Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images


Please don’t issue blanket apologies for your children on public transport

Politeness is one thing, goodie bags for long-suffering grown-ups quite another, says Robyn Wilder

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By Robyn Wilder on

Well, it’s happened again. We are apologising for our children. Parents boarding planes with their babies have started distributing apology notes to placate their fellow passengers in the event of a mid-flight infant meltdown. 

These apology notes come swaddled in cute little packages filled with sweets and earplugs to get child-critics through the flight and – if you think these are a good idea – Pinterest is awash with suggestions for your own apology goody bags. They’re called “flight favours”.

Damon Darlin, writing in The New York Times, is a fan of the practice , mainly because – he says – it shows courtesy on the part of the parents. The Guardian’s Madeleine Somerville, however, feels that public shame is part and parcel of parenting, and we shouldn’t apologise for our children being children. 

I’d have to say I agree with both of them. Here is a video of my 18-month-old son on a train this weekend gone:

As you can see, he is in his pyjamas. As may also be evident, he is not asleep. We had been at a glorious Sunday barbecue. But our train home was cancelled, which pushed us past my son’s bedtime, and my son became a feral wolf-baby as a result. There was nothing we could do but let him wear himself out, and keep him happy and laughing in the meantime to avoid a screaming fit. He is a toddler. There is no reasoning with him.

And, when he bellowed, “Wuggle wuggle wuggle” at the ceiling, did I apologise profusely to the people sitting closest to us? Of course I did. But did I leap on to the train, tossing packets of M&Ms into the air while begging “FORGIVE MY TRESPASSES” before my son had even done anything? No. Because I think that’s several steps too far.

Before I was a mother, I experienced that sinking feeling when a family with two kids under seven years old gets on near you during a long-haul flight. I've rolled my eyes at a partner if we even heard a baby laughing on a packed train – simply because the presence of a baby meant that the baby might cry – and become privately incensed if a kid was kicking my chair.

The thing about public transport is it's just that – public. It is not the domain solely of adults, or even those who know how to behave quietly or unobtrusively in public

What I didn’t know then is that when babies and toddlers cry, they’re not being “bad” – nor are their parents – that’s just what babies and toddlers do. And when parents of older children “aren’t even doing anything about” their kids misbehaving, it’s often because they’ve already DONE everything in their repertoire, it’s had no effect and they just need five minutes with Candy Crush to regroup. Parenting looks very different from the outside.

The thing about public transport is it's just that – public. It is not the domain solely of adults, or even those who know how to behave quietly or unobtrusively in public. Would we expect someone who made loud noises, or kicked out, because of a developmental disability – or even just a loud voice – to offer up pre-emptive apologies? No, we wouldn’t. Because they couldn’t help it. But babies and young children can’t help making noise either, so why would we expect apologetic caveats from their parents? 

When I’m packing for a journey, I’m too busy ensuring my son has something to distract him (precisely to AVOID a meltdown) to write notes to every passenger. I have bought extra treats at the airport for the poor soul lumbered with the seat beside mine, in CASE my baby kicked off. But I've never needed them. On our last flight, the lovely lady beside us on the flight out read her book when it was quiet, and subtly put her earphones in when it wasn't.

And that’s the point. When you go on public transport, you know you’re going to be smooshed up against other people, including children, smelly people, drunk people and chatty people. Because that's just life. Essentially, if you like grown-ups so much, then be one – and pack your own damned sweets and earplugs.


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Photo: Getty Images
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public transport
Robyn Wilder

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