mean you’re allowed to bring your kid.

    “Child friendly” could mean that attendees and presenters agree in advance of the conference that all sessions be conduced using language that’s appropriate for children. (I’m going to lobby hard not to adopt this for Northern Voice, where the personal stories that are central to the value of the conference are often very complex and should be told with all manner of available language.)

    “Child friendly” could mean there’s on-site childcare and children are not permitted in sessions.

    It could mean there’s on-site childcare and children *are* permitted in sessions as long as they’re not disruptive.

    It could mean there are sessions for and/or about children.

    Clearly there’s been a wide variety of understandings of what “child-friendly” meant when it was printed on the NV10 materials. That’s okay – in the absence of more language, we have to decide what we think it means.

    There seems to be a general consensus – continued arguing notwithstanding – that parents who choose to bring their kids to the conference need to be vigilant about protecting other attendees from disruption. Just as they should be expected to go outside if they’re having a coughing fit during a keynote. Just as a presenter might tell adults talking in the corner of the room to cut it out.

    I think it’s time we move into constructive planning for next year, letting the committee know what we think. The arguing, finger-pointing, name-calling and venting have left the poor horse a bloody pulp.

    • Was there actually a “people said ‘fuck’ and now my child needs therapy” kind of response though? I would imagine anyone bringing a kid into a session would expect it to have been written for an adult audience, wouldn’t they?

      • Oh, I was just making shit up. Hypotheticals. I didn’t hear of anyone complaining about any content being inappropriate for children at NV10. I just wanted to flesh out different ways I imagine people might interpret what “child friendly” means.

  11. I’m a parent. I don’t want my child at any conference I go to. I want adult time, adult convo, adult ideas. Plus, I want a break. I do not think having kids IN the sessions is appropriate. All sessions (even the Parent Blogger session) discuss adult ideas that may not be ideal for little ears. Plus many sessions have limited seats.

    That said, on-site child care, of course. And kids at lunch and breaks is totally fine by me and quite delightful.

    And as a sidenote: I wasn’t bothered by the kids at all (more charmed than anything). But it’s a slippery slope.

    • With the one exception I so wisely (uh) chose to blog about, I, too, wasn’t bothered by the kids.

      The way I see it, the only viable solution to this is one that works for everyone. Thankfully, there are a bunch of options that work for everyone.

  12. Pingback: Northern Voice 2010 — Location, mysteries, and making visible

  13. All of the above looks like it would make the basis of a presentation for NV11.

    Something along the lines of “When Social Media becomes Anti-Social”.

    I don’t really have an opinion on the discussion one way or another, but I’ve definitely formed an opinion of many of the participants based on the arguements they made (more specifically the tone of their arguement and level of professionalism).

  14. I agree with almost everything Kimli said. Almost, because I didn’t see anyone attacking her personally, but then I don’t see the same stuff she does on Twitter.

    I can’t believe how blown-out-of-proportion this has become.

    It started out with a bunch of people rationally discussing the issue, and within a few dozen tweets or so, people were rallying behind the idea of how to avoid any issues next year and discussing ways that childcare could accommodate tech parents with kids.

    Seemed like that was the end of it.

    Then it got ugly. People started making wild comments — some with the idea that they were being funny — and feelings got hurt. Emotions got running and suddenly people were talking about “Babygate” and “Babygeddon”.

    Really? Kinda like standing around unwilling combatants and chanting, jeering, and egging them on.

    Childfree vs breeders. Heartless vs caring. Hipsters vs helicopter parents. Do we really need to call each other names?

    Anyway, I hope that the NV11 committee reaches out to parents next year and finds someone to champion arranging for-fee or sponsored childcare. Because we saw last night that all most parents want is to be able to come and participate … and guess what? For many people, that means they need childcare. I hope they have a parent on the org committee, not just to represent parents, but also to bring some diversity of ideas.


  15. I’m the mother of the baby in question. First off, this issue has blown way out of proportion. Many people are taken out of context.

    Our only beef was being asked to leave instead of a warning or something. Aiden is young and imperfect with sounds. We would have left on our own if he had continued. Being asked to leave implied zero tolerance. Like the coughing -you’d leave if you had a fit, right? But then you’d return. We felt we couldn’t return. That’s all.

    Jen – when I mentioned exposing my child to new things, that was not a defence but simply why he was there. It’s his personality that pushes me to get him out every day.

    I think the childcare discussion is a good one, though we wouldn’t have used it this year.

    Hope that clarifies things :)

  16. The issue of Children is IMHO a red herring in the way The Childless and the With Child see each other and both can be pretty nasty to each other.

    I can see the point of people with kids as I have lots of friends with children because I am 44 now. And most of them will say that “Yes” there are alot of things they cannot do because they have kids.

    I also see the view of the childless who when speaking about parents or kids are treated like they hate kids or they get the ” you cannot understand me because you do not have kids” Yes I can and why am I a expert on parenting, because I was a kid once and was on the receiving end of very good parenting.

    Now that said, Childless people need to try and understand the issues of living with children and respect them for being parents. And Parents need to stop playing the entitlement card because they made a “Choice” to be a parent. No one gets rights over the other based on offspring they are not a commodity to be used for preferential treatment.

    Let parents remember when they did not have kids and let the un childed listen to the parents

  17. I was at Northern Voice. I have two children, who did not come with me. They stayed home with my husband, who would have liked to attend but could not because he was with the children. This is the life we signed up for, I get it and I’m not complaining about that.

    I think that having a childcare option would be great. It would absolutely be a help to my husband and I, and we would be willing to pay. As would many other parents, I imagine. The thing about just providing space is that it’s difficult for me to set up care when I have never attended Northern Voice and don’t know anyone else. If someone else takes the initiative it sets the tone and helps me out immensely, and everybody wins.

    Having said that, I found the discussion on Twitter last night to be kind of insulting. There’s just no reason to resort to name-calling, or to call out individual attendees in a public forum. I wouldn’t say that you did that in particular, but some of that was happening for sure. It’s polarizing and it leaves parents feeling unwelcome and isolated. There is clearly a division here, and whether I have little ones in tow or not at the event it feels as if I’m being disregarded simply because I’m a parent, writing about parenting. And that sucks, honestly. I get it that you’re not interested in my panel, and I’m cool with that. But it’s suggesting that I’m somehow uninteresting altogether because I happen to be a mom that feels sort of uncool.

  18. It’s such a simple solution: if you sign up for NV11, and know that you’ll have a childcare issue on one or both days, then CLEARLY bring it to the attention of the registration form and be prepared to pool together with the rest of the parents in the same situation so that child care can be covered collectively and a professional childcare minder brought in.

    I wasn’t at the Day 2 of NV10, so I missed out on the fracas. I have to admit that the content of two of my favourite sessions on Friday afternoon would have NOT been appropriate for a child under 18 years of age.

    As far as the crying/running amok issue, it compares to being inside a movie theatre, where you’ve paid for the privilege to see and hear something without interruption.

  19. Just goes to show that parents and non-parents can be bitches who are full of themselves to a fault. Yes, the world revolves around you. Surely you parents have better things to be doing than this – and you non-parents should be getting high and rolling garbage bins down the street, or whatever it is you do.

    My kid gave a good presentation on Google Earth at the Mac Users Group meeting tonight. To adults. Well, Mac nerds, but anyways…

    Suck it.

  20. Pingback: Aiden’s First Conference & Controversy — Active Mama

  21. Pingback: mmx in review « delicious juice dot com: unapologetically inappropriate

  22. Pingback: | Kids Make Noise

  23. Pingback: The wicked step-linkspammer (11th June, 2010) | Geek Feminism Blog

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s