We always leave an imprint wherever we travel. We have four kids under eight and have lived in four countries, and travelled a lot within each of these places. We get the customary glares on some flights, smiles on others, and experience our share of stress as we adapt to new places and experiences as a family, but if I had a do-over in life I’d choose to travel again with my kids in a heartbeat. Jamie asked me to share with you why we travel with our kids and why it is important, so I thought I’d better introduce myself.
I am a mother of five littles all under eight. One of our charges died at birth so that leaves four clinging to my skirts for most long journeys. We have lived in four countries and are currently residing in North Africa. We’ve lived in “the bush” (literally) and the city and we love our family, and travelling with our kids. As is the case with most activities there is nothing virtuous and beneficial about travel in and of itself, but rather what you do with the activity of travel that gives it benefit (or not) to your family and children.
We often step back and ask big overarching questions when we look to travel or move somewhere, such as why are we doing this and what benefits do we want to encourage from this activity? I’ve heard it said it is easy to aim at a wall, throw a dart and then draw a bullseye around it… but if you care about what goals you achieve, choose those first, or draw your bullseye before you throw your dart. This step must be done in order to gain the most out of your travels (or any activity).
So why do we travel with our kids? I am glad you asked because believe it or not it is not to get as many glares as possible as we board an airplane (as exciting as this is).
1) Our travels have made us better parents.
We are not limited to view parenting only in the way we have seen it modeled growing up. We have seen many examples of how parenting is done, in different cultural context and in different places so we can find our “niche” in the parenting spectrum that doesn’t have strict boundaries to our passport culture. This has also helped us parent for our kids and not to please others. It is impossible to parent and please everyone, in one culture we are parenting too strictly and not giving our kids freedom to be kids, in another we offer a lack of supervision, so the need to please is replaced with the need to be consistent with our boundaries and rules (or should be) because we simply cannot parent to please every culture.
2) It has given our kids a better understanding of what is interpreted through a cultural lens.
Many children that grow up only in North Africa assume that you are snubbing a person if you do not show friendship by holding arms or linking hands as you walk down the road (male to male and female to female), while in North America such expressions of affection are viewed as a pronouncement of sexual preference. Our children have seen that many actions are interpreted through the cultural framework that person is exposed to and are less likely to jump to conclusions based on their cultural frame of reference.
3) Our kids are comfortable with the unknown and it doesn’t stop them from participating.
This lesson has been hardest for my second born, but often my children do not know what is being said or how to respond to certain situations due to language and cultural barriers. But they have learned this shouldn’t inhibit them from experiencing the culture. They have seen that by observation they can still participate and interact with others different than them. Language no longer becomes a barrier to engagement.
4) Our kids are better equipped to control their attitude and outlook regardless of circumstances.
Travel has a loss of control associated with it. The planes are delayed, the living conditions are different than expectations, the driver charges more than expected. Our children have seen us handle, well and not so well, the many elements that our outside our expectations and have learned that while we cannot change what happens to us, we can control how we respond. The other day my six year old proclaimed, “oh no the traffic is terrible!” She then followed it by saying, “but if we miss our class I think I will choose to not cry.” She had learned to focus on what she could control and not on what she couldn’t.
5) Our kids are happy with just about anything –imagination is increased.
Oh if only you could see the hours of joy my children have over an old tire, or how they can transfer soda cans into elaborate baby dolls and cars. Mud becomes clay for building houses and a piece of paper can become a playhouse. They have been separated often from their possessions and toys and have still found things to do and play with. The pyramids become an awesome playground, and the catacombs something to explore. They have played for hours with children without any toys, and have travelled on airplanes for hours that are not pressurized and too noisy to watch films so they know the joys of imagination.
6) They will try just about anything — and they know themselves.
Slimy okra, is actually delicious once you get used to it, and they discovered seeing a fishes eye when you eat it makes it just as tasty. We have a saying it takes 5-10 tries to like something… what once was not enjoyed after time can become a favorite. You can do your own henna at home, roasting corn over coals is so tasty, and playing lido can result in hours of laughter. They are very likely to try new things in the hopes that they will discover a new treasure, while on the same note they know that no many how many times they ride a camel they don’t like it when he stands and sits down, and that avoiding dead animals on the street is beneficial to their olfactory senses.
One of my passions is helping folks understand that travel itself is not a virtue, but what you do with it can result in good things. So will you join me in discussion. I have said why I love travelling with kids and the benefits we’ve achieved, but we haven’t discussed how we get the benefits or work toward these virtues. How do you go about gaining the good out of traveling, redeeming it for its virtues and not its vices? Perhaps I’ll be back to guest post another time on my thoughts on this but I want to hear yours!
At the end of our journey in life it is not about how many languages my children speak, or how many places we’ve been to, it’s about knowing what we want to get out of travels and taking steps to achieve those goals. Happy travelling! (or as they say here…تروح وتيجي بالسلامة)
Abuk currently resides in North Africa where she homeschools her brood, seeks to achieve mastery of the local language, tries new foods, embraces new cultures and to see the sights around her with her kids at every opportunity. You can read more about her and her family’s adventures here.