To The Mom Who Spanked Her Child On Our Flight, I'm Sorry

by Christine Burke
Originally Published: 
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To the mom who was on my flight last week, I want to say I’m sorry.


I was tired, too, when we climbed aboard that tiny, cramped plane bound for the little town in which we live. It was late and the plane was slightly delayed. I could tell when I saw you that your day had been longer than mine since your exhaustion was written all over your face. You were carrying your little boy, probably no older than three, and he was already squirming, no doubt at the end of his rope, too.

I’m sorry I didn’t say anything when I noticed how tired you were.

As I settled into my seat, next to my husband and across the aisle from my teenaged kids, I busied myself with making sure my book was nearby and that I had my earbuds handy. And then I put my head back on my chair and closed my eyes for a few minutes to catch my breath.

I’m sorry that I have forgotten how much damn work it is to travel with toddlers. You see, I’m at the light at the end of the tunnel everyone keeps telling you is coming. And, as much as I’d like to say that I am sensitive to moms in your shoes, sometimes I truly forget how fucking hard it is to herd a child across an airport to a city in another part of the country.

I’m sorry I forgot traveling with your toddler was damn hard for you that day.

The pilot seemed to take his sweet time navigating the plane to the runway and as the plane gently bumped and swayed, your little boy loudly let the plane know he was uncomfortable in his seat belt. Though you were several rows back from me, I could hear other passengers sigh in annoyance and saw them turn their heads in your direction.

I’m sorry I wasn’t able to catch your eye and give you a smile of solidarity, a kind word or a “I’ve been there, too” face of support.

When the plane finally lifted off the ground, your son’s ears started to bulge under the pressure of flying and his cries filled the cabin. I could hear you trying to hold on to the tiny shreds of patience you still possessed as you did whatever you could to comfort him. I, too, have been the mom who felt stressed when my child was tired and his emotions spilled over on a very public scale.

I’m sorry I couldn’t get up out of my seat during takeoff to help you comfort him or have an extra child’s toy to offer him as a distraction.

For the duration of the flight, you had a difficult time. I could hear it in your voice and my heart ached because I have been you more times than I can even count. Toddlers are hard on a good day. At 35 thousand feet and late at night, toddlers are unbearable. Believe me, I know. And, that flight was bumpy, too, so the Captain made us stay put in our seats. Safety always comes first, yes, but not being able to let your toddler stretch his legs was torture, I’m sure.

I’m sorry I couldn’t get out of my seat and come play “peek a boo” with him for a few minutes. I remember other parents doing that for me on flights with my toddlers and it always helped.

When we started our final approach into our destination, your poor son was exhausted and so done with his day. And I could tell you were, too.

Your patience was gone.

I could hear the tears on the edge of your voice, I could hear your complete and total frustration.

And when you lost your patience, you spanked your little boy.

He howled.

You started to cry.

And so did I.

I am so very sorry I couldn’t be there to help, dear mama.

I’m so very sorry that no one else came to your rescue, either.

That plane full of passengers failed you in one of your worst moments. And I’m ashamed of us.

I could hear you apologizing to your boy, telling him how sorry you were that you’d lost your patience, that you were ashamed of your action.

I’m sorry I couldn’t get up out of my seat and hold you as you cried. Because that’s what you needed in that moment. You needed a bit of grace, a helping hand, a kind word.

Parenting is hard and exhausting, and when you are dealing with a toddler tantrum alone, it can feel overwhelming.

I’ve been there, too. I’ve lost my patience. And I’ve been the one apologizing to my toddlers for losing my patience.

I’m sorry I didn’t do a better job of making you feel supported when parenting became too tough for you. I’ll do better the next time I see a mother in distress. And I hope someone else does a better job for you, too.

We are all in this together, mama.

I see you and I hear you.

No judgment here, I promise.

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