In part one Renee and Nathan Helms shared what their experience as full time travellers has taught them about coping with social isolation, staying connected and the importance of looking after your physical and mental health. In part two, they go into more detail about learning to live 24/7 with your kids (and your partner) and how these same tips apply to your own lockdown bubble.
Oh man, this is a hard one, I’m not gunna lie. Spending 24/7 with your kids with no option to just leave them with someone else for a few hours break is challenging. But over the years of travelling long term as a family, we’ve come up with some ways to make it just that little bit easier.
Take time alone
I can’t stress how important this is. You will go insane if you never get any time to yourself. And by time to yourself I don’t mean when you’re hanging out the washing on the line and the kids are inside. I mean quality time where you can unwind, and relax. Watch a movie, read a book, have a nap, talk to a friend on the phone, go for a walk if your local lockdown rules allow it. And the only way to achieve this is by supporting your partner to do the same.
Make serious plans to take it in turns to have the kids so the other adult can have that ‘time off’. And if you’re a single parent? Consider doing your lockdown time with some other support. Can you stay with another single parent? Or with other family? If not, don’t be afraid to stick the kids in front of the TV and lock yourself in the bedroom with strict instructions that they’re not to bother you unless the house is on fire. Seriously, they’ll survive.
Take time together
This goes in two ways. It means taking every opportunity to have parent only time. But it also means making sure you do some quality activities together as a family, and individually with each child – the kids are less likely to be constantly bothering you if they feel they’ve been heard and had their needs met.
Now parent-only time sounds great, but how do you manage it when you’re stuck in a caravan, or a house with your kids and no external support/babysitters? Well it’s not easy, but it can be done. For us we’ve always achieved it by having a strict bedtime. It used to be 7pm, and it’s gotten progressively later as our oldest gets older. But for us bedtime means kids in bed (they don’t have to be asleep, we let ours read to himself) and some space for us – even if that means sitting outside so we’re physically away from the kids. It’s a time to crack open a bottle of wine and have some actual adult conversation. And I can assure you, proper uninterrupted adult conversation is going to be so important for both your marriage, and your mental health in these times.
We’re also a big fan of the virtual babysitter. If one of the kids is driving us bonkers we’ll get a video call to a grandparent going, and sneak off to have a cheeky cup of coffee in peace. And of course the TV/tablet works too. You’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do.
People get a bit stressed and hung up on schooling when travelling. And of course if you are travelling long term then you need to consider your schooling options and take your children’s education seriously (whichever schooling option you choose). But you know what? For shorter term (and for me that means say 3 months or less) sometimes it’s just not worth stressing about.
Kids are natural learners; they learn so much simply by being on the road, and by being around their parents. Granted, being stuck in a house is perhaps less of a natural learning experience than being on the road, but these are strange and unusual times. It’s not going to kill your kids if they miss a few weeks of school, and if it’s stressing you all out too much trying to keep them schooled at home then ask yourself; is it really worth it?
But if you are going to go down the schooling route it’s my personal (non-professional!) opinion that less is more. They don’t need to be sat for six hours a day doing bookwork. Stick to the basics of reading, writing and maths for a short time each day (or even each week!) and the rest can follow naturally.
Ask the kids what they want to learn, and focus on the things they are interested in. If they like Lego, then give them Lego challenges (today ours was to build a theme park and we got some amazing creations). If they like riding their bike then can you help them design and build some ramps in the driveway? If they like music can you get them to learn lyrics, write their own, or take some online classes?
Sing and dance together (if they’re not too old to realise how uncool it is to sing and dance with your parents). Read to them. Have them read to you, and to their younger siblings. Choose a country each week to explore. Cook that country’s food. Learn about it’s landscape, it’s language, it’s population. If you can, hook them up with video calls with their school friends or others in a similar situation to them. Look up experiments they can do at home. If they’re older see if there are open source courses they can take online in their area of interest (many universities offer them, and they’re great for adults too if you also want to learn something new).
Take this time to let them focus on what they love – for example our neighbour’s kids love basketball, so I’m going to be hearing them play for the entirety of lockdown, and that’s great. Outsource what you can – utilise online resources, and don’t be afraid to phone a friend if you know they have knowledge about a particular topic your child is interested in. They’ll be sick of the sound of your voice after a while and be happy to listen to someone else anyway. And most importantly don’t forget to have weekends, recess and outdoor time. You know what they say about all work and no play.
Get them working!
We’ve always used our travels as a way for us all to learn, and we’ve always made sure every member of the household contributes in an age appropriate way. On the road our son helps collect and chop firewood, sets the fire, helps with dishes, helps with any repairs or DIY, helps change tyres, assists with dinner, sets the table and so on. And now, with at least four weeks at home it’s a great opportunity to get him working!
We’re currently using this time to do the last little bits of our retro caravan reno, so we’ll definitely be getting all the family involved to help out. Plus we got our son to build himself a scooter ramp in the driveway (with Dad’s help) and I’ve got a list of chores form him to get through. It keeps them busy, gets them to help out, and they learn at the same time. It’s a win for everyone!
Without going too overboard, trying to keep a rough schedule definitely helps. I’m not talking about a full blown timetable, unless that’s really your thing, but more just sticking with a rough wake up time (occasional sleep ins allowed of course) a rough breakfast, lunch and dinner time, and a rough bedtime. If you start to get into the habit of “well we can sleep in, so we might as well” before you know it you’ll be in bed until 11am every day which sounds great until your kids refuse to go to sleep until 11 o’clock at night, and suddenly parents only time is out the window.
And if your lockdown rules allow it, schedule time for you all to go outside, regardless of weather. Kids are not designed to sit inside all day (neither are adults, for that matter).
Watch your relationships
This period of time is going to be make or break for so many couples. In ordinary life, in many cases, between work, kids and other activities couples don’t actually spend all that much time together. So to go from that to suddenly being thrown together 24/7 is a huge adjustment.
I know some people relish the idea of spending so much time with their significant other. But for others it’s the absolute last thing they really want to do. And we hear this from travelling families again, and again; one of the hardest parts to hitting the road is learning to be together all the time, with very little escape. And now, we’re all going to have to do it for a time without any warning, or preparation, whether we like it or not. Any previous relationship concerns are going to be impossible to avoid. Add to this the stress of likely financial concerns, not to mention concern about current world events, and you potentially have the recipe for a really difficult situation.
So it’s times like this more than ever that you need to communicate, be honest, and be kind to one another. There is absolutely no way our relationship would have lasted so many years on the road without these three things. Communicate how you are feeling. Say when you need help. Talk about your fears. Be honest if you need some space. But most importantly be kind to each other.
These are difficult times, there will be irrational behaviours. You will snap at each other, and say things you don’t mean. Don’t take it personally, understand that circumstances are extreme, and be kind to yourself, and each other. And definitely make time to get your own space together.
Sure, there aren’t going to be any date nights out to nice restaurants any time soon. But that doesn’t mean you can’t dress up and have your own ‘date night’ with some nice food, and a glass of wine together after the kids have gone to bed.All of this goes for your kids too, also. They are their own individual humans, with their own wants, needs and fears. Communication, honesty and kindness is going to be needed for the small people in our lives too. And really if we think about it, for the wider community. We’re all in this together, we have to do the best we can to support each other.