I grew up in Texas surrounded by loved ones and I couldn’t imagine a life without seeing my relatives daily. When my partner and I found ourselves facing a relocation, I was unsure what to do. There I was, more than 800 miles away from my loved ones, with a fear of flying.
When I found out we were expecting shortly after moving, I knew I would have to get over my fear. So that’s exactly what I did. My son was a little less than 3 weeks old when we took our first flight and we’ve been traveling ever since. And much of that time, we are traveling alone.
Now, flying alone with a young child is scarier than flying itself. Children crying on airplanes is a frequent source of humor, but for parents like myself, it’s stressful. Before each flight, I am plagued with guilt and anxiety for being the “parent who brought the baby.” Dirty looks and glances of annoyance are all too common for parents who travel alone. And believe me, we notice — and it hurts. The anticipation of these reactions makes traveling with children even more stressful than it already is. I know there are many like myself who stress out at the thought of traveling alone with kids.
To help us out, I spoke with other single parents and compiled a list of the 5 Easy Ways To Help Us Traveling Alone With Kids:
1. Tell Us A Seat Is Open
A terrifying part of traveling alone with a child is forcing someone to sit next to us. In the past, my son slept through an entire 2-hour flight, but he sleeps less and less as he gets older. I try my hardest to check in early enough to pick the first seat in an empty row for this reason. That way, people have a choice in sitting near us. While I do my best to plan ahead, there are times like our most recent trip where we are running late. As the last ones to board, I felt horrible when we had to choose the middle seat between two strangers. The woman to my right was a mother herself and her kind eyes gave me the confidence to ask if we could sit there.
Many parents are so worried about being a burden that our anxiety keeps us from asking for a place to sit. If you see a parent who is slow to sit, they are likely feeling guilty about being a bother. Ease their nerves and tell them if the seat next to you is available. When you think about it, you’re helping yourself — the faster everyone sits, the faster the plane can take off.
2. See Us Juggling? Offer to Help!
Carrying a ton of luggage when traveling alone is hard. But add a baby and everything that comes along with one and it can feel near impossible. Many parents like myself use baby carriers to keep our hands free, but that isn’t always enough. We would love a helping hand — particularly during the security check in.
“Offer to help fold the stroller and put your stuff on the conveyor belt when your arms are full of children. [Or even] Offer to help buckle the car seat into the plane seat. I actually had another parent offer to hold my one year old while I buckled in a car seat and a 4-year-old,” explains Rebecca.>
If you are unsure of the best way to help a struggling parent, ask them. For some, it will be holding the baby, for others it will be holding a door. We’re grateful for all the help we can get.
Please be patient. Lone moms have enough to worry about without accounting for your rush.
3. Have Patience
Traveling is a rushed process. We understand that you are in a rush — but remember, so are we. If we could move faster, we would. It’s not realistic to expect a parent traveling alone with kids to move as fast or faster than someone who isn’t. Recently, a young woman from the back of the plane decided to push past me since she didn’t have any overhead luggage. She felt free to skip right past me (also luggage-less and with a child in my lap) in her rush to exit. A person sitting in my row pointed it out: “Now, she is preventing this parent with a baby from being able to get off the plane.” The line skipper had no concern for how her lack of patience limited my ability to move myself and my son.
This is a common issue. Jody, a traveling mom, wishes passengers would exercise patience while traveling. “It [would] be easier if others would refrain from crowding us in security line or baggage claim.” Please be patient. Lone moms have enough to worry about without accounting for your rush.
4. Speak Up Against Jerks
Though the comments my row-mate made didn’t stop the impatient woman, it felt good to know I had an advocate. Traveling with kids makes parents feel like an inconvenience, so when things happen to us in the process, we’re vulnerable. It also makes us ashamed to speak out against those who are being offensive. Without my row-mate, I would have internalized the situation — ‘cause you know, I’m the problem.
Johanna who experienced traveling with jerks firsthand. “I think sticking up for parents when someone is being overly jerky is something strangers can do. There was a guy sitting across the aisle from me once who was asked to move so a mom with a newborn could sit next to her partner. The guy didn’t want to, and I said, “Come on, dude, they have a NEWBORN.” Speaking up may not change the actions of a meanie, but it sure makes moms feel better to know they have an advocate on their flight.
5. Smiles & Looks Of Compassion
This one is the most simple yet impactful thing you can do to help a traveling parent. It does wonders to see a comforting smile among a sea of angry faces. Many people show kindness with their eyes, and those glances do wonders for lone parent anxiety. For some of us, the comforting effects last our entire trip.
“Oh man, just a smile or reassuring nod is really appreciated. You know, as opposed to glares, or the cold shoulder. So many people automatically turn into assholes when they see a baby or kid; they’re just WAITING for them to be disruptive,” said Grace, a mother who has dealt with angry looks herself.
Remind us that we aren’t ruining your day. A smile will let us know you understand that we are trying the best we can.
I hope this list helped you find at least one way to help traveling parents. It’s easy to feel there is no appropriate place for children other than home, but that places a lot of unfair limits on their caretakers — who are overwhelmingly women. Single parents should not experience shame for traveling with children. We are not traveling with kids to ruin your traveling experience. Instead, we want our children to be a part of our own experiences, which we have every right to enjoy. Next time you see a single parent traveling alone with kids, try some of these. You might make someone’s day.