Family Dynamics on the Road

by Dee Andrews

caution bumpy road signExtended travel with your family can be a bumpy road sometimes. We’re having one of those mornings, right now. Live. We are back on the road, living and traveling for five weeks this summer. We are in week two, the initial excitement wearing off, and I have been frequently reminded why moments in our year living in Spain were so hard… when you spend all of your time together, on top of each other in small spaces, tensions start to rise. Grace and courtesy are thrown out the window. Kids like to argue.

My daughters are making muffins this morning, but like most siblings who are 8 and 11, it’s turned into, “Don’t boss me.” “I want to do it.” “No, that’s not the right way!” My patience is waning. The only thing keeping my in this is the writing material. My husband’s patience was gone eight minutes ago. He’s managing to hold his tongue while he’s answering work emails and keeping one eye on the Tour de France.

I try to remember that my children are learning great social skills here.
These are the opportunities to understand what can and can’t be said, what buttons to push, what consequences come about because of their words and actions. Reminding myself that this is a learning opportunity, that siblings have a great impact on shaping each other, helps me hang in there. I’ll give them another minute.

Extended travel and location independence has many benefits, and I am excited that we are trying to make it work for our family on a regular basis. I appreciate the slower pace it allows and the chance to blend in with the locals, to really experience a new place. It gets us out of our routines and allows for great time together as a family. We play more board games together, read aloud, share stories over long meals. But living on the road requires some new rules too. It’s a hybrid of life and vacation, and with that comes an interesting blend of family dynamics. You’re not in your “normal” life routines but you’re not fully on vacation either. You’re in this middle place… baking muffins, answering emails, home-schooling, and then exploring the volcano or going to the beach. Rules and consequences and strategies you have at home all seem to change. It’s new terrain that takes some figuring out, negotiating, and compromising. Maybe it was easier traveling with them when they were babies?

You might wonder how I am managing to philosophize in the midst of my children’s bickering… my husband called “enough” a couple of minutes ago and the girls are each in one of the two bedrooms in this condo. Time-out. It’s blissfully quiet. My husband reunites them and sets down the reconciliation rules. I hear them in one of the rooms, whispering. They finally emerge, ready to cooperate and bake together. At least until lunch time.

Please tell me your kids argue too, whether traveling, at home, or in-between! It’ll make me feel better.

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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Marc July 10, 2010 at 10:02 am

Hi Dee!

Yes, our kids argue and bicker, too – especially when they’ve been cooped up together for too long (feel better?). It wasn’t as much of a problem on our RTW trip, as we were all too busy navigating unfamiliar environments, and we were almost always doing the same thing. But back “home” living in a small apartment and homeschooling, it’s become more of an issue – especially when we’re trying to get our own work done.

I admire your ability to put it all into perspective – it really is a learning experience, and those great moments of family togetherness make it a worthwhile effort!

I’m glad to see you’re back on the road – keep experimenting!

Perhaps it would be easier to just let our kids live their separate lives of school and sports, to stay in one comfort zone all the time – but I’d rather they learn to deal with the unfamiliar and adapt to change. Hopefully it will serve them well later in life.
.-= Marc´s last blog ..Are You Ready to Declare Your Independence =-.

Dee July 21, 2010 at 1:19 pm

Whew, glad to hear I’m not alone, Marc!

I agree I’d rather my kids learn to deal with the unfamiliar and adapt to change versus life just smoothly rolling by. My sister employs college students, and she always has these stories, amazing to me, of how few of them can cope with stress or take initiative. Obviously not all, but her stories remind me of the negative impacts of helicopter parenting and solving our kids’ problems for them.

I don’t remember, did you homeschool before your RTW or is that a new change since your return? Do you get the summer off?

Marc July 21, 2010 at 2:16 pm

We didn’t start homeschooling until we left for our RTW – but since then we’ve drifted into the “unschooling” camp. So it’s really hard to say when we are “off” or “on”.

I’m still getting the hang of it, but it’s a lot less stressful than the elaborate homeschooling schemes I started out with!
.-= Marc´s last blog ..Are You Ready to Declare Your Independence =-.

Rachel Denning July 25, 2010 at 7:50 pm

We have experienced similar challenges. We’re currently expecting our fifth, and our kids argue on and off the road.

Besides that, they still throw tantrums and refuse to cooperate at times when we (desperately) need them to (they’re still very young, our oldest is 7, the youngest 3).

I can’t remember the number of times my husband has thrown up his hands in frustration and said “Forget it. We’re not traveling anymore until they’re older.” But of course that never happens 🙂 Somehow it wouldn’t be worth the trade-off.

Dee July 26, 2010 at 12:33 pm

@ all expat parents out there: Apparently there’s a psychological name for what our children are going through, ECS, or Expat Child Syndrome. While I think it’s kind of funny to label it, I did find the article fairly accurate in describing what our family experienced moving abroad.

