What would it take to make Britain family friendly?
Is being 'family friendly' all about kiddie menus, day-glo interiors and crayon-bearing waiters? Do companies have a get-out-of-jail-free card if they offer 'family' deals, which, on closer inspection, only cater for the 2+2 family unit?
We asked Mumsnetters to tell us what they thought the concept of family friendly really meant. Their response should certainly give any British company food for thought.
As with so much of life, it seems there's often a rather large gap between what some companies boast about in their glossy Work For Us brochures and what it means to be their employee on a daily basis:
"I would like to see medium and large-sized companies being obliged to publish their family-friendly policies, eg maternity leave, paternity leave, parental leave, flexible working etc etc, on their websites. These are important issues to understand when applying for a job, but are not the kind of questions that you can usually ask at the job interview itself." Wreck of the Hesperus
"It's about companies that have good policies for working parents and can demonstrate that these are implemented. And more protection for fathers who want to work part time or flexibly. This would involve a change to the current law. At the moment they are limited if an employer refuses, a woman may have an indirect sex discrimination claim a man's position is much trickier. This is unfair on men and it makes the situation more problematic for mothers as it entrenches mothers into part-time work. If the situation was more equal, mothers would face less discrimination." doit
Skip to the loo
It's probably no surprise that water-closet facilities loom large in the list of things Mumsnetters feel companies could improve on.
"Call me neurotic, but when I think of what kind of junkie hell some public toilets are like I don't think I'll fancy sending my son into them on his own." Swallowedafly
"Ah, family toilets... for years I just didn't go to the loo when out because getting into a cubicle with a baby and toddler is impossible. And like hell was I going to leave the baby outside the cubicle, no matter how quick my wee." Lynette Scavo
But then, like a shining beacon in the darkness, is a shopping centre which seems to be doing a good job loo-wise.
"Bluewater Shopping Centre is very family friendly re toilets and they are kept clean and can accommodate double buggies etc. I still don't like letting my eight year old (I also have a three year old) go into the men's toilet that he now insists on! However, the family rooms accommodate us all." HappyStressedmum
One size doesn't fit all
In an age where more and more of us belong to blended families and where what constitutes a 'family' comes in every conceivable form, companies seem strangely reluctant to let go of the idea that families consist solely of two adults and two children.
"How about family tickets that reflect one adult group? Family tickets only work out economical if you have minimum tw adults 2 kids. A one adult family rate would be nice. Things like the family railcard etc are hard to break even on but must save you loads if you are the 'normal' family." swallowedafly
"Not all families are two adults and two children; please, please, please, family tickets to things that cater for more than two children." WhatFreshHellisThis
"I'll echo the post that asked for family rooms that can sleep five people, I don't want two rooms for our family when I go to a hotel (particularly as no one in UK can ever guarantee adjoining rooms when you book). I'd just like to be able to have us all in one room for the night! Also like the idea of more suite hotels, a la Citidines." Frizbe
Children's menus get pretty short shrift with Mumsnetters, who would much rather restaurants offer child-sized portions of adult food than the ubiquitous chicken nugget and chips-style fare.
"It would be good to have healthy restaurants where my children were welcome for an evening meal and not looked upon as a nuisance." booyhoo
"I agree about not needing loads of places with play areas etc. One of the problems is that because such places exist, when you try and take your toddler to a 'normal' restaurant, you get frowned at for daring to go anywhere other than the Harvester/Brewer's Fare/insert other vile chain with plastic overcooked food here." Alibabaandthe40nappies
"I don't like children's areas in restaurants - I want my son to sit at the table, not be agitating to go off to that. Children's size cutlery is much appreciated, as are booster seats and clean highchairs, especially those that actually pull up to the table." CMOTdibbler
In an ideal world...
Most Mumsnetters are after a society where children (and their parents) aren't met with eye-rolling and tutting. Can Britain morph into the kind of family-friendly society we find in other countries? It's certainly a goal worth having...
"I don't expect everyone to love my child, but when I walk into a cafe or restaurant with him and evil/miserable crones glare at my DS when he hasn't made a peep it is just plain weird." Italy loving mummy
"It's attitudes, attitudes, attitudes - not sure what you can do about the miserable, purse-lipped intolerance that many people display toward children." hmc
"If you look at the countries that are considered most 'child-friendly', it's actually bugger all to do with that - they're family-friendy so that everyone, granny and grandpa included, has a role, a value." Weblette
"Would it be bad taste to suggest integration, not segregation? I'm fed up with everything being polarised into kiddy-friendly and adult-only. There has to be a middle ground? That would be family friendly. A family is not just about the children, is it?" mollyroger
"It is not about pandering to children's needs. There is a much bigger issue about helping people of all generations to get along together and be tolerant of each others' circumstances." smithagain
Companies which make the grade
Two companies - Ikea and John Lewis - came up time and again as the very model of family friendly upon which other businesses should base themselves.
"This is why we go to IKEA so much, I know they can get food they like - it's good value and they have a fab play area in the cafe so I can sit and have a (free) cup of coffee while they run off some energy and are more willing to hunker down in the trolley afterwards so I can buy stuff. And it works for IKEA, we probably go once a month." whomovedmychocolate
"I think Ikea do pretty well on the family-friendly front. Stuff I like that they do that I think more companies could offer are: 1. Some child-friendly toilets with small toilets, potties, baby changing along with a normal size toilet. 2. Those trolleys for your trays in the restaurant - really handy when you've got a few plates/mugs etc and a couple of kids." Craftyandclothy
"Ikea have the right idea with the restaurant/child-friendly areas. John Lewis has got it right with baby changing/feeding facilities. Most other companies could make life easier for many parents by simply following their example." Jareththegoblinking
"One of the reasons we like John Lewis is the family loos don't tend to have big queues and have room for a buggy and a small person loo (though it could do with a small person loo-seat and a step)." GraceK
And if any company out there is looking for the perfect, pitch-it-to-the-boss incentive for making their business more family friendly, we have it right here:
"I just vote with my feet and go to the family-friendly places, which receive a clear incentive in the form of extra business from families." Theboobmeister
Last updated: almost 2 years ago