I first came across the terms ‘latte mums’ and ‘latte dads’ when reading about how for many parents on extended parental leave in Scandinavia, spending time in cafés is part of the norm (Wiklund, 2008; Eriksson, 2005). I later read about ‘lattes mammas’ and ‘latte pappas’ in Sweden in an article entitled ‘Lattes on Leave’ in Drift Magazine, which explores how extended parental leave in Sweden has led to the popularity of coffee shops among parents in the country.
‘fika is central when you are on parental leave, because you’re extremely tired, and you need tons of strong coffee… Whether you’re in the historic district of Gmala Stan,or the more residential upscale neighbourhood of Östermalm, it’s hard not to notice strollers, or prams, lining the sidewalks outside nearly every café….I think there are two or three cafes in all of Stockholm that don’t have high chairs for babies’ (Almedia and Surico in Drift Magazine, 2016).
At the outset of my project on cafés I had already identified parents as a key consumer group, but it wasn’t at the time something I had first-hand experience of. This was however, about to change.
Before having a baby I’d noticed how some cafés tend to be more ‘baby friendly’ than others, but when you have a baby, you really notice it. Little things like a step to get in the shop can act as a real barrier, or not enough space to get the pushchair anywhere close to the coffee bar is really frustrating, and sometimes the silence of the café is just too intimidating to take the baby inside. On the flip side when you see a stack of baby books in the corner, or a small box of toys near one of the tables, it’s usually a good sign. Then of course, there are the attitudes of other consumers, and sometimes even staff which can provide unwelcoming environments to parents with young children. Although, in many places staff can be very welcoming and helpful, which for some mothers who feel isolated as they enter a new stage of their lives, this is so important. Fortunately, the experiences I’ve had have been more of the latter, particularly in Coventry and Birmingham, with very few issues, but unfortunately I have friends who have not had the same experience.
I’ve been extremely lucky by having such a wonderful baby that in general when you take her into a café, in fact anywhere in public, she tends to just put on a beaming smile and look like the epitome of contentment, but this isn’t always the case. When you have a screaming baby, the last thing you want is people looking at you, and so a quiet coffee shop becomes the last place you want to enter, even if you are desperate for a sit down and something to eat or drink, or somewhere to feed the baby, or some kind of interaction with another human being that isn’t the baby.
Shortly before going on maternity leave a colleague mentioned a couple of times how ‘cafés were a lifeline’ when she was on maternity leave, and in many ways they have been for me too. There are very few places that you can go to in a city centre where you can pretty much guarantee a friendly welcome, a sit down, a safe space to be with your baby, and get much needed replenishment! Although as I’ve already noted, not all of these places feel welcoming!
It’s not just in the city I live where cafés have been important. Whenever we have travelled to visit friends, or for work, we have to think of places where we can feed the baby, and inevitably we head for a café. One in particular that has been a favourite was a different kind of café: Ziferblat in Manchester, where you pay for the amount of time you spend there rather than the goods you consume. I’ve written about Ziferblat before; it’s an interesting model, and is clearly very popular for people who don’t have a fixed office to work in, but it’s also a very welcoming space for someone with a young child. The branch in Manchester feels very much like a large living room and kitchen. When travelling with a very small baby it was a relief to arrive in Manchester and have somewhere we felt we could relax and would provide a calm environment where we could feed/change/entertain the baby, and refresh ourselves too.
A particular issue that has reached the media a number of times in relation to coffee shops and parents is about the treatment of breastfeeding mothers, with stories of mothers being made to feel uncomfortable either by other customers, or staff, or thankfully in some cases, stories of supportive staff too! Just before I had the baby I was given a leaflet which had a list of ‘breastfeeding friendly’ places around the city. It hadn’t really occurred to me at the time, that there would be breastfeeding unfriendly places, and at the end of the day if the baby needs feeding it should be fed! It’s sad that breastfeeding remains an issue that has to be discussed in terms of friendly and unfriendly places, but that discussion is for another time and another place.
I recently read about a café in Nottingham which is the UK’s first purpose built breastfeeding café. The Milk Lounge, is designed to be a friendly and welcoming space for those breastfeeding, and for those with young children more generally, with facilities such as a baby sensory room, as well as a range of activities scheduled such as baby massage. Charlotte Purdie who established the café explains her motivations here. The café has been so successful that a second branch has opened. There are a number of examples of coffee shops that were designed with family in mind, including: in Coventry, Coffee Tots, a coffee shop which is designed to be welcoming to parents, and has various activities associated with it; in Bristol, the Hungry Caterpillar, a play café; and the Bear and Wolf in London which has a play area at the back. If you know of any other interesting examples, please do let me know.
“The Hungry Caterpillar is one of a number of play cafés opening up across the country, as parents increasingly look to bridge the gap between soft play centres and the trendy coffee shops they went to before they had children. While the kindercafé movement took off in Berlin five years ago, making the city a great destination for families, the trend has only just started to gain momentum here.” (Telegraph 20/04/2015)
As this article from the Telegraph from a couple of years ago suggests there is a growing number of these family focused cafés, whether it is those with a focus on soft play, or those still with a focus on the food and coffee as well as providing a toddler friendly space; it would be interesting to explore how many of these there really are. I’m pretty sure I would have a willing research assistant!
Undoubtedly, as my colleague suggested, cafés have been (and are likely to continue to be) a ‘lifeline’ over the last year, and fortunately the staff in our ‘local’ café have been fantastic, and very welcoming from the beginning. As a consequence baby Ferreira is very happy when visiting cafés, particularly where there is the opportunity to people watch.
This has been a much more personal blog post than you will usually find on ‘café spaces’, but given the amount of time I have spent in cafés on maternity leave, and the importance they have had in my well-being during this time, I felt it important to highlight that as a social space, for many parents and carers, cafés are really important.
- Almeida, A. and Surico, J. (2016) ‘Lattes on Leave’ Drift. p.50-53.
- Eriksson, T. (2005) Nu kommer lattepapporna. Aftonbladet.
- Wiklund, L. (2008) Lattemamman vågar ta plats. Dagens Nyheter.