@ Rachel, I can’t image living on the road and traveling with five children. You and your husband must have the patience of Job. I admire your courage to follow your dreams no matter the challenges.

Kristy July 27, 2010 at 1:27 pm

Last month, I was right there with you. At some point during every trip, my husband and I ask ourselves (over the squabbling of our 3 girls)…
And then I remember. We could be at home with the squabbling or I could be in (our destination) with the squabbling.
I always come to the conclusion that learning to be flexible and maybe even a little bit uncomfortable is not necessarily a bad thing.
.-= Kristy´s last blog ..Park It =-.

Cheryl August 4, 2010 at 5:37 pm

I smiled to read your line about whether it was easier to travel with babies…we just returned from our RTW adventure. People ask how difficult it was to travel with our four year old, but our 13-year-old was much more challenging! The outcome of the the difficult moments is a tight-knit crew that knows each other better than ever, for better and worse!
.-= Cheryl´s last blog ..Sacred in the Real World =-.

Dee August 6, 2010 at 4:06 pm

@ Kristy

I agree completely about flexible and uncomfortable learning; I don’t think our kids get enough of that these days.

I have really enjoyed learning about your blog Simplicitas. Simple living and always learning are two things I aspire too! I figure they are two things at which no matter how hard you try, you can always remember to do more (or less, however you choose to look at it!)

~ Dee

Dee August 6, 2010 at 4:18 pm

@ Cheryl,

So glad you found Travel and Travails, because that sent me to your blog, dear Family, about your RTW travels. OMG, your photographs are amazing! You took the pictures I wanted to take had I better talents and camera! I can’t wait to armchair travel with you.

Loved the scene of your family in the Berber village, our travels to Morocco were similar though the Purell question unique to your son!

Love your life philosophy! ~ Dee

Myrna Beard December 23, 2010 at 4:04 pm

We have experienced similar challenges. We’re currently expecting our fifth, and our kids argue on and off the road. Besides that, they still throw tantrums and refuse to cooperate at times when we (desperately) need them to (they’re still very young, our oldest is 7, the youngest 3). I can’t remember the number of times my husband has thrown up his hands in frustration and said “Forget it. We’re not traveling anymore until they’re older.” But of course that never happens 🙂 Somehow it wouldn’t be worth the trade-off.

My Traveling Troop June 17, 2011 at 9:50 am

Well, I only have one kiddo. But my husband and I can act like bickering kids when we are traveling, especially if it’s a road trip. ha ha. But usually, that all subsides once we get to our destination and start to relax and have fun.
My Traveling Troop´s last blog post ..Necesito Practicar Espanol

tonya October 14, 2011 at 4:55 pm

We are in the early planning stages of our eye trip with our 3 kids, 18, 11, and 10. We are excited and nervous because we have never homeschooled. Can anyone give me the children’s perspective. And for a family of five, we are concerned about cost. We figure a year to be bout $100,000 to $120,000 but I don’t want to underestimate and be miserable. We want to travel Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia. Spending most of our time in Asia and Africa. Is this a realistic budget?

Dee Andrews October 16, 2011 at 10:05 am

Hola @ Tonya,

My daughters would probably tell you they don’t like homeschooling much and neither did I! Since my kids were quite a bit younger, I really did need to be involved and have a routine, which is tough when you’re traveling. With older kids, I would think you could set expectations perhaps for a week and let them figure out when and how to get it done. We also didn’t try to be too strict about it; I didn’t really worry too much about them falling behind. For one of my daughters, she had a math workbook she was expected to keep up with. For my other, reading was really important and we made an effort to read and have her read to us daily. They learn so much just traveling ~ geography, culture, history, social-emotional skills, negotiating…

I would think that budget realistic… I suppose it all depends upon your level of accommodations and how often you’re moving from place to place. Staying longer at one place usually allows you to negotiate price. I also found renting apartments much less expensive than hotels and had more space and options as we didn’t have to eat all meals out then. I know flights within Europe on the local carriers like Ryan Air were fairly inexpensive to go from country to country. We pretty much lived in one spot though for 6 months whereas it sounds like you’re doing more of a RTW trip… so there are probably tips about doing that economically that I can’t provide.

Enjoy the planning and the experiencing! ~ Dee

Bianca September 22, 2015 at 6:56 am

Oh boy did we experience highs and lows of longterm travel with our children (aged 9 and 7 at the time) when we spent a year living in Granada, Spain and travelling throughout the year. We did learn a few tricks along the way on how to manage the bickering and whining which I have shared here:
But of course it is still a work in progress! Thanks for sharing your experiences! Like you, had to instil different rules for the road so that we didn’t spend the whole trip arguing.
Bianca´s last blog post ..One year on…the legacy of our year in Spain

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