Care and Feeding

“People Are Mad at You!”: Care and Feeding’s Best Advice for Traveling With Kids

How to handle baby sharks on a plane, surreptitious social snapshots, and more.

A child wearing headphones on a plane.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Nadezhda1906/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Our advice columnists have heard it all over the years. As many of us gear up for summer trips, we’re revisiting some of Care and Feeding’s best advice about the … challenges … of traveling with kids. Join Slate Plus for even more advice columns.

Dear Care and Feeding,

I was recently on a flight where I was seated behind a family with a toddler. I was trying to read my book, but the child was playing games and loud music on his tablet. (That “Baby Shark” song actually slaps but makes it hard to concentrate on anything else.) I leaned over and politely asked the mom, who was in front of me, if her child could use headphones or turn the volume down.

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The mom told her kid, “You’re annoying people! You have to use headphones.” The dad got the kid headphones, which he used for a while before unplugging, which I totally understood, because he was a tiny toddler and toddlers like to unplug things.

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The mom then literally told her son, “People are mad at you.” I felt so embarrassed and angry on this kid’s behalf! I wasn’t annoyed with him, but I did become very annoyed with his parents. They also offered to get their son apple juice, but when it turned out it wasn’t free (budget airline) they lied and said the plane was out of juice. But each parent got a $9 alcoholic drink.

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Was I totally out of line to say anything about the volume of the music? I know parenting on airplanes is tough and I never get mad at parents when babies cry. I know that these people were probably stressed and tired, but I worry that by intervening I just made things worse for their kid. Should I have said something more to them? After my initial comment I stayed quiet, but perhaps I should have told their son I wasn’t mad at him. Or should I just mind my own business?

—Airplane Etiquette

Dear Airplane Etiquette,

You seem to think that you making a polite, reasonable request is responsible for the fact that these people are shitty parents. I don’t think these two things are related. They were shitty parents before that flight and I’m sorry to report that they are probably still shitty parents even today.

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It is in no way your fault that they decided to shame this child, tell him people are mad at him, and lie to him about the juice. You are perfectly within your rights to kindly and politely ask any parents if it’s possible for their child to use headphones as long as you don’t take an unnecessarily accusatory tone. (Of course, it should be common sense to turn down the volume, but traveling with a toddler is a whole thing and sometimes there is just so much stuff happening that you just forget about something like that until someone reminds you. Good parents are grateful for a polite reminder.)

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So you didn’t do anything wrong, and it’s definitely not your fault that this family responded to your reasonable request as they did. However, in the future, a more sensible route might be to travel with your own headphones and earplugs. If you want quiet in a shared and enclosed space, that is just a lot easier, logistically, than trying to get all of your fellow travelers to comply. —Carvell Wallace

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From: “Was I Wrong to Ask for a Child to Use Headphones on a Plane?”  (Jan. 2, 2019)

Dear Care and Feeding,

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We have three kids. Our daughter is nearly 13 and the eldest. We have been discussing what to do this winter for a family trip, and my daughter insists she doesn’t like skiing and has no interest in going.

The kids have been on skis since they were 3. They’ve skied and/or snowboarded every winter. The boys, my husband, and I love it. We’ve traveled every winter to a ski destination and have been careful to choose places that offer a wide range of fun winter activities (like dogsledding, tubing, snowmobiling) and a fun town vibe that the kids can enjoy. Our daughter grumbles every time we go skiing. She’s really only good for about half a day on the slopes. She’s a good sport and resigns herself to going because she wants to travel, but we really don’t want her to hate it and we want her to have good memories of family trips. My husband and I sometimes will take an extra weekend and go by ourselves, but we feel guilty a little bit because the boys want to come too, and we LOVE watching them explore and have fun on the slopes.

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We don’t only take the kids skiing. Travel is a big deal to my husband and me. We’ve taken the kids to a few National Parks, big cities on each coast, Disney, and are currently saving for our first trip overseas.

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I know some of this behavior is normal teenage behavior, but she’s always maintained she doesn’t like skiing. Her idea of a fun vacation is sitting in the sun on a beach somewhere, which makes my husband and me cringe (we can’t imagine anything more boring or miserable). How do we manage the disparity in preference to vacation types and activities? We’ve reminded her that one day she’ll be happy for the skills and experiences she has. Do we just keep planning these trips with compromises to places that have activities she can take advantage of (even if she doesn’t) and remind her when she’s paying the bills and designing her own trips she can sit on a beach all day?

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—It’s Not a Family Trip Without Her

Dear Not a Family Trip,

I doubt that your almost-13-year-old needs to be reminded that she doesn’t pay the bills, nor do I believe her current lack of disposable income overrules her right to express her likes and dislikes. I realize some readers might not be able to find much sympathy for a kid who just isn’t that into her family’s annual ski resort visits, but honestly, I do feel a bit sorry for her. Sure, being part of a family means occasionally going along with a plan or activity we may not personally be wild about. But if your daughter needs to accept that (and it sounds like she has; you admit that while she continues to note her dislike of skiing—not a crime!—she still goes and is “a good sport” about it), you need to accept that you have no control over what she enjoys. You want her to appreciate and have “good memories” of your ski trips, but she doesn’t like skiing. This is not a phase or a “teenage behavior” thing; she’s told you over and over. And it’s fine! She doesn’t have to share all or, really, any of your interests, and after 10 years of ski trips no one can claim she hasn’t given it a chance.

