Redefining “Family Friendly”

I wish every public restroom had a child sized toilet. I want small tables and chairs that fit my daughter’s body in public spaces. I hope we are moving toward accepting, celebrating, and accommodating the small-bodied humans that make up a substantial portion of our population. But I’m tired of restaurants advertising themselves as “family friendly” just because they provide a high chair and the waiters won’t glare at me if my child accidentally drops food on the floor.

When I think of the words “family friendly” I imagine a place where parents and children are welcomed joyfully. I envision a place with activities that meet my interests AND the interests of my young child. And it’s a place where we all help each other out. To me “family friendly” means accessible, accepting, and even supportive of my whole family.

I want MOST of the world to be family friendly. And maybe more of it really is than I realize. But here in America, the land of the free, my child is stuck staring at knees, being put into carts and chairs she can’t climb into on her own, and unable to sit on a toilet that doesn’t threaten to swallow her whole.

Needless to say, I’m upset by all this.

That’s not to say there isn’t hope though. I have seen child-sized toilets in exactly two public places in the past ten years. More and more parks and play spaces are sprouting up. But again, I wonder, why does “child-friendly” have to mean big plastic wheels that spin with no apparent purpose?

When I was little I can remember using a water pump, you know, the metal kind that you have to pump up and down a bunch of times before any water comes out. My friends and I loved to work the handle up and down, up and down, and then to catch the water in buckets ready for the deluge that we knew was coming. We needed the water to add to the sand so we could build sandcastles or maybe we used some of it to water flowers that were wilting in the summer heat.

So when I envision child friendly spaces in public places, they’re not just a bunch of toys. Instead, I imagine beautiful wooden furniture, access to books, art materials, puppets, costumes, and the means to clean up any messes they might choose to make. I see children working together at a task that is meaningful for them. Or else feeling so free and comfortable that they can completely lose themselves in pretend play.

Last weekend my husband and I took our daughter to the High Desert Museum. They have a homesteader’s cabin and ranch from 1904 and every week there are volunteers dressed up in period dress sharing information about what life was like in the early 1900’s. There are all sorts of fun things for children to do there, but there was one little girl having the most fun of all. Can you guess what she was doing?

She was sweeping the porch with a child-sized broom. She tried a few different brooms until she found the one she liked the best, and for the next twenty minutes while we were meandering around, watching the chickens, and looking at the ranch hand’s quarters, she happily swept every inch of that porch.

Now that’s what I’d call “family friendly.”

Do you think public spaces are child and family friendly? What is your vision for the future of our public space? Please leave me a comment!

And have a wonderful week! Warmly, Shelly


I agree with everything.  They should have construction standards for new public buildings, to have small toilet and at the same time a way to facilitate recycling, composting disposal .

I saw those small toilet in a new pool complex, in the family changing room!  That's great!


Here (close to montreal, canada) we have some grocery with small carts and or those big double cart with a car in front, or double place cart in front.  My girls loves all of them.  I let them choose where they want to be, in the front of the cart, in the cart, on the ground walking, or pushing the cart with me. if it's a car or a fire truck in front of the cart, that's what they will choose!


For restaurant, I'm happy that some of them have a section for kids like McDonald, but usually, it's fast food resto so we don't go often (ounce a year)  Others have a play room, and you can reserve a closed section of the restaurant for a group. That closed section is great, you can have the kids running.  But a play room with a TV always open, with broken toys, and when it's not very clean, I guess it's better than nothing, but it still need a lot of improvement.


For smoking,  usually the smoke free zone in front of the entrance is usually enforced, in front of a library, you should really complain, i would.  But, the terrace (tables outside cafe and restaurant) they can smoke, so the best places are where people can smoke!


 @AwakeShelly Shelly, what a great wish for all of us!


The experience that illustrates this so well from our life, is the difference between shopping carts "for kids" that I've seen in the US and abroad.  My experience has seen shopping carts that are set to amuse children, big monster ones that turn the regular cart into a truck, or a car.  Mostly in places with wide aisles, not in cities.  These carts leave little interaction possible with parents, they are meant to distract kids from the task at hand--  children are just along for the ride.


So imagine my delight, a couple of summers ago, when I walked into a small organic supermarket in Amsterdam and saw 3 or 4 child sized carts-- exact replicas of the wire adult cart.  At that point I had a 3 and a 5 year old-- and each of them would walk up and down the aisles,  truly helping, feeling empowered. 


As you suggested, the things we need aren't distractors.  By identifying what we need we can start to ask for it, and places that are truly "family friendly" will listen. 


Smoke free is key for me. Family friendly means minimal health hazards and not having to run a gauntlet of second hand smoke to get through the door or entryway, like you do at the Deschutes County Public Library downtown. I hate that the 10 foot smoke free zone is a) not enforced b) insufficient to protect little lungs. .

AwakeShelly moderator

 @julievalie Thanks for your comment! It's exciting to hear that the new pool complex had child sized toilets and I agree, recycling and composting should be accessible to young people just as it is to us. How can children learn the importance of composting and recycling if they aren't able to participate?!I hope you're having a lovely day and thanks again for sharing! Hugs, Shelly

AwakeShelly moderator

 @yourfriendkira Yes, Julia LOVES the real child-sized carts at Trader Joe's and often wants to help me shop when we're there. Just the other day I saw a mom there with three kids and two of them were pushing their own carts (the baby was in mom's cart). What surprised me though was how dedicated to helping the kids were. The oldest asked her sister to take her cart back for her so she could continue to unload the rest of the groceries! They were helping and feeling empowered without a doubt. Hooray!I like what you've said about identifying our needs (and desires) so that we can ask for what we want. That is crucial, and probably a better use of energy than simply ranting about the injustice of it all ;) Hugs to you!

AwakeShelly moderator

 @SamiFournier I am SO with you, I would like to see a no smoking policy that is enforced and at least 100 ft from the public library entrance. Maybe we could just ask nicely EVERY time we see someone smoking near the entrance.


"Excuse me, but would you be willing to move a bit further from the entrance with your cigarette? I really appreciate your consideration for our lungs."