I think it’s a common fear amongst parents who travel with their children. What if they misbehave? What if they start screaming and throw the worst tantrum ever? What if people look at us and think, “Those tourists with the awful kids should just go home.” The fear of children acting out keeps many parents from traveling while their kids are young and unpredictable. Nobody wants to be those parents or those tourists.
As parents, we’re already acutely aware of the judgmental stares and muttered comments that can accompany a child’s public outbursts. Do we really want to brave the stares of strangers who will judge not only our parenting abilities, but the whole nation and culture we hail from as well?
That’s right. I went there. We all know it’s those American children most likely to be the source of loud, inappropriate wailing at an otherwise civilized tourist attraction. It’s never the Asian child. And certainly never the French child. It’s the American tourists who can’t keep their kids in line.
Or is it?
The more I travel now as a parent, the more aware I am of all the other parents traveling with their kids. And I look for it. I look for the stressed, angry parents. I watch covert chocolate bribes go down between frazzled parents and bored, vocal threenagers. I listen for the tired, whining kids and high-pitched squeals. Even in another language, a whine still sounds like a whine.
So is it just American kids that act out while traveling? My completely unscientific observations are starting to reassure me this isn’t the case. I watched as a toddler on the steps of the British Museum pitched a fit and threw himself onto the ground in an uncontrollable rage while his embarrassed parents uselessly attempted to shush him. And the best part? His mortified parents weren’t speaking English. I’d love to tell you they were French (because I’m really tired of seeing articles about superior French parenting skills in my News Feed), but I’m pretty sure they were Italian. And guess what? Two of my three kids were sound asleep in a stroller as it happened and my oldest was on her best behavior that whole day. (But we did have that unexpected Mommy Moment at the British Museum.)
When we flew to the States this summer, the only toddlers crying and inconsolable on the plane weren’t speaking English. It was a southeast Asian family and Eastern European family responsible for the outbursts. And that made me remember the Arab children on all our flights in the Middle East before I became a parent. Lots of kids screaming and kicking and climbing on seats during our flights. Even before becoming a parent, I was one of those passengers who’d engage in a game of peek-a-boo or offer to hold a restless baby. Maybe I just wasn’t bothered by kids being kids before I became a parent and then became acutely aware and over-sensitive to every public squawk my kids make once I was a parent?
Kids will be kids. Whether they’re safely within the soundproof walls of my house or exploring famed landmarks or cooped up on a plane. I still drag my kids to the grocery store once a week and risk public misbehavior, so why do I fear potential travel outbursts so much more? I think it’s because, at least as we travel through Europe, I don’t want to be those stereotypical ugly American tourists who can’t control their kids.
I have good kids. I really do. They have their moments when they’re over-tired or over-stimulated or just moody-for-no-good-reason. But overall, I really do have terrific kids who put up with and even enjoy their parents’ insatiable appetite for travel and adventure. And, as our frequent travels attest, I’ve decided not to let fear of my kids acting like kids keep me from traveling with them.
Perhaps to overcome any remaining fear about traveling with my kids I decided to go on an epic train adventure across Scotland with them. Any my husband only joined for the 36 non-train hours of our five day adventure. It was just the kids and I traversing Scotland by train.
Something completely unexpected happened on that journey. In fact, it happened multiple times. My kids were at the receiving end of compliments. Nearly ever leg of our train ride ended with compliments from fellow passengers. An elderly Scottish couple remarked on their excellent behavior. Two young American tourists praised them for being such great helpers. The other couple at breakfast at our B&B in Thurso complimented my children’s table manners.
There were a few tears along the way. There were brief obstinate showdowns over a certain child putting on his own shoes. There was an angry 14-month old who didn’t appreciate not being allowed to roam the train aisles like his siblings. But overall, my kids were excellent. In fact, I’d say they rose to the occasion. It was as if they realized mommy needed extra help since daddy wasn’t around and they acted like little adults (well, the two older kids at least). They were given extra responsibility and they shined.
My kids weren’t those kids and I wasn’t that parent. I’m sure another day I will be humbled again by the untimely and inappropriate behavior of one of my kids in a very public venue, but for now I am going to bask in the knowledge that my kids improved the international reputation of American kids. Too bad it only takes one incident to make everyone forget all those well-behaved moments. Oh well. In the meantime, I’ll continue my unscientific study of tourists and their misbehaving children of ALL nationalities.