I Give Other People’s Children The Mom Look

shutterstock_2111934One of the things that annoys me most about air travel is people who try and pass off huge duffle bags as carry-on. Actually, the most annoying thing on planes is toddlers or little children. So that’s when I pull out The Mom Look.

The Look is something you give to the person behind you who has a child or toddler who keeps kicking the back of your seat. Yes, you may get a “please-don’t-let-that-mother-and-baby-be-seated-next-to-me-look” when you get on the plane with a newborn. But the worst a baby can do is scream or cry. I actually have a lot of patience for parents with babies on planes. I can block out screaming. I can’t block out kicking, however. One can’t put earphones on a back. So I actually don’t find babies on planes as annoying as toddlers or children, especially children who keep kicking the back of your seat.

On my recent holiday to Mexico, I happened to be sitting in front of a maybe 5-year-old who had kicked my chair continually before we even took off. I whispered to my fiancé to do something. It turns out there is sort of a science behind The Look. One has to ask, do you give The Look to the child or do you give The Look to the parent of the child?

The Look, after all, is a non-verbal way to communicate, “Kid, ( or parent of said kid) you are bothering the shit out of me. Stop kicking my chair immediately!” My fiancé, who has sat in front of numerous kicking children, always gives the child The Look first. Sometimes they get it, sometimes they don’t. When a child continually kicks the back of my fiancé’s seat, and after he’s given the child The Look and they don’t stop kicking, he’ll then give the parents The Look. Sometimes this works and the mother or father will tell the child that they have to stop kicking and keep their legs still. And other times, well, The Look doesn’t work at all and the parents are either oblivious to what you are trying to say non-verbally, or they just don’t give a shit.

Even if you haven’t experienced kicking on a plane, you’ve probably experienced it in a movie theatre, especially if you go to see a children’s movie. There’s always a kid kicking the back of your seat. I always give The Look and, for some reason, The Look works better in movie theatres. I’m not sure why. Possibly because there’s more legroom or they are seeing a new movie and totally forget to kick.

I’ve gotten The Look before when I traveled with my daughter. As a toddler, she would kick the back of seats. Since I have a brain, and know how annoying this is for the person in front, I always told her she had to stop. Three minutes later, I would tell her again. Three minutes after that, I would tell her again. And three minutes after that, I’d tell her again. Even now, at age nine, she still has the habit of kicking the seats in front of her.

In my experience as a parent, if someone turns around and looks at you, it’s not because they think you’re cute or want to start a conversation. They are giving you The Look that your child is bothering the shit out of them. Sometimes there’s not much you can do though. Maybe you can go to your “happy place.”

Even as someone who employs The Look, I’m still not sure if it’s right to tell a child who is not your own to stop kicking your chair. Mothers aren’t always the nicest when it comes to criticisms of their child, even if it has to do with kicking the back of your chair. Still, other options seems scarce.

It generally comes down to addressing the parents or the child. I’d be mortified to say to a flight attendant, “Um, that 4-year-old behind me is bugging me. Can you tell him to stop kicking my chair?”  So for now, I’ll stay with The Look and go to my happy place.

(photo: Wallenrock / Shutterstock)

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  • Kate
  • korie

    As the parent of an 18 month old who is about to take an international flight with said child, you’re statement of being impatient with toddlers on flights seems, well, kind of shitty. I’m already pretty stressed out about having to try to handle my typically very well behaved toddler on a 7-8 hour flight without intolerant people turning around and “looking” at me or my child.
    You’re a parent so you must realize that some of us aren’t taking our kids on an excruciatingly long flight for funsies. I’m moving from Europe to America. I don’t really have any options on how to do it nor can I just strap my toddler to a piece of driftwood and float him across the Atlantic just to keep other passengers on the plane from trying to annihilate me or my son with their eyes.
    Yes, I can do my best to bring snacks and little toys and tell my 18 month old to sit still, but in the end, if he has a meltdown or yells or fidgets a lot, it isn’t necessarily because I’m oblivious to him, it’s because he’s a toddler and it’s a long flight.

    Flying with a toddler is stressful enough without having to worry about other passengers being automatically exasperated at the sight of a toddler on board. I don’t neccessarily want to sit next to the overweight lady with sleep apnea who takes the aisle seat, puts on her sleep mask and snores at top volume while blocking the only way out to get to the bathroom or the orthodox Jewish man who prays loudly, rocking back and forth multiple times on a flight, nor do I want to sit behind the guy who reclines his chair back the whole time, giving me hardly any space to read or eat.

