Traveling with children can be challenging. Here are some reasons to be grateful in the midst of food allergies and messy tantrums!
A young businesswoman walked by me at San Diego airport. She turned, looked at the baby in my arms, smiled, and said, “She’s absolutely perfect.”
I thanked her, but felt compelled to say, “She cried all the way from New York.”
“She’s beautiful,” the woman repeated and walked on. Why do we dwell on the worst parts of travel with kids? How can we have better attitudes? Travel with children can be tough.
Even if your car runs fine, if everyone stays healthy if you don’t miss any flights or lose that beloved teddy bear, it is stressful. Kids miss their routine. They tire more easily. It’s even harder if our children have special needs.
1. Give thanks for our children.
As New Orleans’ Saints tight end Benjamin Watson wrote, when we travel with our kids, we forget to be thankful. After he and his wife got their four kids under seven through TSA and onto a plane, Watson admitted that he was “a bit perturbed that his kids were acting like…kids.”
For us with children with special needs, it’s harder. Our kids may have sensory issues that make it hard to cope with noise and unfamiliar sensations. Because our son with AD/HD couldn’t tolerate long drives, we rarely drove more than three hours a day. How much more complex travel can be for those managing mobility issues.
Food sensitivities complicate travel, too. We plan and pack extra. But if your child needs protein, or gluten-free, or amine-free, and you’ve run out, what do you do?
It took a stranger to remind Benjamin Watson that his kids are a blessing. A flight attendant told him it was “so great to see a big family,” explaining that he and his wife were childless after twenty years.
Ouch. Yes, our children are blessings to thank God for.
2. Give thanks for safe travel.
On some horrible days, our children may behave like heavily-disguised blessings. But we cringe at the thought of them getting hurt. Safe travel is a blessing we usually take for granted.
My recent trip to West Africa pointed this out. Our buses broke down three times in 260 miles and 110 degrees. We were thankful for shade while waiting, for water, and for arriving, finally. Instead of saying “Bienvenue” (“Welcome”), the West Africans say “Bonne arrivée!” (literally, “Good arrival!”).
Arriving is good.
3. Recognize who’s in charge.
Travel with kids shows us we aren’t really in charge. Though we plan carefully, things go awry. Travel exposes our limitations. I forget things and I don’t plan perfectly. Travel also exposes the limits of our power and character.
Mommy can’t always make it better.
Will I remember not to snap at my husband and nag my kids? Will I remember that God is in charge, and be content? Will I trust he will work everything out for good?
4. Remember why you travel
In his book A Praying Life, Paul Miller describes his first speaking trip with his autistic daughter Kim. Paul had wanted to give his wife a break. She was overjoyed to have a respite instead of solo duty. Despite years of caring for Kim, Paul hadn’t realized how hard this weekend trip would be.
When they got to the airport, he discovered Kim didn’t have a book, didn’t want TSA to scan her speech computer, and didn’t want to turn off her CD player for takeoff. Each disappointment moved her closer to a meltdown, her low-pitched whine announced. As other travelers stared, her dad was helpless and embarrassed.
At the conference, Paul saw the hidden blessing of travel with his daughter. While he was the speaker, he received lots of attention and praise. But the humbling travel difficulties reminded him why he was traveling: to serve God through teaching and to give his wife a weekend off—not to build his reputation.
Most of us aren’t traveling with kids to serve at conferences, but we can all benefit if we remember why we go—because we must bring them as we work, to spend time with family, to get our children special care, or perhaps to show our children beautiful, historic, or fun places. Focusing on our purpose can help strengthen our resolve to be patient in difficulties.
5. You’re not responsible for what others think or do
On the road and at home, we are responsible for our behavior and attitudes. We are not responsible for the reactions of others. If a child melts down on a plane and our seat-mates are obnoxious, we can sympathize with their discomfort.
We can apologize to them for forgetting to pack the teddy bear or special food. We can learn from our mistakes. But we can’t parachute out of that airliner (much as we might wish to), and we aren’t responsible if others decide to be nasty.
6. Look for what you can enjoy
Finally, keep looking for blessings, even small ones. Last year, I sat behind a grandfather taking his two small grandsons on their first flight. From the first rush of accelerating to take off, to the shrinking objects below, the six-year-old by the window was thrilled.
Over and over, he exclaimed, “I thought it would be great, but this is really great!” We strangers sitting behind him couldn’t help grinning. His joy was infectious.
Our kids can help us see pleasures in a trip that we might otherwise miss. So enjoy the journey, as best you can. Then, enjoy home.