Once upon a time most community events were places where all generations mingled. Elders, youth, children, adults…everybody had a place in the circle when it came to celebration! These days it seems more and more spaces are anything but kid-friendly. Parents routinely ask me if it’s “okay” for them to bring their kids to my concerts, seemingly expecting a negative response. “Of course!” I say “Bring the whole family!” This may seem like mere principle to some, but there are a lot of reasons why bringing back all-ages events might benefit society as a whole.
Where Generations Meet
As many of you are probably aware, our social structures these days are modeled around age segregation as opposed to age integration. As soon as people start school they are, for the most part, limited to spending most of their days with people within a year or two of their own age. The work place is often no better as many jobs target specific age groups for employment. Parents spend time with parents, teenagers spend time with teenagers, elders live in nursing homes of apartment blocks dedicated to the needs of the elderly. You catch my drift. For those of us not lucky enough to have geographically and emotionally close extended families it can be difficult to break out of this pattern. Especially because it has become the norm to not bring kids in to larger social gatherings!
If our days are taken up with work or studies, when can we expect inter-generational exchange to happen if not at community events like music concerts and house party’s? It can be great to get together as a group of young parents and their kids, but I hear a lot of parents saying they wish they could get out more…without having to leave the kids behind! It seems like a lot of people have become so used to age-segregated environments that we no longer have any tolerance for the completely natural bustle children bring to a space. All the more reason to bring them along! For those of us who organize or host events, we can help the process of re-integration along by making things explicitly all-ages friendly.
At a fundamental level being around people of all ages provides us with a wider perspective on life and its many stages. Being around children specifically is an absolutely essential reminder for non-parents, albeit on a subtle level, of the fact that a next generation does exist and that we have a certain responsibility to them in the way we act and the choices we make that effect the world!
Keeping Things in Check
On that note, having kids (or elders!) in a space is a great way to keep certain types of behavior in check, possibly to the benefit of all. It’s true that many of us live in somewhat less traditional societies .Respecting your elders and being aware of what you are modeling to kids around you isn’t always the number one focus. Nevertheless, ask anyone if they are more or less likely to get ridiculously drunk or start an argument or swear like a sailor if there are kids and elders in the room and the answer is probably less. Of course there are limits to the types of events you might want to bring your kids to or attend for that matter. However there is huge room for improvement in our openness to creating inclusive spaces and acknowledging the secondary benefits of doing so is one more step in that direction!
I encountered some great examples of age-inclusive music culture when I was traveling in Ireland a couple years back. In just about every town I stopped in there was to be found at least one pub. The pub(s) inevitably had music sessions at least a couple of times a week and if you attended these sessions you would find the full spectrum of ages both listening and participating! I found it incredibly inspiring to see that the “night-out to party” and parenting cultures overlapping so smoothly! It was perfectly natural for kids to be hanging out in the pub, doing their thing. The transition happened at some point in the evening where the young folks would go home to sleep with parents in tow and the night owls would stay for a bit more craic (which means “fun” in Irish…not what you might think ;). Simple as that!
Kids Getting Connected
Another great reason to bring your kids out is that it allows them to begin adapting to different people and environments. After a certain age children are ready to move out of the total bonding phase with their parents. At this point being in more social spaces can create a great opportunity for what you might call “passing the baby.” This definitely happens more in rural environments where everyone knows everyone, but I’m talking about when you go to a party and everybody wants to take turns holding the baby. It’s a great way of helping kids adapt at an early age to new faces and energies, and is also a sweet break time for parents! Of course it’s important to respect the limits of your child when it comes to spending time in other peoples arms, but in general if the parents are relaxed about introducing their kids to other people, the kids will also be relaxed! It’s all about finding the right balance.
If your kids are at the mobile, running around stage, this can still be a great opportunity to hand off their care to someone else for a few minutes while you focus on whatever else is going on. Like having a full conversation with someone or listening to a three minute performance piece without interruption. Being in communal spaces allows for a natural transition into kids feeling comfortable hanging out with other adults. It can be a great way to build connections with other parents, friends, children and the community at large!
Breaking Out of Isolation
The other key piece of this whole diatribe is that having age-inclusive events, and daring to bring our kids out with us, is a huge part of helping parents be less isolated! There are more and more family-oriented spaces being created. Which is awesome! Many of them though are so focused on kids that they forget about the parents! What if you want to hang out with people not limited to other parents and their kids? I had this conversation recently with a woman working at a local spot called The Village Cafe which hopes to address this exact issue. When you walk in you don’t immediately feel alienated as a non-parent. There’s a kids play space in the corner, a backroom for workshops (inter-generational ones!) and they describe their mandate as being a place that is “parent-focused.” They don’t play “kids music,” they offer high quality coffees, teas and a full menu for all ages. Now that’s what I’m talkin’ about! Now all we need are more concert venues with a similar bent…
The Early Bird… is a Musician
On a purely selfish note, I like having my performances be all-ages because it gives me a good excuse to start them earlier than your average concert (at least your average Montreal concert…). I am a morning person and thus I sometimes struggle with the expectation of some for music events to happen in the wee hours. I do a lot of shows in rural areas because I know everyone wants to go to bed before midnight. So! If we can all agree that we need more all-ages friendly events and you start bringing your kids to more shows then maybe I can keep booking gigs where everyone shows up on time and I can pack up my gear by 10:30pm. A girl can dream can’t she?