    But sometimes that’s just what the airplane gods give me and I don’t ask my husband to give those people a nasty look and I don’t give them a nasty look.
    I suck it up, attempt some tolerance and understanding, and deal with it.

    • AlbinoWino

      i think the author makes a clear distinction between having a baby on board who is crying and that it’s not really something a parent can control and the slightly older child doing something like kicking a seat repeatedly. I regret not giving The Look to a kid behind me on a flight who not only kicked my seat but consistently pummeled it throughout an entire flight. I was in the aisle seat and she kicked so hard that she woke the guy in the window seat in my row…twice. I kept thinking it must have been a toddler but by the time I turned around at the end of the flight, the kid was six! I know this because the crew made us sing happy birthday to that little shit.

      I know, I’m terrible because I think this way and I’m not a parent. But I find it interesting that while flying with my mother at the age of 16 with my sister who was 2, we kept her from kicking the seat in front of her. And even held her legs down momentarily at times to prevent her from doing it. So, no, I don’t buy a lot of the b.s. excuses people put out. Your kid fidgets or speaks a bit too loudly here and there, fine. Kick my seat for an entire flight? Hell no.

    • Justme

      I think there is a difference between an 18-month-old (who in my opinion is still straddling the line between baby and toddler) and a four-year-old who DEFINITELY understands how to behave on a flight. I believe the author is referring more to the four-year-old age range.

    • ipsedixit010

      There’s a toddler being a toddler (occasional meltdowns, fidgeting, etc)….and then there’s a toddler misbehaving (kicking the seat in front of them, screaming, pulling a neighbor’s hair, etc). The problem is, sometimes a parent will think a toddler behaving badly is just a toddler being a toddler. Those people give parents a bad name.

      A 5 year old kicking the seat in front of them is not standard toddler behavior. It’s not appropriate for anyone of any age. If a parent isn’t going to discipline a kid who is acting out, I’ll give the kid The Look, bring it to their attention that I don’t think it’s cute, or summon a flight attendant.

      Just because other people are annoying on planes doesn’t give you – or your kid – a free pass to act like an a-hole. I give people with medical problems and strict religious customs a pass the same as I do with people with babies or who are actively trying to ensure that their kids behave. I’m sure the lady with sleep apnea would love to be able to tell when she’s snoring so she can stop annoying people around her….and, you know, breathe regularly. But if I have to get out of the aisle that she’s blocking, I’m going to bring it to her attention the same way I would if a kid was kicking the back of my chair.

    • Sara

      Agreed. The author makes a clear distinction between babies who cry (yes, it’s annoying, but as long as the parent isn’t just sitting there drinking her Starbucks and ignoring it, what are you going to do? They’re babies. They cry.) and older children who are clearly old enough to know better but whose parents just can’t be bothered to require appropriate behavior. I recently flew alone with my 15-month-old daughter–six hour, nonstop flight–and I brought toys, snacks, etc. and did my best to keep her entertained and happy, but she still cried for some of the flight. Eh. It happens. People around me were fantastically understanding, including the flight crew, who volunteered to take her car seat on the plane and get it buckled in early, thereby saving me from the single part of the experience I was most dreading.

      People who complain about crying babies when their parents are doing the best they can are bing assholes. People who complain about older children who misbehave and ruin everyone else’s experience because they know their parents are too clueless and/or weak-willed to do anything about it are being reasonable.

    • lea

      So your argument is that other people behave badly on a plane, therefore you (and your child) should be given a free pass to do so also? Right.

      Also, are you really expecting other passengers to give a rats about how stressful flying with your child is? Not. their. problem.

      I’m always polite and considerate of other passengers, and expect the same in return.

    • Sara

      I think the point she’s making is that a baby crying isn’t “behaving badly”, but rather being a baby. The passengers you listed are all adults who should be able to behave with a modicum of consideration for others; a baby doesn’t have that level of control. Yes, it’s annoying when babies cry, but beyond a certain point, there’s not a whole lot the parents can do to stop it. There will be situations where a parent has done everything she could reasonably do to prevent and/or calm a meltdown and the baby will still cry, and in those situations I tend to give parents more understanding than ridicule.
      (Although when I fly with my 15-month-old, I do bring earplugs to pass out to people sitting near us in case she’s crying while they’re trying to sleep. I haven’t had to use them yet, but it makes me feel a little better to know they’re available.)

