Why I'm Sometimes Sarcastic…

'Suraj' photo (c) 2007, Jennifer Woodard Maderazo - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/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.


  1. Sheila,
    I think your point is absolutely spot on. I too feel that every child (including mine!) are going to test boundaries, act out, get frustrated, or get bored at times. But, if I do nothing to redirect them, train them, or discipline them, then their behavior is my fault. Sadly, I have had to let friendships go because the mom refused to even try to discipline their children. One child punched my daughter (at the time, she was about 2 and he was even younger) and then punched me when I went to stop him from punching her again. The mom said, “oh, he’s a boy and boys do that”. Um, really???? That was the crowning glory on top of many other issues that I’d seen with this young mother and child. I had to protect my child, so I had to end that friendship (lovingly, but firmly). It’s true – parents are parents and children are children.

    My husband and I have always said that we believe we will always love our children, but we want to LIKE them too. That’s where loving discipline and training and a LOT of prayer come in.

    Great post Sheila – keep up the excellent writing!!

    • That’s what I find–a lot of parents don’t like their kids, because they have raised kids that are unlikeable. It’s sad, really.

  2. When I just can’t engage with my kids anymore because I’m so run down, that is when things are at their worst. It’s hard sometimes to remember that if I ACTIVELY am involved with my kids when they are acting up, I’m going to have a much better positive impact than yelling threats from a different room of the house.

    I’ve heard of GOYB parenting (Get off your Butt Parenting) and that little acronym is a great reminder for me to move and be interactive with my kids. Especially when I’d rather just disengage.

  3. Its parents who won’t engage that give a bad name to the rest of us. My Hubby is afraid to fly with our baby for fear that Peanut will cry, we try and comfort and he won’t be. But we will be involved, we will be engaged. That is what we do, and how we do it.

    After reading this, I’m thinking I’m gonna get “tough” with my neighbor and tell her to put away her cell phone when she is here chatting with me. Her daughter and I deserve better than that.

    • Absolutely! I hate people who talk on cell phones and text and ignore the ones they’re with. It’s just plain rude. And really mean to the kid on a long-term basis.

  4. Robyn Sunday says:

    I am 100% with you. I believe that a lot of the major problems in our society are because parents do not know how to parent. My niece recently married a very nice young man who has custody of his 3 year old son. The young man is 25, my niece is 21 and they both love this little boy very much, that is evident. These two have absolutely no clue how to parent though. They show up to my sisters house with no toys or things for him to do, then don’t even seem to notice when my sister and her husband spend half the visit keeping him out of things that are not for children. The two of them are just completely passive or they are threatening him with punishments that he is obviously not worried about.
    Finally the week before her wedding I asked my niece who was in charge of Brysyn during the day of set up before the wedding and on the wedding day. Ummm, well, she hadn’t thought of that. I just had to tell her, we love you and we already love your little boy, but this isn’t playing house, you have a responsibility. So, make some calls, find someone for him to stay with, it isn’t fair to expect him to sit around and be good while all the adults are working on adult things.
    They have a long way to go, but hopefully we can mentor them and they will work on raising a happy and healthy little boy. I truly believe young parents need parenting classes. I am working on getting our church to set these up. Society today has muddled things to the point of confusion. It’s time to teach our young parents that they are the adults and it is their responsibility to raise their children, not just watch them grow up.
    Thanks for your post Sheila, it just gave me more confirmation that our church needs to get these classes going.

    • Robyn, I think that’s great that you’re not just criticizing, but making an effort to teach them how to be better. Blessings!

  5. You were clear enough in the first post about this.

    Some people just like to pick, especially when they are called on something they know they are guilty of.

    I hope people’s responses aren’t bothering you.

    You were right on the money and very clear in expressing your viewpoint.

  6. Nurse Bee says:

    After carefully reading your post, I would agree with what you wrote. There are many negative articles and posts regarding children on planes, regardless of their behavior. What you wrote about wasn’t actually about children on planes, but since it did occur on a plane I think people latched on to that aspect.

    • Thanks, Nurse Bee! I really appreciate that. I still think I perhaps wrote it a little bit too snarky the first time, but my point was really to use it as a teaching opportunity to show how to engage your kids. I think I may have went a little overboard, but I’m glad so many agree anyway!

  7. Yep! I often say the same thing. I expect children to act up after a while but I also expect the parent to do something about itJ

    ust yesterday, at a park, a child about 5 or 6 years old, threw a water bomb near our belongings which made our roller blading stuff wet. The parents both just stood and stared at me while I calmly told the boy that what he did was wrong. Then they hollered from where they stood and insisted that the boy apologised. Of course he ran away and refused to do it. Then he suddenly ran to us and said, “Hoo!” and ran away! What was that?! And no, the parents did not apologise or even attempt to bring the child back. And the thing is they saw him preparing to throw the water bomb near us and did not attempt to stop him! Makes me wanna whack their behinds!

  8. I am so vehemently with you on this one. One of my five kids has Autism, so I have to overtly teach socialization, boundaries, and interaction to my son who does not just “pick it up” the way my other kids do. My challenge as a special needs mom is to walk that fine line and not disable my son further, or disable any of my children, with the additional burden of being a person who has no idea what the social constructs and boundaries are because I was too lazy to point them out and make them mandatory. It takes him longer to learn a social skill, but after all our hard work, he’s a nice kid. You’d like him.

