As we wrote about in a recent blog post, there is no denying how lucky we are to be on this family adventure together. But it is not all rainbows and unicorns when you’re traveling with your family. It’s not just traveling mistakes and mishaps that can rapidly dial down the fun factor, either. There are more pernicious issues like that fact that we are together . . . all . . . the . . . time.
Even for the extroverts in the family (Linds, Owen and Eli) this is a lot of togetherness. For us introverts (Matt, Jake and Ben) who get our batteries recharged by being alone with our thoughts, this is a travel hazard that must be dealt with lest the social exhaustion renders us bug-eyed snivelling messes huddled in corners to escape humanity.
So, we develop strategies.
Whenever possible, we maintain a habit we started years ago at home – “quiet time”. For two hours in the afternoon, everyone is assigned a quiet spot, protected from noise and interruption. Here they can read, sleep, draw, journal, or just sit with their thoughts. No talking, no screens and no noise.
As parents we love quiet time. We need the break and there are always things to get done sans kids.
But the kids also love quiet time. Amazingly, there’s no coaxing or negotiating – they just go. I think it helps them with important things like self-regulation and intrinsic motivation. After all, spending two hours quietly alone on a regular basis, you get to know yourself and what makes you tick. And when they emerge from their solitude, they are happy to see each other again and will actually play nicely together for an hour or two!
Sometimes, especially while traveling, our afternoons are spent engaged in some activity or another – on a train, hiking, sightseeing, learning at a museum, etc. Quiet time is not always possible. To make things more challenging, most of our accommodations do not have enough bedrooms for every kid to have his own.
Here’s strategy number two. Establish protected space. We have learned that soon after arriving at an airbnb, we stake out claims on small corners of space that we can call our own. If Jake curls up in the grey chair in his bedroom, he is out of bounds. Don’t bug him. Ben gets the daybed. Owen’s good with his side of queen bed downstairs. It is so reassuring for the boys to know that they have a place to go where no one is allowed to bother them (parents excluded, of course).
Lastly, we preach (and practice) acceptance. Eli is having a bad day today (he really is). Every conversation turns into an argument. He feels like nothing is going his way and being seven years old is definitely NOT what it was cracked up to be.
In a situation like this, we have jobs. It’s not easy to be around a storm cloud that is throwing lightning bolts around. But it happens to all of us and we need to sympathize with the one who is currently afflicted. That means no taunting, teasing or otherwise adding fuel to the fire. Usually the safest strategy is to just leave said person alone to do whatever they want to do. Interestingly, if anything, traveling together has given us more patience for each other than less. Maybe because it’s harder to escape?
The biggest job, however, is for the storm cloud himself. We have a rule in our family that Linds taught me a long time ago: if you are grumpy, that’s ok. But it really helps to say the following:
“I’m sorry. I’m grumpy. It’s me, not you.”
Simple. You’re allowed your bad mood, but you own it. Very difficult to say in the moment, but extremely effective at minimizing grumpy contagion.
If the grumpy person puts the effort into saying the phrase, the others are obligated to give them their space and treat them with kindness.
Selling our 2400 square foot house and signing up for a life of 24/7 togetherness in accommodations that are rarely half that size, I was worried about how the constant close proximity to each other might fray our nerves. But we are nearly one month in and these simple strategies seem to be serving us well.
Of course, if all else fails, there’s always wine and chocolate.