    • lea

      I’m confused, I didn’t see korie mention anything about a baby crying (which is obviously normal and often unavoidable). And I never listed any passenger types?

      My point was that “other people are annoying too” doesn’t seem like a reasonable or considerate way to think. And I guess the post just came across a bit too “I have kids and its soooo stressful and all you people expecting quite are sooo mean”.

      I’m probably a bit jaded after my last flight, where the kids behind me kicked my seat, whinged when they didn’t get what they wanted to eat immediately etc etc. The parents, after some pretty lame attempts at stopping them, just put their headphones in and watch movies. Stopping only occasionally to yell at their children. Actually yell. It was horrific.

    • Sara

      Oops, I guess I didn’t read carefully enough–I thought you had also written korie’s post above, and she was the one who listed the various inconsiderate adult passengers. She has an 18-month-old and was talking about her nervousness over flying with a baby (and I think most people would argue that an 18-month-old really is still a baby, or perhaps juuuuuust at the beginning of the toddler phase) who might cry despite all her best efforts. My point was that I (and I think a lot of other people) draw a distinction between a baby who cries even though her parents are trying their best and the situation that you describe, where older kids who know better and whose parents should be monitoring and correcting their behavior, are allowed to disrupt the experiene of others due to parental cluelessness and/or laziness. It sounds like you’re saying the same thing and we’re basically on the same page.

    • Sara

      And I agree that the fact that others behave like assholes doesn’t give anyone a license to be one too. I find that group mentality is very powerful–people often follow the example of those around them. Which means that if you decide to take the high road and behave responsibly and considerately, those around you will very likely decide to follow suit, either out of a sense of conscience or from simply not wanting to be judged for their bad behavior. Unfortunately, that often means that people will excuse inexcusable behaviors with “But that person over there did it!”
      That excuse doesn’t fly in kindergarten, and it shouldn’t fly with adults either.

    • StephKay

      I think us newer moms tend to be hyper aware or the age stages our kids are going through, and for us an 18 month old is a toddler and a 5 year old is a kid. However I think most of the comments are more defining it the way my mother or grandmother would. 0-2? Baby. 3-5? Toddler. 5-7? Little kid etc… That’s the impression I’m getting from the specific ages mentioned and the behavioral expectations listed. I’ve flown with an 18 month old too, and believe me, he’s still in the baby category. It’s not like he’s going to be mouthing off and deliberately angering people around him due to boredom. I’m sure for the other passengers 18 months is still in “babies cry, that’s life” territory. Obviously you have to keep an eye on tantrums, but a largely pre-verbal baby acting up is WAY different than a 9 year old kicking seats. Hopefully you’ll have the same experience I did flying with my daughter at that age, 5 minutes of tears during take-off, happy as a clam babbling at flight attendants and watching cartoons quietly the entire flight, and sleeping through landing all the way through to the car ride home. It isn’t always as awful as you’d think. Good luck, don’t panic, and welcome to north America!

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=592188905 Bran Chesterton

      When my cat, who has no reasoning abilities and much less room on a plane than a 5 year old, is behaving better than someone’s child, I think there’s definitely someone at fault (and it’s clearly not me or my cat, and really not the kid).

    • Nero

      Here’s a good idea, make sure you have an aisle seat and then when your child becomes fidgety walk him up and down the aisle a couple times. I think that even if he does kick once in a while people will be far more patient with you and your toddler when they see that you’re actively trying to keep him entertained/busy and well-behaved.

  • Tea

    My husband is an ex-preschool teacher and ex-retail, he has no problem with telling kids to mind themselves without being aggressive or snapping, especially if they’re in a possibly dangerous situation a parent finds to be cute or is ignoring (Like the 3 year old climbing the tire wall at a store). Granted, they tend to knock it off when the 6 foot tall bearded man with the deep voice tells them to stop doing things. He’s a sweet guy, but he has the look and the voice down to an art. I have seen a lot of kids respond better to someone else correcting them than parents. His motto is very much that if they can’t handle it, someone needs to (Much more common in the midwest and south)

    And I agree that crying babies are a whole different thing from ill-behaved children, I have huge amounts of sympathy for the embarrassed mom who’s trying everything. I try to lend a hand if I’m in the position to and have even watched a toddler as a parent had to go handle something with a baby. I can’t fathom people thinking a crying baby is “misbehaving”. Though I strongly disagree about going to ” A happy place” with your 9 year old, by that age she should know better and may need a talk about respect and managing her boredom at that age.

