'I'm a mum and here’s why children shouldn’t be banned from pubs - they can be a lifeline for somebody feeling lonely or depressed'

It's a hotly debated topic, with no easy answer

Mum in a pub with her daughter
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Taking kids with you to the pub is something modern parents wouldn't have had the luxury to do once upon a time. Should that really be taken away from them and kids banned altogether?

Today's kids can be found in places they traditionally wouldn't have been. Some parents choose to take their little ones to festivals, and some cinemas hold special baby-friendly screenings for films kids wouldn't usually be allowed into. And since 1995, children under the age of 14 have been allowed in pubs, after licencing laws were relaxed. But, last week a mother shared her anger that her booking for a pub Sunday lunch in East Dulwich was cancelled because there were ‘more children on it than adults’. 

Being able to pop to your local when you're desperate to get out of the house is a no-brainer. The inside of a pub also provides a warm haven if the weather is bad and you want to be somewhere comfortable while still taking a break from your own house. However, the tides once again seem to be turning, and more people are in favour of going back to banning kids from pubs. I really don't think this is a good idea, and here's why. 

I grew up in the pre-1995 era, and I went to the pub with my parents a couple of times a year. Even then, I had to sit in the garden with my bottle of Coke and basket of chips. You'd made it if the pub your parents took you to had the universal sign of being welcoming to children - a garden sporting a giant boot with a slide protruding from the back (if you know, you know).

By the early noughties, I could visit any pub I wanted because I'd 'come of age'. The sort of pubs I did go to definitely weren't the type parents would take kids to, and I was usually in them when most kids would be in bed - I had no firm thoughts about children in pubs. This was simply not something on my young adult, party-hard radar.    

In the first months of his life, my firstborn spent a fair amount of time in pubs. For our friends who wanted to meet the baby, the pub provided a place to congregate that wasn't the devastation and chaos of our own home. It also provided a much-needed opportunity to leave the house. For a baby with no routine, early evening on a Friday gave us time to venture to our local - he had no set bedtime, and we'd meet friends while he slept in our arms.

For those who delight in having something to complain about, I suppose I have to add the caveat that these were quiet pubs in the suburbs of our 'nappy valley' residential area. We weren't tucking him up in his Moses basket on the floor of Vodka Revolution while we lined up the Pornstar Martinis. Our pub visits were simply something to give us a semblance of a life that didn't quite feel so upside down and utterly detached from what it was before.

Most pubs in our area latched on quickly to their growing status as hubs for families and young children. As it grew as an area attracting new parents from the city centre, our locals had play equipment installed in their gardens, with one even remodelling an old skittles alley into a soft play. At weekends, these locals were essentially an NCT Mecca.

Then I noticed a subtle shift. Having not had to think of what people thought of me taking my kids to the pub because everyone around me was doing it, some of the older locals started to reclaim their space. In hindsight, I'd be pretty annoyed too, if I couldn't set foot in my local for fear of being clotheslined by a gang of 5-year-olds, and potentially breaking my neck by slipping on a rogue triple-cooked chip. 

"In hindsight, I'd be pretty annoyed too, if I couldn't set foot in my local for fear of being clothes lined by a gang of 5-year-olds, and potentially breaking my neck by slipping on a rogue triple cooked chip."

Some of the older residents began to reappear in the pubs. One time, my small baby was gurgling happily (but loudly, in the way babies do when they find their voice) on my lap. My two-year-old was on his best behaviour. The table of apparently retired folk next to us glared, every time my baby did his loud gurgling, to my increasing irritation. 

With the appearance of more older pub goers, came a battle ground. I noticed more and more of this open hostility towards parents of children making any noise at all. One of the establishments got rid of most of the play equipment in the garden, and turned the coveted castle they'd had custom built into a garden bar. It was becoming apparent - children weren't quite as welcome as they once were.

One evening, my husband and I were heading out to a child-free night at a comedy club. We left early, to stop at our local on the way. It was around 5.30pm on a Saturday afternoon, and the place was carnage. Children outnumbered adults, plates of half-eaten food stacked up on tables, but both parents and children looked like they were having a good time. It was quite a shock - usually being in the thick of all of it, you don't consider what it looks like to someone without children. However, we just laughed and left quickly - finding a more appropriate pub on the way, where we knew it'd be unlikely we'd see kids.

There lies why I don't think kids should be banned from pubs - there are plenty of alternatives to the black and white argument that kids should be banned altogether. We knew where we'd find somewhere else to go - traditional boozers usually don't attract families, and we know where to find them when we want a night away from any child (ours or anyone else's). If we can do it, so can others looking for a similar environment. Don't start shouting on social media because you've experienced something you don't quite like, find a way around it.

Baby reaching for the pint his dad is drinking

(Image credit: Chris Tobin/Getty Images)

Pubs can manage the situation by having family and adult-only sections. If families repeatedly allow their kids to breach the boundaries, they can be asked to leave. I'm also all for kicking kids out earlier, if that's what it takes for people on both sides of the argument to co-exist peacefully. By the time we established routines for our children, I wanted them home and getting ready for bed by 6pm, and would be happy if pubs introduced no kids after 6pm policies, or banned them for dinner. 

Those seeking to implement a full ban, need to check their own sense of community and kindness too, with children a part of the local landscape that won't be going anywhere. I met other mums in pubs right from the start - during the day they had plenty of space for buggies, good toilet and changing facilities, and we could mull over a lime and soda for as long as needed. This can be a lifeline for somebody feeling lonely or depressed. The drab church and community halls often designated as mum and baby meeting places don't really do anything to lift the spirits.

Debate over the ban also allows others to use lazy rhetoric, playing on the narrative that parents just want to stick kids in front of screens in the pub, to get a few hours off. Well, so what? Are parents not allowed a few hours off? They can't be doing mindful activities, nurturing creativity and getting back to nature 24 hours a day. Anyone asked to do their regular job 24/7 would be straight to their union. 

"Debate over the ban also allows others to use lazy rhetoric, playing on the narrative that parents just want to stick kids in front of screens in the pub, to get a few hours off. Well, so what? Are parents not allowed a few hours off?"

So, let's stop this ridiculous narrative that only terrible parents let their children look at an iPad while everyone collects their thoughts - there's plenty of research to suggest screentime is actually hurting nobody. It's just used as another excuse to make (mostly) women and mothers feel guilty about their abilities. Besides, if a child is on a screen, they aren't getting under anyone's feet or making a noise, proving there will be no winners in the argument. 

Of course, parents need to take control if kids take things too far - they definitely can't use the pub as a place to ditch responsibility. If our children ever got really grumbly, we'd take that as a sign they needed to go home and leave. If everyone could just learn to compromise and have a little empathy for the needs of others, we'd be on to something. There's no reason we can't all collaborate to attend pubs at the same time. If we act like adults, and not like the children being scapegoated for a total inability to do this competently, there's no reason this shouldn't be the reality. 

There's plenty for parents to have mum guilt over, without adding a trip to the pub to the list. Mothers buckling under the mental load need to have some headspace away from their homes, and self care might look like taking the kids out for a dinner they haven't had to cook - another positive for the pub trip.

Lucy Wigley
Parenting writer - contributing

Lucy is a mum-of-two, multi-award nominated writer and blogger with six years’ of experience writing about parenting, family life, and TV. Lucy has contributed content to PopSugar and moms.com. In the last three years, she has transformed her passion for streaming countless hours of television into specialising in entertainment writing. There is now nothing she loves more than watching the best shows on television and sharing why you - and your kids - should watch them.