Toddler on Board: A tale of guilt and self-acceptance


A few weeks ago, my family took a trip to New Mexico to celebrate the 95th birthday of my husband’s great uncle. It was a wonderful time and we had a blast.

I had looked forward to this trip since the moment we booked our flights, but I also had a nagging nervous feeling about flying with our 18 month old. We’ve flown with our son many times by this point. He is a seasoned traveler and has never really had a problem on an airplane.

But the last time we flew with him he had just turned a year old. He was a Toddler on Board redvastly different baby than he is today. He’s a full-on toddler who wants to move, play, dance, talk, shout, sing, etc. He’s not a little baby who will just sit quietly in my lap.

I asked the advice of a good friend who has a son just 5 months older than ours. She suggested loading some trusted shows on the ipad (Sesame Street, Daniel Tiger), to keep our toddler occupied. Check and check. We did this, and in addition to walking up and down the aisles several times, the ipad seemed to keep Jacob occupied for our 2 flights. I recently read that another mom brings hundreds of stickers and a pad of paper for her baby to play with during the flight. Good idea! I’ll be doing this next time as well.

Not one week after our trip, a good friend posted a comment on Facebook about a recent flight she took and the audacity of some parents with toddlers who let them play with their ipads without headphones.

Something inside me just snapped.

I have a toddler. My toddler will not keep headphones on.

I am not a rude parent. I deeply respect the experiences of others, and would have hated to offend any of my fellow travelers on the plane.

The volume of our iPad was not loud, but I could hear it and I’m sure the passenger next to me could hear it. My rationale was that I’d rather hear the faint sounds of Sesame Street for 20 minutes, than endure a screaming toddler for an entire hour. Seems like sound logic , no?

But I took this comment made by my friend completely personally, as if she had written it about me. As if it had been me who had offended her senses on that plane. I thought, “What do you know? I am trying my best! I thought you were my friend.”

Reality check: She was not even talking to me or about me. Why did I get so hurt?

Was it because I had recently been on a plane with my baby and had done the thing that she was so mad about? Was I feeling protective and defending the toddler-ness of my baby (“It’s not his fault that he is active and needs to run, play, make noise, be distracted by any means necessary, etc.”)?

I think when I am honest with myself, it is both. Toddlers aren’t meant to sit in cramped planes for long periods of time. Somewhere in my heart, I feel guilty for putting him through that experience, and feel guilty that I had to distract him with an iPad to make it through the trip. I don’t think it is a big deal that he’s a wiggly kid. I don’t really think it’s a big deal that I had the iPad in use without headphones. The plane is loud and most people could not hear it. He’s more interested in the screen, not the volume. But I do sort of cringe still that friend couldn’t possibly understand the perspective of those parents on that flight, the ones she called rude.

Suddenly I felt betrayed.

Let’s be clear. I know that this was not about me. And I’m over the initial sting of the comment, and my subsequent over-reaction.

But I still do feel guilty about the possibility that I could be the offending passenger on the plane. After feeling a bit defensive, I now just feel embarrassed: My mind races with thoughts like: “Oh my gosh, are we offending people when we are out to eat with our baby, on a plane, out in the store? Surely not! But what if we are?”

I’m not going to be able to answer this question. I’m going to have to be ok with going out into the world with my son and hope that the people around me understand that kiddos wiggle and make a lot of noise. I’m going to also have to understand that there are a lot of people who are trying to enjoy a peaceful plane ride, or a quiet meal in a restaurant without being disturbed. For our next flight, I’ll have to make sure that my son is entertained and able to move around while also remembering to keep our volume low. I’ll also remember to not take every little thing so personally.

By the way, we have a family trip to Virginia for a wedding in 3 weeks. Who has ideas for entertaining a toddler on a 3 hour flight?

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Rachel Carreon grew up in the north suburbs of Chicago and has since lived in Portland, Oregon, Strasbourg, France, and Phoenix, Arizona, but is most proud to call the Rio Grande Valley her home. She works full-time for a national education non-profit as a leadership development consultant, and was formerly a teacher in a k-3 self-contained special education setting. She lives with her husband Robert , their 4 year old son and 2 year old daughter. They also have a blue heeler mix named Huck. Rachel loves cooking for friends and family, running outdoors and all kinds of exercise, and playing outside with her family. Rachel is excited to build community with readers, to share a bit of herself, and to learn from others and their experiences.


  1. First thing, get your baby his own seat and bring his car seat on the plane. Babies should be restrained during flights as it is the safest for them as well as others on the plane ( This also helps them to be more comfortable which leads to them better behaved. They are familiar with their seat, they have their own space and can play and react as they need to in their seat. Being in their seat, they might sleep depending on when you are flying. I have also brought books to read, electronic devices for them to watch even if I have to do it without sound, bring toys that you can interact with them and since they are in their own seat, all of this is much easier to do since you aren’t fighting the wiggles and keeping everything on your lap. I know that traveling with little ones is not easy (I have a 3 year old, a 2 year old and a 6 month old) but you will encounter people who are judgmental but you will also have lots of people who are patient and understand. Don’t worry what others think, do what you need to and never worry about others. Happy travels!


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