    • Mona Munaki

      I travel a lot on business. Ill mannered parents who raise out of control children are the issue. On several occasions, I have asked the mom of a fussy infant if I may hold their baby/child and try to calm them. It has worked like a charm every time. If the baby or child is bored, I provide a distraction or funny faces. Sometimes, just offering a helping hand to a mom traveling alone with more than one child is all that is needed. We often forget in our society that we can help each other…especially as a mother offering a helping hand to another mother.

    • Tea

      I’ve taken quite a few babies to to try to be helpful, I used to babysit as a teenager (I was evidently the only male babysitter in town) and am happy to lend a hand if it helps reel things in or give someone a hand. I may not be a mother (I hope to be a dad some day) but I’m glad to see I’m not the only person who will offer to do this.

    • StephKay

      I hate that we live in a world where people don’t offer help more often. When my daughter was a newborn I had just sat down to eat at an Indian restaurant when the baby started crying, I was mortified and trying to calm her down while juggling coats around trying to get her outside when this little old woman appeared from the back. I guess she was the grandmother of the family that owned the restaurant, must have been 80 years old and looked stunning in a full sari and bindi, didn’t speak a word of English. She just silently walked up to me, took the baby out of my arms, gestured for me to sit and eat and walked off with my daughter. Baby instantly stopped crying, I had an awesome meal, and I got to watch this amazing far more experienced mother gliding around, singing songs in a language I can’t even identify, and just genuinely caring for a total strangers brand new baby. I wish these things happened more often. Those early months are overwhelming and often all the baby needs to quiet down is a change of scenery and for mom to stop panicking. You rock for offering to help with babies, you’ll be one hell of a dad someday :)

    • raeronola

      I’m totally pregnant right now, so this made me cry. THANKS A LOT. :)

    • StephKay

      Ha! This made me lol. I’m actually pregnant again too, and I was getting all teary eyed just typing the story out. I just commented on another post the other day about how when I was pregnant with the baby I mentioned earlier, who turns three next week, I would watch that Susan Boyle “I dream a dream” audition tape over and over and just bawl my eyes out because “no one believes in her and she’s so beautiful and amazing and SOB!”. Best to stay away from anything poignant while pregnant. Let’s go deliver, meet back in five, hold each others babies and cry :P

    • rebecca eckler

      well said!

  • http://twitter.com/JoyceDZ Joyce DZ

    There are teenagers (even adults) on movie theaters that still kick my seat… :D

  • Justme

    I teach (and coach) middle school and have both THE glare and THE voice mastered. I can quiet a gym bustling full of 7th grade volleyball players with one loud “Hey!” but I struggle giving that glare or using that voice with other people’s children.

  • mk

    something tells me when this author’s baby is a four year old kicking the seat in front of her that she’ll find a reason why those people who can’t tolerate her kid having a bad moment are a-holes. flying is terrible for everyone. most people do the best they can. don’t look for ways to hate on other parents, bring a bag of lollipops and look for ways you can help. you’ve been there and you’ll be there if you haven’t.

    • Lawcat

      Letting your kid kick the front of the seat in front of then for a period of time is not “having a bad moment.” Thats a cop out. It’s bad behavior that should be stopped. If a parent is too lazy to discipline their kid when he’s conducting an all out assault against my back, I’ll do it for them or grab a flight attendant to control the problem.

    • rebecca eckler

      i have both a baby and a nine year old.

    • Monica

      I’m glad you said this. MK’s comment reminds me of the mom on STFUParents who was furious that no one offered to help her with her diarrhea-covered infant in a public bathroom. No one else signed up for your kid but you!

      I have a five year-old. She has flown about two dozen times, and we’ve been blessed with having only one bad flight. I spent the entire time apologizing, moving her around, trying to feed and entertain her, keeping her engaged and in a small space, etc. I have plenty of patience for parents who are genuinely trying to control their kids. I have no patience for parents who aren’t, and I have even less patience for parents who are looking for me to “bring a bag of lollipops and look for ways [I] can help.” If I offer to help a parent, which I have, I assure you it won’t be the one who expects me to offer in the first place.

  • DysphoricManiaInk

    I give other people’s kids The Mom Look. You get one look. After that, it’s stern mama voice and no one wants that. If my kid was misbehaving and bothering the shit out of someone, I’d want them to speak up. Lucky, she’s perfect (:

  • ZombieUnicorns

    I was seated in front of hell spawn once. The refused to listen to their mother or myself about how they should not be kicking the seat- or me (at one point, one of the little jerks kicked my arm through the seat/airplane. Luckily for me, a flight attendant saw what was going on and moved them to the front, where they couldn’t kick.

