Raising kids in America means being subjected to a large set of rules about what’s safe and best for your children. I semi-religiously adhere to these rules – car seat height and weight limitations, proper etiquette, acceptable tactics for disciplining your children, etc. etc. Most of these “rules” probably reduce statistical probabilities from like 0.5% to 0.4%, but I try not to deviate too much from the norm. Traveling internationally, however, generally requires breaking parenting rules. Or at least bending them. Even if the international standard of the country we visit matches the US, sometimes practically it’s impossible to follow all the rules.
On our recent trip to Hong Kong, I was surprised to find it’s become a lot more baby friendly than our last visit in 2014. The MTR subway system looks to be adding elevators to every single station unlike some other metropolitan cities (*cough cough* LONDON). It seems like car seats are being used more regularly, though they also seem ridiculously expensive. I saw a lot more strollers, too.
Still, like I said, practically, we ended up bending and breaking a lot of parenting rules on our trip. To me, it’s something that just happens on vacation and I’m okay with it. But feel free to judge me if you’d like – we all parent in our own ways. I’d also love to hear what family and parenting rules you bend or break when on vacation, overseas or otherwise. So check out my list and let me know in the comments!
Eating – eat whatever you want, whenever you want
I’d say in terms of strictness, I’d rank us above average amongst American families. It definitely helps that my daughter didn’t realize she enjoyed ice cream until she turned 4 (that’s not an exaggeration). She still doesn’t enjoy the taste of chocolate. But my wife makes sure they eat organic things or whatever and I try not to share my chips with them so we both do our part.
With toddler jet lag and the foreign environment, we got very lax about eating. Everything of course started on the 15 hour flight to Hong Kong. When our kids are cranky, the easiest way to placate them is with food and we did that in spades. Noodles on demand (from the airline) and crackers on demand (from us) meant that we fed our kids quite a bit. You have to make compromises to survive a flight like that so we did.
This continued in Hong Kong as we found our son didn’t have much of an appetite while jet lagged. That meant he got a ton of calories from crackers the first couple of days. Not ideal, but we did it to survive. At meals we didn’t make a big deal about “trying everything” until the kids were better adjusted. To be honest, my thinking went something like this: “Should he be eating so many crackers…….oh shoot he’s rolling on the ground better give him a cracker!” For my daughter: “Hmm…if I let her eat this sour patch kid she will let me close my eyes for two minutes.”
So yeah, all of our eating restrictions went out the window and I don’t regret it one bit.
Night time routines – we’ll do whatever it takes
Building on the food thing, general best practice dictates that people not consume food or drink after they brush their teeth. Crazy, I know. Well, one thing I decided after taking my son for a walk at 2 AM through the streets of Causeway Bay was that I’d do whatever it takes to get him to rest. So although I put him to bed at his regular time, I prepared myself for him to wake up in three hours. Same with my daughter.
By hook or by crook, I would get H as much sleep as possible. One night that meant standing up with him in the carrier. It meant co-sleeping with him every night (which I love doing by the way but he will have none of it at home, so haha sucker!). It meant giving him milk at night to calm him down. I may or may not have given him crackers at 3 AM one night, I honestly could not tell you. I definitely showed him a video (La Luna, I think) hoping he would fall asleep watching it (he did not).
A lot of this was because of his jet lag. As he adjusted, I broke the rules less and less. By the end of the trip I only would give him water if he woke up in the middle of the night. So it’s not like if I took a three week vacation I’d let my kids eat cookies in bed, but at least during those first few days of adjusting, I let a lot of the rules go. And that was just fine.
Escalators – that’s not how you’re supposed to ride
Our most egregious rule breaking probably were riding escalators. Yes, Hong Kong has a ton of elevators and the MTR has made big strides. But our home MTR station, Causeway Bay, did not have an operational elevator because the station was under construction (I think to improve handicap access hilariously enough). They posted agents at the escalators telling you to take your kids out of strollers before riding. They also said if you need help you could call a phone number and people would come to carry you up and down (I think this was for wheelchairs).
So our kids rode their strollers up and down escalators quite a bit the week we were in Hong Kong. Am I proud of it? No. Would I do it again? Most probably definitely. If it’s 2 minutes up the escalator versus 12 minutes wandering around trying to find an elevator, I’ll likely take the 2 minutes every time.
Car seats – we don’t need no stinkin car seats
OK, that’s not really true. I would have loved to have a car seat. But since we planned on taking the MTR for most of the trip, we did not bring one. We brought a mifold (portable booster) for M but knew that H would mostly be going without. Now I’d probably never ride without a car seat in the States. If I’m being honest, it’s more because I don’t want to get a ticket. Which is probably why they give tickets!
But sometimes taking a taxi was the only option and so we rode with H in our laps. And, oops, sometimes we forgot or didn’t use the mifold too, so M was without a safety mechanism as well. It’s not something we enjoyed doing, but it’s something we did to make the trip smoother. I understand that some parents would never ever do that and I totally respect that. I’m certainly not recommending you forego car seats just because you’re traveling, but just being honest in admitting that we did.
Why I’m comfortable breaking parenting rules and why I consider you to at least consider bending them
“Rules are meant to be broken.” While I don’t necessarily believe that 100%, I do sort of operate that way in my normal life. Heck, isn’t that what travel hacking is all about? But I’ve learned a lot while parenting, and one thing I’ve realized is my ultimate lack of control over my children and their futures. When Jess was pregnant with our first, I was nervous all the time. What if something went wrong, what if I am a bad father, what if what if what if? Now that H and M are running around in this world, I have the illusion that I have a greater measure of control than I did when they were in the womb.
But really, we don’t. Parenting rules? They are ways to decrease the statistical probabilities of something bad happening, but nothing can bring those probabilities to 0. Parenting in general? Parenting is a way to increase the statistical probability your child will be a positively contributing, functional member of society, but nothing we do can make that probability 100.
So I’m comfortable breaking parenting rules because sometimes that’s the best option. Everything in life is a give and take. Walk 20 extra minutes to find the elevator but maybe your son will be so overtired they won’t eat and that’s bad for their nutrition. Milk might hurt their teeth at night, but lack of sleep might hurt them more. We can’t control everything. So I’m comfortable when I need to bend or break the rules because I know I’m just doing my best to put my children in the best situation possible for them. And yes, I am well aware that traveling internationally with these little kids comes with a bunch of cons – but I believe the pros outweigh them.
Anyway, bottom line is, we can only control so much and sometime we need to make compromises. That’s something I encourage all parents to do whether they are traveling or not. Parenting means meeting our kids where they are, and sometimes that means bending hard and set parenting rules at the very least.
Like I said, I’m not telling you to break the rules all the time. I’m just sharing that sometimes when we are on the road we let some of the rules go by the wayside, and I’m okay with that. I don’t think that makes me any worse of a parent (though I’m sure some others might think that!). I’d love to hear people’s thoughts in the comments. Are there rules you break with your kids when you travel? Or when you’re at home? Let me know, and let’s have a mature discussion about it.