For Christmas this year we decided to visit family halfway across the world in Europe. We dragged our 13-month old son on three flights to get there, and 3 more to get back, 6 – 8 hours each. Would I do it again? Not anytime soon… But for Owen to meet his great grandfather, it was worth it, 100%.
As far as children on an aeroplane go, Owen was ideal. Screaming and crying was minimal, he was frustrated but manageable. What we thought was going to be the biggest challenge turned out to be a minor hurdle.
We flew Emirates, so Owen had his own carry on nappy bag and suitcase which was great, and for children his age you can bring along a pram and a portable cot free of charge. It wasn’t until we tried to leave the house that we realised we somehow had to transport three suitcases, three carry on bags, a nappy bag and the stroller (we left the portable cot at home). The physical stress of transferring flights, stowing luggage and hauling bags through the airport had us tired and exhausted by the time we were boarding.
I suppose as a father, I assume everyone who isn’t travelling with children gets annoyed by them. It was important to relax and loosen up, especially for Owen who was just really curious about all these new people and his new surroundings. We walked up and down the aisles for 15 minutes every few hours, saying hello to everyone and even though not everyone appreciated his visit, a lot of people were really cheery about it, and it was better than having a stroppy child.
Our arrival had a whole new set of challenges. After assurances that there were toys and a bed for Owen, we were a little shocked to walk into my grandfather’s apartment and see knick-knacks lining the shelves at his eye-level, two single beds pushed together for us to share with Owen and one teddy bear.
Parenting is such a personal experience with so many different factors, priorities and techniques. With Owen, we have always encouraged exploring, playing, sleeping in his own bed and we try to make little distinction between ‘mine’ and ‘yours’. Owen is allowed to touch ‘most’ of our belongings as long as he’s gentle. But in this small shared apartment, we found ourselves in the middle of an environment which forced us to reassess our parenting and the freedom we gave our son. It was hard and there were times we ended up just leaving the room; maybe we didn’t cope as well as we could have but if there’s anyone who can test your sanity to its limits, it’s got to be family.
As parents we also avoid any smacking. My wife makes the point that teachers in school can’t smack and they need to be able to control your child too. It makes sense, we’re trying to build a safe and secure environment for our children and ‘smacking’ doesn’t fit in with what we’re trying to accomplish.
I know for my mother it’s a hard concept, but for my grandfather it’s miles away from how he was raised. It’s these differences in society and thinking that change the way we parent and influenced how our elders parented. To his credit, my grandfather was great with Owen and Owen loved spending time with him, but I could see the stress building.
There were certainly benefits in removing us from our luxuries at home. Owen didn’t have a high-chair and had to sit at the table, this lead us to start table manner training and Owen has started to really surprise us at how quickly he’s picking it up.
Staying with family was the hardest three weeks I endured with my wife and son, but it was full of some of the best experiences we’ve had as a young family. Even though at this stage of his life Owen won’t have any memories of our trip, there’s a strong chance Owen won’t get a chance to meet many of these family members again. The unpredictability of travelling with children makes it hard, and even if your child is an angel there’s so many external factors that’ll put pressure on you.
If you’re in a similar position, tossing up whether or not to see family abroad, it is hard to find the time and money and deal with the uncertainty of what to expect when you arrive; but I thought it was totally worth it.
I’m Chris, a new dad with fire in my eyes and a floor covered in hard plastic toys and things with wheels. I run a small online baby store with my wife (oohseebee.com.au) and work full time creating content for a software company. Times have changed since I blew my first demons apart in DOOM as a kid, and as I raise my son in a world of political correctness, anti-violence and understanding, it’s more important than ever to be aware of the expectations in schools and society. Parenting is a team effort and even though there are many different types of teams, without my wife I couldn’t imagine fatherhood. Find all of Chris’ articles here.