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The Dilemma of Babies on Airplanes - The Atlantic:

Some people think parents are simply too inconsiderate of their fellow passengers to bother disciplining their children. In fact, in many cases, consideration is at the root of parents’ strangely permissive behavior. Why is that dad letting his kid jump up and down in the seat? Because it’s the only way to stop her from kicking the seat in front of her. Why is that mom allowing her kid to listen to Ms Rachel without headphones? Because the kid won’t tolerate headphones, and she’s betting that passengers prefer Ms Rachel to the alternative (kicking and climbing and whining and screaming).

You may disagree with how a particular parent handles a particular scenario, but there’s often no way to make everybody happy. Take the time my then–lap baby discovered that if she released the tray table in front of her, it would fall with a delightful thwack that could not have been pleasant for the person sitting in front of us. What does a conscientious parent do in that scenario? I could place my hand over the clasp and physically bar her from fiddling with it, but she’d lose her mind for anywhere from five to 55 minutes if I did. Do I subject everyone on the plane to an extended tantrum in order to spare the gentleman in front of me two hours of thwacking? I’m serious—I really want to know.

The actual needs of the child are all too often absent from this tricky social calculus. But that’s what happens when the job of a parent in a shared public space is principally to ensure that the child isn’t a nuisance. It demands a style of parenting that is at once hypervigilant and overly permissive, where kids are given constant attention but no agency. Ironically, it works against the long-term goal of raising competent, well-behaved kids. Hamstrung by the need to make sure their kids don’t inconvenience anyone else, parents can’t do much parenting at all.

Having traveled on airplanes with my own children as well as having been on flights where someone else’s kid was crying and screaming the entire time, I have no tolerance whatsoever for people who get upset about this sort of thing.

No matter how annoying you may find someone else’s kids on your flight, I guarantee you that parent is having a worse time of it than you are. I once watched a dad walk up and down the aisles bouncing his kid to keep him happy for the entire duration of a flight from LA to Brisbane. Not only are parents on airplanes dealing with their kids, they’re having to do it while simultaneously dealing with all the judgey, sanctimonious jerks around them who are questioning their parenting skills and getting upset about it.

Buy them a cocktail, smile at them, go talk to them and let them know it’s not a big deal. If nothing else, put on your headphones and watch your show and say nothing.

Babies on airplanes is not a dilemma. The dilemma is why we have constructed a society in which this sort of thing is framed as a problem.

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