25 Feb

I have been in the parenting trenches!  It can be extremely challenging to deal with 3 teenagers as parents in the context of a stable home environment.  But what do you do in the middle of an adolescent tantrum when you are in an AirBnB, and few resources outside your 4 walls to take the pressure off?  When at home, my kids get regular breaks from us, their parents, when they visit with friends, go to part time jobs, or attend weekly youth group meetings.  But in a foreign country, where you may not even speak the language, what do you do to get respite from each other? 

I want to point out that this is absolutely necessary for the sanity of the parents as well as the kids.  Parents need a break from their kids as much as kids need a break from their parents!  And as difficult as it can be during early childhood, I have found this mental break more urgent in adolescence.  To parent your kids in a rational and calm manner it's so, so important to take care of your own mental health and guard against parenting burn out!

It's  also a part of the process of launching the kid - step back and give them space. Doing so is necessary to restore your personal boundaries and identity outside of parenthood. The launch is just around the corner - are you ready for it? No, not your kids... YOU.  Are you ready for the launch?  

From your teen's perspective, they will still need you, but what that looks like is very different in this stage of development.  It's not only about academics and future vocations; there is self care, relationships, communication and emotional intelligence too.  You will help your kids to develop those soft skills by adapting your parenting skills.  No longer is this solely about mechanical operations (feeding, clothing, driving, etc...) This worldschooling journey has forced us to work on (the highly advanced but fundamental skill of)  how to live together. How do we create respectful relationships and a sense of community? To start with, we learn to communicate needs, expectations, and boundaries. Wow, that's a mouthful! Easy to say, but hard to do and even harder to grind it out every day on a 6 month road trip!

Here are 5 strategies that I've implemented over the last few weeks that have been effective in creating breathing room for everyone in the family.

1.  Get outside for some fresh air and exercise.  Vigorous walking works for us. Vitamin D works wonders for mood.  Endorphins get released when you sweat a little. Exercise can be a big up-sell to my crew especially when they are burned out from traveling. When my kids have wanted to stay home and be mushrooms (as I fondly call them) I do insist that they go outside ideally once per day, but no less than once every 2 days.  

I have members in the crew us who are introverts - in other words, they recharge their batteries by being alone. To them, being alone means being in a bedroom, plugged in and avoiding other humans in the house. When they are recharging, I respect that but only within healthy limits.  Sure, I need to back off for awhile. But that doesn't mean that he/she can't sit on the balcony in the sun and absorb some much needed vitamin D. And that doesn't mean that the person can avoid responsibilities (like doing their homeschool!). 

2.  Spend one on one time with your spouse.  This is not always easy, but you can steal moments away, even if your kids are small and in tow.  Treasure the micro-moments with your spouse. For example, consider the seating arrangement at the food court.  Sitting across from one another, my husband and I can have micro conversations and share smiles and giggles even while the kids are present.  We also take out the garbage together. Romantic, huh? But we take our time, and a 2 minute task is now 10 minutes stolen away.  

Another strategy is seeking out community based activities. Now that my kids are older, I have searched out local youth groups in English speaking churches in whichever city we are staying in.  I can farm out the kids for one evening using that strategy, and the kids get to hang out with other youth instead of their parents! Of course, I only suggest this if your kids and the parents are completely comfortable with this.  I have done this in many countries now that my kids are older and able to watch out for each other. And I never force them to go - I only offer it as an opportunity. 

3.  If you are in a city and your kids are older, consider seeking out a mall.  Let your kids loose in the mall (as long as they are comfortable with the idea) for a pre-determined length of time.  We usually start with 45 minutes, then as we get more familiar with the mall, we give them 60 minutes.  We all agree on a meeting spot afterwards.  It's a good time for them to stretch their wings and feel free, and you can know they are in a safe environment.  Make sure to lay the ground rules.  For us, those rules are to shop/walk in pairs or triads; no one leaves the mall; clear agreement and understanding of the meeting place and meeting time. Malls usually have free wi fi so our kids can text us using their devices and WhatsApp or Messenger if a problem arises.

4.  Go on dates with each kid, one on one, and use it as a chance to connect and laugh.  Or if you need to use that time to address an issue, try to sandwich that issue with some lightheartedness.  I have sometimes bribed my kids with food or shopping excursions in order to get them out of the house... homesickness, in our family, manifests itself quite often with nesting behavior.  The motivation to go outside and see YET ANOTHER ROMAN RUIN gets long in the tooth after a while. Sometimes a burger from the local fast food joint is more exciting than any archaeological site! Connecting with your kid one on one helps to smooth over the rough times. You will find it easier to talk to your kids when they are in the middle of a crisis because you have spent that time together and have that firm relational foundation.

5.  Learn to give each other space when you are together.  Coach the kids in this special social dancing that uses nonverbal and verbal cues.  In our family, it has happened more than once when one of my kids is perplexed that the other two are not wanting to hang out. It's perceived as a sign of rejection and can thus foster resentment.  I've had to frame it for the kids differently.  Perhaps it's not rejection, but it's our energy levels that are out of sync with each other.  So instead of expecting the sibling to match our energy level, it's a signal to flex our energy around the other person.  Wait till that person comes out of their recharging state, and then be ready to engage with them once they signal they are ready.  It's like a dance. Adolescents need to learn how to dance around each other until they get into sync, and not get too irritated if they don't get the steps quite right to start with. And like anything else, reading one another's nonverbal and verbal cues takes practice and patience (as well as a good sense of humor).  Emotional intelligence, anyone?

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