    I see no reason why, if a child is misbehaving in a way that directly affects you, you cannot ask (or tell) the parent to get control over their child. I feel like The Look is a bit passive aggressive.

  • Rachel

    You know, I haven’t been a parent very long (our kiddo is only 8 months old), but I have traveled VERY frequently as a former soldier. Every time a child kicked the back of my seat, I would turn around and ask in a friendly tone, “hey, is there any way you could stop kicking the back of my seat? Every time you do it, I’m shoved forward a little bit, and it’s making my headache worse. Thank you so much.”

    I have NEVER had a child resume kicking after that, nor have I had a parent get uppity at me (although I do understand that’s a possibility). Usually acting like a civilized person makes other people want to do the same, and I’ve also come to observe over the years that most people (not necessarily the author of this post) who think they have some sort of authoritative look just look ridiculous.

    • Sara

      I agree with you on this. I’ve turned around and asked kids to stop kicking my seat in very much the way you describe, and it almost always does the trick the first time. And I’ve never faced a situation where the parent got his/her panties in a twist because I did so.

      I think one of the biggest problems in our society is that people have forgotten to communicate with a balance of directness and civility. Instead, it’s “don’t say anything, but give looks/huffy little noises/pointed gestures and hope they get my meaning, and meanwhile my anger builds and builds until I lose my cool and say something nasty”.

      Sometimes the person who’s annoying you doesn’t even realize they’re doing it–I actually had this happen the last time I flew. The woman in front of me was trying to sleep, and apparently I was kicking the back of her seat (I don’t think I was actually kicking it, but I cross and uncross my legs a lot while flying and I probably wasn’t being careful enough. My bad.) I didn’t even realize it until her husband turned around and explained that his wife was trying to sleep and she would appreciate it if I would be more careful. He was pleasant, I was more careful for the rest of the flight–no drama, no problems. I think people underestimate how far you can get with a little civility and directness.

  • Janet Dubac

    Oh gosh! I have experienced this on one of my flights. Same as you, a little girl repeatedly kicks the back of my seat. I tried to be patient and tried to understand that she is a toddler but I when I was starting to lose my patience, I told her mom who is sitting next to her, “Excuse me, is she your kid?” she said “Yes, Why?” then I calmly told her “I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but your little girl is repeatedly kicking my seat. Can you ask her to stop?” The kicking finally stopped and I looked at her, said “thanks”, and gave her a smile. She said “Sorry.” and smiled back. For me, I think telling the parents is the best option. :)

  • Janet Dubac

    This is surely not a pleasant experience. Every time I encounter this situation, I always tell the parents first calmly and they tell it to their kids. So far, my 4 encounters have been okay. Based on my experience, telling the parents first will do the trick. :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=592188905 Bran Chesterton

    Here is how I grew up in movie theaters/planes: I did something bad, I was told not to do it again. If I did it again, I was told what the consequences would be if I did it again. If I was foolhardy enough to do it again, I was removed from the situation to the closest bathroom or private-ish space and either spanked (controversial, I know) or given a time out that meant missing the movie or missing whatever games/reading was going on in our plane seats.

    I’m not saying kids are always controllable, but I don’t see many parents actively removing their kids from situations anymore (granted, a plane is freaking hard to do that on, but Lord if my mother wasn’t angry enough to do it). “Please stop kicking” doesn’t work the 3rd time, it’s likely not going to work the 10th. After a few trips (we flew a fair bit), I knew not to go past a warning. Discipline shouldn’t be hard for kids who are old enough to understand it (3? 4?), but it has to be followed through with consistently for it to work on those times you REALLY hope they don’t make you follow through.

  • Jesse

    The Look? How about you just ask the kid to stop kicking your seat and explain why it is bothering you? I’ve done this many times and with only one exception the kicking stopped immediately.

    The exception was pretty funny in retrospect. I asked nicely, and the kid was old enough to understand, but like 10 minutes later he started up again. I asked again, and tried to make eye contact with his mother (no luck, she was engrossed in “Sky Mall”). When he kicked my seat again I took my seatbelt off, got on my knees on the seat so I was sort of looming over his seat back, and said in Mom Voice, “Don’t make me come back there!” Then the kicking stopped. I don’t know what made me say that, and I certainly couldn’t have followed through on my threat, but it apparently scared him sufficiently. :)