In the moment, I kind of freaked out when my buddy mentioned that he flew with three children under eight years old, alone. I put my hands up and said, “What! No. No. Are you bonkers?” We laughed about it for a moment. He told the story of people at the airport supporting him. One woman helped with his older son on one of the flights just because he clearly needed it. He almost missed his flight because the stroller wouldn’t collapse. When he got off the plane, another parent gave him a high five.
Ultimately, he said it was horrible. I had no doubt that it was.
As he spoke, I told him he was amazing. I gave him praise. I mentioned that I’d never flown alone with kids, nor did I ever want to.
Our children were playing in the back yard. My wife was sitting next to me, his wife was at the head of the table. We were done eating. We were all just chatting. And as he spoke, I looked over at his wife, and although she was smiling, and sometimes laughing, there was something else about her. Something about the way she was looking her husband, and then back at me, that just didn’t sit right. I got the impression that she’d probably flown alone with her children before. And if she hadn’t, I have no doubt that she’d done something equally as sucky alone with kids, and no one — not a single person — gushed over it like I was over her husband flying alone.
But it wasn’t until I looked at my own wife and her tightly drawn lips of disappointment that seemed to say, “I thought you were better than this,” that I started to realize my error.
I mean, honestly, how many times had I seen a mother walk through an airport, a child at the hip, two children trailing behind, 80-something bags crisscrossing her body, her eyes a deep weary, her children begging for snacks and toys and asking to be held as if she actually had a free hand? I didn’t know the answer because it was somewhere between a million and infinity. In fact, I cannot recall going to an airport and not seeing a mother in that situation.
Now a father flying alone? Not so much.
And that’s probably why my friend stood out when he flew with his kids, because it just doesn’t happen nearly as often. And when it does, everyone, including me, gets all worked up about it. We make a big deal of the situation like it was some exceptional thing, same as running into a burning building to save a child.
Regardless of the gender, taking young children to the airport alone sucks. Taking young children to the airport with help sucks. Traveling anywhere with young children, regardless of the parental support, sucks. But that doesn’t mean parents won’t travel, or don’t travel, and it doesn’t mean that when a father travels alone it is any more significant than when a mother does.
But honestly, we do this all the time, right? We dish out praise when a father goes shopping alone with children. We do it when a father gets up in the middle of the night, or makes dinner, or attends parent teacher conferences. We get all worked up as though it’s something exceptional when, in fact, it’s just being a parent.
I’m not trying to say I’m any better than anyone else here, because there I was, at the table getting all worked up over a man doing something a woman does all the time. And I’ll be honest: I thought I was better than this. I thought I’d come so far as an egalitarian father that if something like this came up, I’d be able to see right through it.
But then, boom, I didn’t. It wasn’t until his story was finished, and I’d stopped getting all goofy over it all that I stopped, thought, and then looked over at my friends’s wife and said, “I’m embarrassed. What your husband did was great and all, but honestly, if you’d done it, I wouldn’t be having this big of a reaction. And that’s sad. I’m so sorry for the way I reacted.”
Naturally, this took some of the wind out of my friend’s sails, but at the same time, I could tell that his wife appreciated it.
But that’s the thing with moving forward to being partners in this whole parenting gig. It’s going to take a lot of moments like this, where parents take a step back and wonder if the praise they are expecting, or receiving, is actually because of their gender. This isn’t to say that going to the airport with kids alone doesn’t deserve praise. It surely does. But if we are going to praise fathers for it, we sure as hell better be praising mothers because they are the travel champions.
So if you see a mother at the airport, offer to help. Tell her she’s awesome. Give her a high five. Give her some praise same as I did when I found out my friend took his children. And if you see a dad, do the same. The last thing I want to do here is start limiting the praise, because honestly, parents need it. But what I do want is to see it balanced.