Travelling with kids can be tough. Whether its long haul or short haul flying, catching a tram, train, ferry or a scooter outing down to the shops. For me, trips require organisation and logistics for the movement, nourishment, safety, comfort and entertainment of 3 little people.
Having travelled all around the world on all modes of transport with kids, I can’t help but notice how differently I can be treated than my husband when he is on his own with our kids. Yeah, yeah, I know this is a bit of a generalisation but while I have witnessed the good people who help, there are so many who are willing to critisise and tut tut when I’m on my own vs Hubby.
For me its all eye rolls and people avoiding eye contact as they silently pray that I don’t park my brood next to them. For hubby, its all puppy dog eye looks as people gush over the Dad on his own with the kids (tsk tsk where is the Mum while that poor Dad has to manage the kids?).
When I fly on my own I can almost guarantee it will be a full flight. I can be confident that we’ll be seated in the last 4 rows and that the overhead luggage bins will be full by the time we board (because we had massive queues at check-in of course). If there is a row on the plane where the armrests don’t go up or down, experience tells me that will be where I’m sitting. My plane will be late leaving and it will be hot. There will be older people sitting around me who come from an era where kids were seen and never heard. They will tut at my kids and make not so subtle comments about my parenting or their behaviour.
During my horror ‘Around the World in 36 hours‘ flight I was trying to keep the kids settled, out of respect for the other passengers, by starting a movie on the iPad when I overheard, ‘In my day we didn’t put our kids in front of a screen we actually had to parent’! It took every ounce of self control not to turn around and tell her that in her day the plane hadn’t been invented yet!
As a Mum I feel every stare and hear every tut. I take it very personally and it hurts when I am trying so hard.
My husband’s experience is usually very different from mine. He prides himself on his ability to parent our kids. When on his own with the kids, even a newborn baby, he has never ever called me and asked me to come home because the baby is crying and he doesn’t know what to do. I don’t need to pack a bag for the kids if he is taking them out or I’m going to work for a day or going to see friends. He is competent, confident and incredibly able and I am proud of him for that. Not to mention grateful! I remember trying to fuss once and he turned to me and said ‘Contrary to popular belief, I have met our kids before‘. Point taken, I backed down.
He knows I need my alone time away from the kids and he respects that. The house could burn down while I’m gone and I have no doubt I would return to him standing with the kids in front of the smouldering embers smiling and saying ‘did you have a nice time?’– he would just handle it.
So why do people see men with kids and assume they need more help than a Mum does??
When Hubby fly’s with our kids the universe will align to ensure he arrives at the exact moment there are zero queues and the plane will be half empty. The flight attendant will move him to the front row to make it easier for him to get on and off and so he can have an extra seat if he needs it. Old ladies smile at the sweet image of a Dad and his kids. Other women ask if they can help with his bags!!?!! In all my travels, I have only been asked a couple of times by a woman if I needed a hand (us women really need to stick together more)- men are actually more likely to offer assistance. The flight will be on time and actually, if there is a business class, he would probably get upgraded!
When I was almost 7 months pregnant my Mum sadly passed away. Hubby organised a flight for me back to NZ asap so I could spend some precious days with her and be with my family. He’d organised to follow a week later with the boys. I remember one lady asking me how he was going to manage on his own with the kids, not just for the flight but also for the week after I’d gone? Had I frozen some meals for him? Very seriously she leaned in and whispered to me that if he needed any help picking up the kids from school that he shouldn’t hesitate to ask. Yup, no attempted guilt attached to that little comment! Really?!
Here’s the thing; Hubby’s job means he can be overseas every second weekend during the rugby season – how does this woman think I cope? Where are her offers of help and concern for me? My true friends always reach out, they see inside my life and know when I’m on my own and could do with a break. They know it is actually me who needs more support than Hubby.
Hubby and I often joke about it – but we both see the double standard.
We are tough, strong and resilient us Mums. We may have the pain threshold of superheroes and the patience & tolerance of Saint Monica but we are also not too proud to accept help when and if offered.
Below are some tips on handling the pressure of judgement as well as some helpful ways you can offer help to a Mum travelling on her own with kids without having to join the family:
1. My kids respond to my reactions and behave accordingly – even more so when they are tired. When I’m stressed I need to stay in control and be strong for my little people. Behind my eyes I may be screaming profanity’s but on my face I am smiling and really appreciating your helpful and thoughtful advice (they say sarcasm is the lowest form of wit, I’m ok with that).
2. Don’t bite back at rude people. Firstly, I will always say the wrong thing and then waste energy and hours reliving the moment and wishing I could’ve said a, b or c instead. Secondly, people who comment obviously have no idea nor compassion for my situation and its not my job to educate them. It’s my job to give my attention to my kids.
3. I don’t apologise for my kids behaviour if its in my acceptable range (which is way stricter on a plane or train trip). If I did, I’d spend the whole trip feeling bad and undermining my ability to manage my kids – I dont have the time (or desire) to make sure everyone else is ok. Generally, people understand and for those who don’t, I refer to point 2.
4. When I board a plane, I’ll always find the flight attendant responsible for my area and smile at them or ask them how they are. I want them to genuinely want to help me if I need it. It’s amazing how far this goes, I’ve had attendants seek me out to see if I need my water bottles refilled or if the kids need some snacks. The same goes for passengers around me. It’s easy to see the people who avoid eye contact when I’m getting settled and those who offer a sympathetic smile. If I have my hands full, these are my go-to people. But only if I really need them.
5. As Penny Flanagan once put it ‘Don’t force the village to be part of your child’s ‘learning’’. On a plane or a train or in any public setting, no one wants to listen to you speaking calmly at the top of your voice just so you can prove you are in control. If one of my kids is being particularly ferrel and I need to discipline them, then I will take (drag, rugby hold, entice with promises of treats) them to the back of the plane (as I am always seated at the back, its usually just behind me!) and have a quiet but firm conversation. I will show my child who is in control without the whole plane needing to be a part of the experience.
If you see a Mum travelling on her own with kids, its very simple. Just offer either of the following:
1. ‘Do you need any help?’
2. ‘If you need anything just ask, I know how hard it must be for you’
Much love, Jaimee Sarah oxo
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