Posted: Aug 01, 2012 8:00 AM
The problem with parenting on an airplane is that there is no room for discipline. You can't separate your child from the situation and it's difficult to enforce a time-out or take away a toy. I fly with my children monthly and there have been decent flights and horrible flights.

Earlier this summer I flew on a cross-country flight with my husband, my 2-year-old daughter, and my 6-month-old son. We took up the three seats on one side of the airplane, opting to hold the infant in our lap. Generally, I advise that you get every child their own seat on an airplane for long flights. If it's in your budget, you'll have a much happier trip in the air and at your destination. But in this case, it didn't seem feasible. With a family of four, I couldn't decide whether to split up two-and-two or stretch us across the aisle. I foolishly thought that the whole thing would be a breeze with two adults. We were man-on-man defense with plenty of arms to hold the baby.

It was a disaster of fantastically epic proportions.

The first major problem was that our toddler daughter didn't get a nap during the day before our early evening flight. I do not recommend putting a feisty little person in a confined space for 5 hours when they're sleep-deprived.

Our second problem was that we plied her with peppermints. Speaking in a sing-song voice that was meant to disguise my bribery, I unwrapped mint after mint for her pleasure. So I'll fully take the blame for that. She was overly tired and pumped full of sugar. These are parenting fails.

But in our defense, our family flies often. She knows the drill, and so do I. There was nothing that could have prepared me mentally for the combination of events and mood that led to my daughter screaming, kicking, crying (and did I mention screaming?), for 4 hours straight.

By the time we landed I was more of a mess than she was, and my husband was as frustrated as I've ever seen him.

Her meltdown rattled my normally docile young son, so, you guessed it, he cried as long as she did. Which was hours. Upon hours.

I tried everything in my arsenal. Books, games, treats, a stern voice, pleading, huffing to the bathroom for a talking to. All of it. By the time we landed I was more of a mess than she was, and my husband was as frustrated as I've ever seen him.

I know the passengers around me were annoyed, to say the least. There's no doubt you're affecting the plane when the flight attendant arrives at your row cheerfully asking if she can help. But as the situation escalated, every moment thinking that this had to be the worst of it, it was simply more and more clear that we were a volcano of family dynamics.

Afterwards, when we were able to think more calmly and clearly, my husband and I discussed what went so wrong and how we could and should handle it differently in the future. But the fact is that my kids fly almost every single month, and out of all those flights I can count on just one hand the ones that were truly terrible. Not that it matters for the poor people sitting near us on the bad ones.

I have so much more empathy now when I see a parent struggling with their kids on the airplane, in the security line, at the baggage claim. I offer a hand if I can, paying it forward to the dozens of people who have helped me over the years. I know that no matter how awful it feels to have a child's tantrum in your ear in the air, that the parents of that child are having an even more miserable time.

Now it feels like such a luxury when I fly alone. And I always pack headphones.

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