My husband and I recently had a disagreement, which is a pretty rare thing. He gave me permission to share it here; we both believe in having balanced debate and it’s not the sort of thing with a right or a wrong side to be on.
The point of disagreement was about traveling with children. Full disclosure: we don’t have kids, so for us, it’s purely hypothetical. That said, it drives me crazy how parents can shut down a healthy conversation with a non-parent by stating, “You say that now, but you’ll see when you have kids.” It’s impossible to keep having a discussion once that card gets played. I mean, I get it. There’s a lot that I’m sure I can’t imagine or appreciate until we actually have children. And I’m sure that a lot of my opinions will change when we eventually have children. Anyways, I’m getting derailed. I just wanted to preface this whole thing with that caveat and try to circumvent any comments that are nothing more than, “You’ll see when you have kids.” Moving on!
Both my husband and I fully believe that children should be exposed to a variety of cultures, foods, and experiences that can often only be accomplished with travel. No disagreement there whatsoever. Where we disagree is where that threshold is crossed, where a destination or experience is no longer kid-friendly or kid-appropriate. I’m not talking about exposing children to inappropriate things in the ‘sex, drugs, and violence’ sense. I’m talking about the boundary between where a parent feels like they can protect a child and where the environment they’re in takes this element out of their control to an uncomfortable degree.
An example might help. We were discussing whether or not we would be comfortable taking our hypothetical child to Thailand. A popular travel destination, especially for the college crowd, so not exactly off the beaten track, but perhaps not a traditional family trip. For me, this seemed like a pretty reasonable destination to take the family, regardless of the child’s age. For my husband, this was something he would be supremely uncomfortable with. For one, it’s a heck of a long plane ride for a young child, but that’s beside the point. The main issue was that it seemed like a terribly unsafe place to take a kid. What if they got lost? They wouldn’t even know the alphabet, never mind speak the language. It’s such a busy place! Crime is a serious issue. How can you keep a child safe in that environment, as a traveller?
For me, this is no more an issue than it is anywhere in the world. While I totally grasp the concept that some parts of the world are more dangerous than others, if I deem it safe enough for me and my husband than it must be safe enough to bring my child. Children are raised and live everywhere in the world, so I don’t see why that should be a deciding factor in where we go, at all. Does that mean that everywhere is fair game? No. Like I said, I have to deem to safe enough for all of my family, myself included. War-torn countries, areas dealing with epidemics, destinations with notoriously bad crime, particularly against tourists, are all off the table. I’m sure there are plenty of other reasons that would prevent me from going somewhere. All in all, I think I’m pretty conservative in this respect, but truth be told, I think feeling a little uncomfortable and even slightly unsafe is a good thing. It keeps you aware of your surroundings. It makes you consider things like your own prejudices and preconceptions and forces you to deal with them. Is it actually an unsafe situation, or is it just different from what you’re used to experiencing? For me, it’s almost always the latter, and I think it’s important to recognize that. More to the point, though, is that I think it’s important for a child to be raised with an awareness of how other people live, with a cautious but open-minded attitude to new surroundings and experiences. I want to teach my child to be careful and to make safe decisions without being held back by fear.
Before this crosses into ‘preachy’ territory… in the end, my husband and I will deal with these decisions on a case-by-case basis. Traveling with children, exposing them to all the experience we have to offer, is important to both of us. We won’t do anything that we’re not both comfortable with, ultimately. Nor will I pass judgment on the decisions of other parents when it comes to where they are comfortable traveling as a family.
Where is your threshold? What factors into your destination choices when traveling with children?