Last week my post What I Wish I Could Say to the Parents on the Plane garnered a ton of traffic–and a ton of comments and emails, both here and on Facebook.
And while much was positive, a significant part was quite negative. How could I judge that mother like that? Now parents will be scared to fly with kids because of judgmental people like me!
Looking back, I wouldn’t really change what I wrote, but I might have added more context. It certainly was not my intention to hurt parents who are super-tired and overworked and worrying that others are judging them if their kids misbehave. And yet I’d like to revisit a particular aspect of the incident, and then ask you all: don’t you think this child deserved better? I was being sarcastic because sometimes the best teaching situations come from real life examples. I can talk all I want about how to discipline, but when you tell a story, it tends to hit closer to home. Hence I chose this one. But my point in the post was not that the kid was a brat or that the mother’s parenting was ineffective; it was that the mother wasn’t even trying. That was the problem.
So here are the facts: the mom and dad were sitting across the aisle from each other so they could talk. The 4-year-old was against the window; the 6-year-old was in the middle. They brought no toys. They brought no books. They only let their kids watch a few of the movies on the plane (they cost money). They weren’t talking to the kids. And they weren’t disciplining the kids.
The 6-year-old whined a yelled a lot, but the 4-year-old just screamed. And so I wrote my post about how a parent should act on a plane with a child.
Let me reiterate: the issue was not that the child was screaming. Lots of kids scream on planes. The issue was that the mom was doing absolutely nothing about it, and hadn’t brought anything to help the child. You cannot expect a little girl to be perfectly quiet for 5 hours on a flight with nothing to do. The mom got exasperated and started issuing warning after warning, to no avail, but she made no effort to engage the child in anything.
A few commenters said, what if the mom was tired? What if they were returning from a funeral and she was exhausted? Well, yes, that might have put a slightly different spin on it. But she sure didn’t look depressed with the way she was talking with her husband. But here’s the thing: I’ve taken my one and a half year old to her own brother’s funeral–when I was the grieving mother. And you know what? I still packed books. Because I wanted Rebecca to have something to do, and I knew I wasn’t in much position to help her. So I put a bunch of books and toys in a bag, and we went to the church.
Of course that mom may have been exhausted. We all are exhausted at some point. But she is still a mother, and a mother has a responsibility to care about her child. I am not sure why people think that it’s so bad to point this out. Is it actually fair to take a child on a plane for 5 hours and then ignore her?
Now some of you have flown with kids who have cried the whole time because their ears hurt, or they were tired, or sick, or scared. I know some passengers get annoyed with you, but that wouldn’t have been me. I am never annoyed when I see parents trying; I feel a lot of compassion, and there are times I have offered to bounce a crying baby on a trans-Atlantic flight to give a mom a break. I think we all should do that! And there are times when I was travelling with my kids when they were younger when we have shared our toys and books with other young children.
If a mom is trying, and she’s at her wit’s end, then compassion should be our main response. But what should be our main response when a mother doesn’t even look like she cares? Have you ever seen that, whether you’re on a plane or not? I’ve often been out with moms who have kids in strollers or kids by the hand who never even talk to the kids. They talk to their friends, and ignore those children. They take them into McDonald’s and order them food and then text the whole time, rather than acknowledge their child’s presence.
That makes me mad, and I will continue to call them out on it. If a child is acting out in those circumstances, it is not the child’s fault. It is a natural response to being bored and ignored.
Now some of you have children who are more difficult in public because of autism or other syndromes. I can understand being very wary of people judging your children in public, because other people can’t necessarily tell that your child has these problems just by watching them. But the key to me is not the child’s behaviour, but the parent’s engagement. If the parent is engaged, and trying appropriately to help and discipline and steer the child, that’s great, regardless of the child’s response. But if the parent is doing nothing, that’s a problem.
In other words, what bugs me is not the child’s behaviour but the parent’s response. Do you see that? I’m sorry if I didn’t make that clear enough in the original blog post; I really am. But I also am afraid that we’ve gotten to the point where we’re afraid of setting any standards for parenting in public in case we make people feel guilty. You are the parent. You have a responsibility to engage your child and raise them properly. You have a responsibility to consider your child’s needs when you go out in public, even if that’s a tall order. You just do.
I know I’m not alone in feeling this way, because author Joanne Kraft emailed me after reading the comments to the post and sent me a link to a similar post she wrote, where she’s railing about a dad she saw in a store. It’s awesome. She writes:
Hey there Mr. Playground-Dad. Yes, I’m talking to you. I’ve been watching you and your son for quite some time now. Would you like to know the one question that keeps popping into my head over and over again?
Have you lost your mind!?
For the past ten minutes, I’ve witnessed your son yell at you, slap you, and refuse to sit beside you in a time-out. Your only response when he wiggled away was to yell, “You’re going straight to bed when we get home.” Your son yelled back even louder, “No I’m not!”
Why didn’t you get up and run after him? Why didn’t you pick him up and walk out of the play area? Why did you let him continue playing? Are you afraid of him? He can’t be older than five.
What’s that? You’re tired?
Too bad. Parenting isn’t an option. Lots of us parents are tired. Poor excuse dad. Do you think parents of well-behaved children aren’t tired? You are the adult. He is the child.
You can read the rest here, but I just want to reiterate: I think, as a society, we have forgotten how to parent. It is not compassionate on children to stop pointing this out. We need to call parents back to parenting effectively, which is why I tried to give pointers on how to keep kids engaged.
This mother didn’t seem to care at all. Some may still think I’m judgmental, but my primary thought and prayer was for that little girl. No one deserves to be ignored like that, and I am not sorry for feeling that way. I’m just sorry if I wasn’t clear enough in the first place.