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The window of time when all your kids will easily be able to travel with you is small—when they’re grown, vacations with you will be hit-or-miss. You’ll likely have the rest of your lives to plan trips without taking all three kids’ interests into account. Given this, is it necessary to go on a big destination ski trip every year, if one-third of your children would strongly rather not? Is it necessary for your daughter to go every time? Maybe she would prefer to stay with a friend or family member sometimes, and then you could plan a separate family trip to be enjoyed by all? Thinking of her being left behind does have me feeling rather sorry for her again, but at her age, hanging out with a favorite friend or relative might be a very appealing option, especially if she knows she’ll still get to go on another trip.

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I confess to being somewhat perplexed that you and your husband are completely closed to the idea of a beach vacation, yet you seem bothered that your child has not dug deep and found sufficient enthusiasm for the ski trips she has repeatedly told you she doesn’t enjoy. I really think you should consider taking your kid to a beach once in a while! You’ve found ski towns with “a wide range” of activities; you can probably locate a town with beach access and other stuff to do. Of course, whether you choose to take advantage of all it offers is up to you, but I have a feeling that one day—when you’re older, and your kids are paying for and designing their own vacations without you—you’ll be happy you had those experiences.
—Nicole Chung

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From: “Our Daughter Hates the Annual Family Vacation.” (Nov. 4, 2020)

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Catch Up on Care and Feeding

· If you missed Tuesday’s column, read it here.
· Discuss this column in the Slate Parenting Facebook group!

Dear Care and Feeding,

I was recently on a red-eye trans-Atlantic flight. After boarding, but before takeoff, I noticed that a passenger across the aisle took a picture of my 1-year-old child and posted it on a social media app. (I assume that he was mad that he had to sit next to a child on a long-haul flight.) I confronted him. He deleted the photo from his phone, but the photo was already posted on the internet. A month has passed, and I am still deeply disturbed by the incident. What should I do? Do I have any recourse in the matter?

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—Feeling Violated

Dear Feeling Violated,

What … the hell. You were right to confront this dude. It’s already out of line to complain about babies on flights (families have the right to travel! Babies have the right to cry! Everyone was a baby once and being human means accepting that babies exist!) and to take a creepshot of someone else’s kid is a real violation.

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You ought to have further insisted, in that moment, that he delete whatever he had shared. Alas, it’s too late to do that now—that’s just not how the internet works—so while I can understand your irritation, I’m afraid it’s not doing you any good to still feel disturbed by this. I’m sorry it happened and maybe it’s some comfort that I think it’s unlikely this will ever happen to you again. I think you just had some bad luck to be on a plane with a jerk.
—Rumaan Alam

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From: “A Stranger Posted a Picture of My Baby Online.” (Dec. 3, 2019)

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Want Advice From Care and Feeding?

Submit your questions about parenting and family life here. It’s anonymous! (Questions may be edited for publication.)

Dear Care and Feeding,

My husband and I have a 2-year-old and a 5-month-old. We have a wedding coming up (my cousin, whom I like but am not especially close to) and I’m torn about whether or not we should make the six-hour drive with our kids. As it’s a kid-free wedding, we’d need to find a local sitter, plus I’m breastfeeding (and struggling to figure out the logistics of keeping the baby fed while we’re gone as well as pumping during the wedding). The trip would also be expensive.

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My husband thinks it’s too much and we should just not go. But I feel like we always get overwhelmed by the idea of travel with our kids and end up saying no. It seems like other families do this kind of thing all the time. Are we trying to take on too much by going on a road trip to a wedding with kids so young? Or is this one of those things we should muscle through and will be glad we did in the long run?

—Tired of the Indecision

Dear Tired,

Here’s a sentence I’ve rarely uttered (or written): Your husband is right. I don’t know why you are even considering doing this. It’s clear that you don’t want to—not only because you have a whole list of reasons not to go, but because some of the items on the list seem kind of made-up. (Like, the logistics of having a sitter feed a baby don’t seem that complicated—not if you’re already used to pumping.) But you don’t need to convince me, or anyone, including yourself. You certainly don’t need to be concerned with what other families seem to do, only with what’s good for yours. (And yes, I know that’s a lot harder than that breezy sentence suggests. But it’s a really good mantra. Repeat it daily.)

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You’re wondering if you’ll be glad “in the long run,” but I’m not sure what you have in mind when you say this. Glad you had the chance to spend time with your extended family? (You haven’t mentioned that this is something you’re looking forward to, long for, or even wish you longed for.) Glad you avoided their disapprobation, which you fear (but also haven’t mentioned)? Glad you proved to yourself that you are just as hardy as those other families you’re comparing yourself to? Glad you rose to a challenge and forced yourself to do something that exhausts you just to think about?

For what it’s worth, I have a handy method for deciding what to do when the answer doesn’t seem obvious to me. I ask myself two straightforward questions, and if the answer to either one is yes, I do it. Otherwise I don’t. 1) Is this something I am absolutely obliged to do, whether I want to or not? 2) Is this something I actually want to do?

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There are plenty of situations for which the answer to the first question is a resounding yes, but going to this wedding certainly does not seem to be one of them. And it’s obvious that the answer to the second question is also no. So write a lovely note to your cousin, send a thoughtful gift, but for goodness’ sake, don’t feel like you have to “muscle through” this. Life with small children—hell, life in general—is full of difficult things that have to be faced. This isn’t one of them. —Michelle Herman

From: “I’ve Got Two Small Kids. Should I Tough Out a Trip to a Family Wedding I’m Dreading?” (Sept. 15, 2019)

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