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My Job As A Traveling Parent

Believe it or not, there are many passenger "types" I dread being seated next to on a flight more than an infant or a toddler.
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When I travel with my children, it is for a number of reasons. The first being that I love them, and if I go anywhere, I want them to be with me. Right now they're small enough to actually want to be with me too, so I know they wouldn't be happier if I "left them with Grandma," as some people think I should. I also believe that travel, and the experience of traveling, will help broaden their minds to appreciate new and different cultures, and also to learn how to manage breaks from their routine.

The process of getting from Point A to Point B is certainly not the best part of travel, least of all when you're flying with baby, but you manage. And part of managing that process comes from learning by experience: learning to wait in line, learning to sit quietly, learning to cope with disappointment, learning to react appropriately when people are rude. Learning.

Some don't want to see my children. Some would rather I never left home, but they somehow expect my kids to learn how to "behave" in public without ever being out in public. I'm done with the comments on articles about kids-only sections on planes or banning young children in restaurants and now jokes about trying to make entire neighborhoods child-free. But recently I've received some anonymous emails that make me feel it's important to not be bullied into silence.

My job as a traveling parent is to make sure my children are safe, and comfortable. For my fellow passengers, the bonus side-effect of that comfort and safety means my kids are likely quiet and happy. I always laugh at those articles that suggest buying nearby passengers a drink or handing out earplugs to your seatmates. I have to wonder when you'd have the time to do that? From the very instant we've boarded the aircraft I'm so busy procuring snacks and toys and distractions, that I wonder when the heck I'd be able to hand out party favors to fellow passengers. Maybe if I ignored my kids. Also? I'd rather use that valuable space in my carry-on for more stuff to keep my kids busy. Just sayin'.

It is NOT my job as a traveling parent to worry about upsetting or disturbing every other human being I may or may not come into contact with. Child in tow or no, nobody seems particularly worried about upsetting or disturbing me, so why is there that additional responsibility for parents? My seatmate that clearly hadn't showered for a few days didn't seem particularly worried about disturbing me. The lady who left the airplane bathroom in a shocking condition didn't seem the least bit concerned that her feces might upset me. And yet, as a parent traveling with small children the onus is on me to look after my kids and fret about everyone else.

Everybody has a story about a nightmare family on a flight, or a kid who kicked their seat while the parents did nothing and so on and so on. So too do they have stories about an armrest hog or a close talker or a shoulder sleeper, but there is never talk of a "shower-averse section" of airplanes or the implementation of "loudmouth drunk-free" flights. And yet it's ok to discriminate against people for their age, so long as they're young and not old.

Not long ago, I had a somewhat heated but remarkably civil email exchange with Spud Hilton, the travel editor of the San Francisco Chronicle. His post on Malaysia Airlines banning babies felt so mean-spirited, it almost made my head explode. In a message to me, Spud explained that he "...dread[s] with every fiber of my being the possibility of a parent and infant sitting next to me on the next flight." He also could not fathom why a parent would choose to travel with a child under the age of four since they won't remember it. Obviously Spud is not a parent, so I don't expect him to understand wanting to see the world with a child, or how it doesn't matter if they don't remember because as parents, you will never forget.

Personally, there are many passenger "types" I dread being seated next to on a flight more than an infant or a toddler. Near to the top of that list are those that send anonymous emails saying that I should "...pay the price of being a parent and stay home until the child is old enough to control themselves enough to stop bothering passengers." I wish their parents had taught them some manners. But maybe they just stayed home instead.

Corinne McDermott is the founder of Have Baby Will Travel, your online guide for travel with babies, toddlers and young children. From baby packing lists to tips on coping with jet lag in toddlers, Have Baby Will Travel wants to help you travel with your baby! Connect with Corinne on Twitter and on Facebook.