Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Of Unnecessary Apologies

A couple of days ago, this picture went viral on Twitter, by some accounts being viewed over a million times.

It is a note, accompanied by a goody bag, which parents of twin infant boys handed out to their fellow passengers on a flight. It reads:
“Hello! We're twin baby boys on our first flight and we're only 14 weeks old! We'll try to be on our best behavior, but we'd like to apologize in advance just in case we lose our cool, get scared or our ears hurt. Our mom and dad (AKA our portable milk machine and our diaper changer) have ear plugs available if you need them. We are all sitting in 20E and 20F if you want to come by to get a pair. We hope you have a great flight!”

At first, I thought it was sort of cute, albeit in a needy sort of way. But the gushing response from multiple quarters got me thinking about it and then I started to get a little irritated.

Here's a typical example of the response this photograph got on Twitter. (Don’t miss the fact that this was retweeted by 2357 people at last count)

Mainstream media was not far behind with their praise for the parents’ gesture. A sampler of the verbal applause:

In case you haven't guessed it yet, I am not a part of this ever-expanding laudatory camp. Why did these parents feel the need to be so apologetic about flying with their kids? I could still have understood it if they had done this in a fine dining restaurant or a movie hall or any other place where other adults are perfectly justified in expecting a kid-free environment. But when it comes to airplanes, babies have as much of a right to be there as the next person and anyone who thinks otherwise can cough up the money to fly business in one of those airlines where children are only allowed in economy.

Many words have been used to describe this gesture. Brilliant. Awesome. Thoughtful. Considerate. Polite. I have my own set of words. Needy. Defensive. Apologetic. And most of all, Unnecessary. I see absolutely unnecessary no need for us to have to apologise for our children doing what normal children will do, in a place where they have every right to be. And we definitely should not feel the need to have to bribe people to ‘placate’ them for having to ‘tolerate’ our kids.

This increasing intolerance of children in public spaces is starting to get pretty bothersome. The idea that we should keep our kids away from these places or feel apologetic or defensive about their presence there is bordering on the ridiculous.

From the responses to this note, it is pretty clear that many people do think that it is an intolerable imposition to have to travel with a young child on the same flight. And that the fact that these parents chose to compensate them for the impeding ordeal is not only admired, but enough people have suggested that more of us should take a leaf from their book. 

In my opinion, stuff like this just sets a bad precedent. It plays into their belief that they are being imposed on by us lot. I personally refuse to feel defensive or apologetic about flying with my kids. If having babies on your flight bothers you, bring your own ear plugs and comfort foods.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Ro - am totally with you on this one! I didn't even get it at first! What? THey are apologizing?!
    Then I got it - yeah, they are indeed apologizing.

  3. Anonymous7:31 pm

    The world has no problem with well behaved kids. It's bratty kids and parents who think bratty behavior is cute and refuse to calm them down which is the problem. I think this was a nice way for the parents to let the other passengers know that they know kids are noisy. Many parents could learn a thing or two from these.

  4. Rohini, in our culture we would, mostly, accept babies to be babies. But in Western cultures generally children seem to be considered well behaved if they are seen and not heard ( or heard to a minimum and softly). So, the overwhelming positive response would not be considered out of place at all.

  5. Honestly I am still sitting on the fence on this one...on one hand, what they did seems really cute, on the other hand, what you say makes sense..I must admit I do apologise to people around me if R gets too cranky in the aeroplane..infact even in the BEST bus!

  6. [Noon] Absolutely, they are.

    [Anon] These were 14-month old babies. Too young to be bratty. In general, people seem to have the biggest problem with babies crying. And that is one thing that the parents cannot always have control over. I agree with you about parents not controlling kids behaving badly but even then the solution lies in better parenting, not bribery

    [HGM] You'd be surprised at how things are changing even here. I got yelled out by a passenger sitting in front of me because she couldn't nap because my children were talking constantly. They were just talking as they always do - no tantrums, no whining. And it was a short haul, day flight.

    [R's Mom] I do that too. It's fine to apologise to people sitting around you if your kid acts up. It's quite another thing to apologise to the entire plane in advance and 'compensate' them.

  7. I cannot agree with you more about the intolerance of children in public and, I daresay, even private places. People seem to forget that they were children at some point and there is an increasing need to provide separate spaces for children and for adults. IMHO, the more my child hangs out around adults, the more he learns to interact with them positively and not just "be a child". Don't even get me started on the number of things adults can learn from hanging around children! That said, this act of advance apology does seem like a little bit of fun and just lightens the air. It would really be hard to be grumpy if you got a bag of sweets :)

  8. i travelled when my baby was 9 weeks old. i was worried and read up on the net before i travelled. I saw the ear-plugs n gifts suggested on the babycenter site.

    we are getting intolerant about children, and i cannot begin to say what parents go through when they fly with kids in those enclosed spaces.

    regarding this case, i completely go with fortyfiveminutes' opinion. I will link you when i write about my travel experience.

  9. Yes a tad too defensive for me too. Am okay with the sense of humour, but no need to apologise at all.

    At the other end of the spectrum we do have folks who will let their kids loose in a confined public space and actually laugh. One time a 6-year old plastered shoe polish all over my laptop screen and then onto a length of white fabric that happened to be nearby, and next on the walls and the fabric covers of the sofa. Thankfully the thing came off my screen. BUT the grandparents did not say a word, they simply laughed.

  10. Vidya9:53 am

    As a mom of 18 month old, rather active twin boys, I have received my fair share of annoying glances and unasked for advice on how to get them to be quieter on flights. That has not kept us from traveling, nor have I felt like handing out "sorry bags". I do apologize and ofcourse try my best to keep them as quiet and entertained as possible, but it is what it is..

  11. [45 minutes] Yeah, I admit their gesture was sweet but the fact that they felt it was required and language of much of the praise was what has got my goat.

    [Arunima] Look forward to reading your take.

    [Choxbox] Yikes! Yeah, that is very irritating. But in more cases than not, I see parents making a genuine effort to minimise the bratty behaviour.

    [Vidya] Exactly. It is what it is.

  12. Anonymous10:04 pm

    This bothered me so much when someone posted it on my wall. Couldn't agree with you more and so glad you're blogging again.


  13. Anonymous2:47 am

    Although I do agree with you I have come across one too many times parents who have absolutely no control over their kids. It is these parents who give other "good" parents a bad name. Yes, this particular episode is a bit OTT.

  14. I can think of a lot of ppl who can apologise - The super-fat guy who steals your arm space, the lady who coughs into your face and never uses a hanky, the guy who listens to his Ipod so loudly you can barely hear your own thoughts, the one who had body odour or the one who had flatulence.

    I would say all of them sound like normal human conditions and what you get from co-existing on planet earth.

  15. I agree with you. There is no need to apologize for kids behaving like 'kids'. Unfortunately, parents are confused between 'bad behaviour', 'public behaviour' and 'being a kid'.

    Playing word games in a low voice on the flight, as against running around the restaurant once they finish their meal.