Babies on planes: stop saying sorry – shame is part of parenting

No parent should feel like they have to placate judgmental passengers with treats and apologies when their child has an age-appropriate outburst in a public spaces

baby mother plane

‘For the deliberately child-free, a crying baby can serve as an affirmation of your life choices.’ Photograph: Emmanuel Aguirre/Getty Images

By: Madeleine Somerville/UK Guardian

I first saw it on Facebook: a little bag filled with candy, earplugs and a note, given to fellow passengers sitting by the parents of  14-week old twin boys taking their first flight. The note was written as though it was penned by the babies themselves and read in part: “We’d like to apologize in advance just in case we lose our cool, get scared, or our ears hurt.” At the time I thought it was cute, nothing more. But as dozens of other parents have followed suit and the practice of handing out goodie bags in order to preemptively apologize for the inconvenience of a child crying has gained in popularity and become a thing, it’s also become unsettling.

No parent should feel it necessary to bribe others to accept the presence of their children in public spaces. Period.


These well-intentioned gestures aren’t done out of kindness, they’re done because parents fear being judged, shamed and glared at for the behavior of their child – even when that child is a baby and the behavior in question, crying, is completely natural. Is this really necessary?

When we choose to emerge into the public realm we agree to encounter all manner of people we wouldn’t necessarily choose to spend time with otherwise. And on the scale of undesirable public behaviors, is a baby crying really so terrible? For the deliberately childfree, a crying baby can serve as an affirmation of your life choices.

You may have to listen to this noise for a few hours, but parents the world over have to suffer this unholy cacophony for years, and not just on planes either, but during movie nights, the best chapters of a mystery novel, when they’ve just sunk into a piping hot bath. If an infant starts screaming on your flight just put in your earphones, pat yourself on the back, and sip your gin and tonic in peace.

If you’re a fellow parent, I’ll wager you likely just tune out the noise under the blissful category of “not my problem”. I quite enjoy seeing other people’s children lose their shit in public when I’m temporarily childless. It eases the ache of missing my daughter and makes my own experience a little richer somehow.


baby crying plane goody bags
Apologetic goody bags. Photograph: Christina Galese via Love What Matters

And if it is your child losing their mind on a packed plane, you will likely feel flustered and hot, overcome with the desire to crawl into a hole and die. It’s a horrible feeling and I wholeheartedly understand the wish to avoid it, but to new parents out there: the solution to this hellish mix of emotions isn’t to hand out treat bags in the hopes of placating judgmental passengers, the solution is to just accept it.

Welcome to parenthood.

A few months ago in the changing room of our local pool, my three-year-old daughter asked in her unnaturally loud toddler voice why “that lady has so much hair on her bagina”. I tried to answer her quietly and she didn’t hear me so she repeated herself. Louder this time. While pointing.

Every parent has these stories. Feeling embarrassed at child’s behavior is a basic component of parenting. Children are wildly imaginative, endlessly entertaining and capable of the purest love I’ve ever known, but any parent will tell you that they are also thoroughly unsocialized and mostly uncivilized.

Our job as parents is to, over the course of years, repeat ourselves literally thousands of times about keeping voices down, not hitting, using forks, saying please and thank you, washing hands after using the bathroom, and dozens of other things grown adults take for granted. Until your child begins to master social niceties like not screaming on planes, it’s your job to teach them and their job to learn (and to make some mistakes while doing so).

Parents can’t, and shouldn’t need to, go around handing treat bags to anyone their child might possibly offend with their age-appropriate behavior. We simply have to get on with the business of parenting: correct the behavior when you can, remove your misbehaving child when possible, apologize sincerely when appropriate, and trust that your efforts will result in a child who grows up to be a fully functioning member of society, capable of exhibiting kindness, consideration and empathy.

And, hopefully, one who is able to tolerate with grace and compassion the temporary nuisance of a baby crying on a plane.


Madeleine Somerville

Madeleine Somerville is a writer, blogger, and author of All You Need Is Less: A Guilt-Free Guide to Eco-Friendly Green Living and Stress-Free Simplicity. She lives in Calgary, Canada with her three-year-old daughter and writes


Published by CityFella

Moved to the Big Tomata in the nineties from San Francisco. No Suburbs for me with its single colored houses and lawns and the excitement of pulling out my trash can once a week. I'm a CityFella , a part time New Yorker. I'm happiest in the Center City where people the streets and people are alive. I'm still waiting to buy a 34th floor condo somewhere downtown/Midtown with a nightclub. "Hurry I'm old" My politics are somewhere in the middle with a needle that constantly moves. I'm too liberal to be a Republican and too conservative to be a Democrat. Everything interests me . I've come to love Sacratomato, Its a nice town in cheap sensible shoes .

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