    • That’s excellent, Christie! I know several autistic kids who are lovely to be around, and I have some in the youth group that I teach. I’m sensitive to moms with special needs kids since we had a son with Down’s (though he didn’t live long), but I do sort of understand the added stress. Glad you’re out there being a good example to others!

  9. We have too many excuses for parents, they are too tired, busy, etc and it seems to be acceptable. It seems to be even more acceptable for the “working mom” to cop out and use the excuse that she already has to do it all and just can’t find the time or energy to parent the kids. Kids in return act out in public and people start blaming the kids for being obnoxious when really it has nothing to do with them.

    You are dead on Shelia, it’s all in the way the parent interact with their children. I hate seeing parents with blinders on. It is not acceptable. Kids cannot raise themselves. I see so many people that expect a child to be an adult without teaching them how to act one. It’s even more evident in teens and young adults now.

    We have received so many compliments and comments on our son’s public behavior simply because he knows to say “please” and “thank you”. He doesn’t yell, stare or throw food at a restaurant. He’s not crawling all over the table or bugging people in the booth behind us. Just this weekend we had to wait 20 minutes for a table at our local Apple Bees and we sat and searched for things in all the pictures and memorabilia on the walls. People looked shocked and surprised that a 4 year old could sit there so nicely.

    Keep speaking your mind. The only people you are going to offend are those who want to make excuses for not parenting their own kids in public. Parenting is a full time job that requires hours and hours of mandatory overtime, tasks we don’t like and we never get to call in sick. We must give 100% even when we feel less than 100% ourselves.

    • Nurse Bee says:


      I’m not sure if you are trying to say that kids misbehaving is the result of working moms. Kind of strandling the fence between working mom/SAHM myself (I work part-time), I think it has little to do with whether a parent works or not. What matters is being an active/engaged parent.

  10. I loved what you had to say in the first post and totally agree with this follow up post. It’s all about engaging your children. No matter how tired and overwhelmed you are. As a homeschool mom with Rheumatoid arthritis and 3 active sons (8, 6, 3 yrs) and 1 active daughter (5 yrs), I am tired all the time. It’s just part of the job description. As I read your suggestions for ways to engage I just nodded to myself. I do a lot of those things when we go out. At the grocery store with all 4 kids (gasp!) I give each a job. We count produce, we search for items on our list. I keep a running commentary with them and no one has a tantrum in the middle of the aisle or cries for cupcakes or makes a scene. Because they know the rules and I’m engaged. In December we will fly from Rhode Island to San Antonio, Texas. It will be the 1st time half my kids have been on a plane and the 1st time the other half will remember. I’m already thinking about toys, books, and snacks to include in each backpack to keep them entertained. It’s my job to think of these things – cause I’m the mom.

  11. Sheila, you shouldn’t have even had to write this post! You were perfectly clear the first time, and you’re perfectly clear this time.

    And right.

    You were right both times.

    Keep it up!

  12. Lorrie McD. says:

    People come up with all sorts of excuses. Suck it up, folks. We’re all tired. That’s what happens to parents. Mine are 13 and 16 and I am still tired and probably will be for a few more years!
    Sheila, you were right the first time and I agree that the 2nd time wasn’t necessary.

  13. Mr. Miller says:

    “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.”
    Continuing to validate or justify your original stance isn’t ‘Damage Control’ – it looks wishy washy. And stop apologizing – you won’t be able to please all the people, all of the time!

    • Perhaps you’re right! But I still feel better having said it. (And hey, I have to fill this blog with something!)

  14. Sheila, I am wondering if you ought to have had this topic as ‘too political’ because it seems that too often society, in the persons of our politicians passes laws to absolve everyone of all blame for everything. We are left thinking that we are not responsible for anything, and then it is a short step from not being responsible to being irresponsible, and expecting someone else to do this, that or the other to keep us comfortable. From your parent on the aircraft to the litter lout who expects someone else to clean up after him to the householder who expects the local authority to clear away snow when s/he could have cleared it up with a shovel outside his/her own house.

  15. Sheila, I am in total agreement with you! Hear, Hear!!!!

    In my view (opinion – are we still entitled to those?) there really are no bad children, only bad parents!

    It is about time that we as a society stopped trying to protect poor parenting and started insisting that those of us that have decided to take on the mantle of a parent, exercise all their efforts to ensure the child is engaged with, educated and helped to become a well balanced and reasonable young person and not some sort of egocentric monster, the likes of which took to the streets of the UK recently.

    Well said Sister, keep it coming

    • Thanks, Pete! I’ve been reading a lot about the situation in Britain, and it does sound like you’re about 10 years ahead of us North Americans (if ahead is the right word) in terms of hooliganism. I just hope it’s not too late for all of us to turn it around.

Comment Policy: Please stay positive with your comments. If your comment is rude, it gets deleted. Any comment that espouses an anti-marriage philosophy (eg. porn, adultery, abuse and the like) will be deleted. If it is critical, please make it constructive. If you are replying to another commenter, please be polite and don't assume you know everything about his or her situation. If you are constantly negative or a general troll, you will get banned. The definition of terms is left solely up to us. Sheila Wray Gregoire owns the copyright to all comments and may publish them in whatever form she sees fit. She agrees to keep any publication of comments anonymous, even if you are not anonymous on this board.

Leave a Comment


CommentLuv badge