Long before a woman has given birth, she has more than likely lost track of all the horror stories she had heard, read or seen about almost everything that can go wrong during labor. She doesn’t even need to go out looking for them — disaster stories will naturally spread far and wide and attach themselves to other similar stories, growing in detail and length over time. The times that things go really well are almost not believed by others and a woman can be discouraged from sharing them because it could be seen to make others feel bad or give them unrealistic expectations.
The half-joking comment that I should enjoy every minute of sleep while I was pregnant from those further on in the parenting journey grated on my nerves. So, I made a conscious effort to be full of confidence about the entire birthing and parenting process, and to not let all the negative comments about how difficult it all was become my worldview. When our first child was an easy going baby who slept and fed well, the half-joking comment people regularly told me was to just wait until our second was born, then it would be a whole different story. These comments niggled away at me too. I refused to follow the adage of expecting the worst and hoping for the best. I began to believe that when your first steps into parenting are with the mindset and expectation of no sleep and difficulties around every corner, then that is what you will end up with. The reverse worked too. I was stubbornly determined that our second baby would also be a great sleeper. It happened.
This inner confidence that we would figure it out and make it all work somehow, seeing the best in a situation and being thankful along the way spilled over to our traveling too. We expected our kids would travel well, sleep well and behave well on planes. And, for almost every flight, that is what happened. A few things helped prepare our kids for this.
The first really helpful exercise in having kids that will travel well is to talk about the entire travel process many, many times as rehearsals for the big day. We would go through, step-by-step what would happen — even when you might think they were too young to understand. I often wondered, at what age do they understand some of it? Some understanding is more helpful than none.
We would go through the drive to the airport (an hour long for us, more in traffic), getting out the suitcases, briefly seeing the Grandparents who would take our car back to their house for safe-keeping,waiting in line to check, dropping off the luggage and car seats (it turns out kids are quite attached to their car seats and seeing them out of their familiar surroundings and disappearing off on a conveyor belt can be upsetting), taking the elevator upstairs, filling in departure cards, waiting in line for customs, having their photo taken and passports checked, waiting in line and then going through security one, and then finally into the shopping area where we could use the bathrooms, grab a snack if needed and head to our departure lounge, wait for our boarding call, wait for everyone else to get on board then line up and board the plane before finally finding our seats before take-off.
Next, comes the onboard details. We take our seats, put on our belts, watch a safety video, look out the window as the plane takes off, then, if it is past bedtime you go. to. sleep. Our rule is you can watch as many kids TV shows as you like, or play games on your screen and listen to music once you have had a sleep and as long as you do not wake anyone else up. (Side note: Please remove your headphones while talking to your siblings, you won’t realize you’re yelling and annoying the people around you.) Once we are all awake, then we will have food together.
The entire process is explained in reverse for once the plane lands. We tack on the car rental collection process, and where we will be driving to next.
There is a whole lot in there for children to process and it won’t all make sense even to older children for the first time around. They will have a lot of questions about it all and it is so much easier and less exhausting mentally to have answered the bulk of their questions prior to the day. I feel that it is also honoring them as humans by understanding what is going and feeling confident in a new situation which has first been explained, rather than feeling confused, uncertain and unsure what is expected of us.
We would finish the rundown by asking them the most important things to remember out of everything. After a while they could repeat them word-for-word without thinking: Wait in line patiently and stick together. And what do we do on a plane? We go to sleep.
This brainwashing process works. After having three children pass this course, after an exhausting sleepless overnight flight to Los Angeles, we realized that our youngest, who was two at the time, had missed out on the repetitious explanations prior to flying. He had not learned it by osmosis. We made sure that before our next long-haul flight that he was back on track with his rote-learned ‘go to sleep’ answer. It worked: he was asleep before the plane took off.
When the time comes to finally travel, we would often remind the children what is coming up next in the process, bringing back those memories of the plan to the forefront.
The more we counteract negative-angled comments about life – and travel – with kids, the better. Absorbing others’ complaints about the ‘awful’ side of traveling is exhausting in and of itself. It affects our moods and partially ruins the experience. When people say, “Oh wow, you’re traveling with four kids?!” it’s best to reply, in full hearing of our children that they’re wonderful travelers. It’s a boost of confidence for them and ourselves. They are wonderful travelers. Traveling with kids is wonderful.
Postscript: I write this as one person sharing my story, and want to honor that your journey may be a very different one to mine. Children are hard work, and for many, getting their young children to sleep is the hardest part of all.