As an ‘international’ family, my partner and I have flown with our boys many times. Luckily, most of the time, we have been met with very lovely comments from other passengers about how well-behaved our boys have been. I am soon to fly with both of them on my own for the first time, and I am trying not to think about how it will go. My boys are both at different stages in their personalities and behaviour since the last time we flew with them, so it will almost be a brand new experience for us all, if that makes sense. The last time I flew with our youngest, he was barely three-months old, so not a problem at all, and our eldest fell asleep before take-off and woke up upon landing! I now have a PAW Patrol-obsessed three-year old and a very active one-year old, both of whom can scream. Loudly. So loud, in fact, that even an hour or so after a scream happens, my ears are still ringing (although I do have a mild case of tinnitus in my right ear, which probably doesn’t help). Being out with my eldest in public now is much harder than it has ever been before, and I know that I have made a rod for my own back by regularly buying him treats when we are out shopping together. Even doing this once was enough to make him expect it every time, and when I say NO, there’s always a long and loud tantrum to follow. It’s becoming more and more tricky to distract him, which is adding to my anxiety about the upcoming flight.
I read this brilliant article about a week ago (That’s how long it has taken me to get this post written): We Need Child-Free Travel For Those Who Hate Screaming Kids On Flights by Catherine Phillips for Metro. Don’t be put off by the title – It isn’t what you think! It’s what really prompted me to write this post. What struck me most about the viral video doing the rounds at the moment, of the little boy screaming the plane down for eight hours straight (as seen and discussed in the article above), was how nobody seemed to step in to help the poor mother. I know what it’s like to be in public with a screaming child and, no matter how many times people tell you not to be concerned about what others think, you can’t help feeling embarrassed and out of control in that moment. We are only human.
The worst thing about flying with children is other passengers. Like the woman included in the article above who decided to film the child having a screaming fit rather than choose to do something to help. Talk to the mother, perhaps? Find out if her son has anything that he is really interested in and can be distracted with? Offer him some snacks? Is he scared of flying? One thing that isn’t clear from the footage – Did the air stewards try to help? Usually, nowadays in the Western world, people just don’t like to get involved and prefer to whinge and complain passive-aggressively about these things. What happened to the Village? The Village it takes to raise a child? In Swaziland/South Africa/Malawi/many Southern African countries (if not all), strangers will step in to help. People will handle your child, and even take them away from you to try and settle them down. I was told, before I took my eldest to South Africa for the first time, to expect this to happen a lot. I didn’t, however, expect to be slapped and groped by a Gogo (an affectionate term meaning grandmother, given to the elder women) in Johannesburg when my youngest was crying for milk while we were completing some sworn affidavits at a local police station! “What are these for?” she said, touching my breast. Then, she slapped me on the arm and told me to feed my child! Ah, the Village. I would gladly have that, though, than nothing. Nothing is worse. Not only does it make you feel as though you are alone, but it also makes you feel as though you should be able to cope without asking for help from strangers. “It’s not my responsibility to look after some stranger’s child. If she can’t cope, then she shouldn’t have had it in the first place”. That kind of thing goes through my head in these situations. But, actually, ‘nothing’ would be better than ‘nothing plus tutting, staring, filming in order to post on social media with a witty bloody-hell-look-at-this-annoying-kid commentary, huffing, complaining, judging, squirming, backchatting loud enough for the parent to hear…’ (I could go on, and I have personally been on the receiving end of many of these things which, by the way, do NOT go unnoticed).
Children cry. They scream. They throw tantrums when they reach a certain age. They’re JUST as uncomfortable as we all are in a cramped seat with virtually no leg room and constant interruptions to your entertainment/peace/privacy, not to mention the dent in your bank balance. YES, you have to pay almost the same price for a two-year old (or over) as you do for an adult. Surely that in itself means that the child is just as entitled to enjoy, or not enjoy, his/her experience as much as the next person.
If you are preparing to fly somewhere soon, and there are children on your flight, please don’t judge. Please don’t ignore and get yourself het up and agitated by what is happening to someone nearby. Spare a thought for that parent. They have, no doubt, thought of everything and prepared for every possible eventuality of what is likely a very new and unusual experience for all of them. If it hasn’t worked, don’t make them feel worse. Use your compassion and your experiences to help rather than hinder. I can’t help thinking that, in the eight hours that the child in the video clip was screaming, someone could have made everything better for everyone on that flight by simply making a move to help that mother calm her child. Think about it.
(Photo credit: Dmitry Sovyak at Unsplash.com)