In a few weeks, my wife and I will undergo our annual marriage stress test—the transatlantic flight with small children.
There may be no greater parenting and marital challenge than surviving up to 25 hours together in a succession of claustrophic buses, airports and airplanes. This year, we have it easy—only an eight-hour flight from Stockholm to Chicago, with a trip to San Francisco a week later... plus the return flights, of course.
Last year, we went from Stockholm to Tucson, then from Tucscon to San Francisco and back (with an overnight delay throw in after we had already boarded the plane) and then, a day later, from Tucson to Stockholm.
I think a part of me is still on those flights.
In a couple weeks, my wife and I will take our seventh transatlantic trip with children, and our second with two children. The dread started months ago, when we first bought our tickets, at the thought of the hours, the restless child, the toddler who'd want to run around, the tossed toys, the stressed and hungry and hot and thirsty... spouse. Can Your Relationship Survive A Road Trip?
Oy, I don't even want to think about it.
Yet these trips are also never as bad as we fear. The kids do not ever really scream. We do not ever really scream. And even though every trip is different because our kids are at different ages and stages (this one will suck because our son is almost 2, meaning we did not pay for a ticket but we have a really big almost 2-year-old to put in our lap), there are a couple rules we follow to keep some semblance of control.
1. Define roles. Some are clear: My wife breastfeeds. I stand in the bathroom with the baby for an hour making funny faces in the mirror. Some are not: Who is going to watch the movie to make sure it's not too scary? Who will deal with the snippy flight attendant?
2. Switch off. This is harder with two kids, but still possible. Even giving each other 15-minute breaks here and there can be a lifesaver.
3. Throw parenting values out the window. McDonalds, hours of TV, sugar, big kid movies. It's all good if it gets me to Chicago in one piece.
4. Compassion. This should go for the every day, but it is especially important on the dark red-eye. Understand that the flight is equally hard for your partner, no matter how annoyed you get.
5. Act like you are never getting off the road, and that the trip is forever. When we leave the house, we essentially act like we've entered a new phase of life. We are simply a family that perpetually travels, that lives in fast food restaurants and airport lounges, that catches sleep where it can. Embrace the life. Adjust to it.
And then it is over. The flights and the vacation. Time to start the countdown... Top 9 Tips For A Successful Visit With The Family