Is there such a thing as too much family time?

walking to the glacierYes and no…  We are often told that having too much of any ONE thing, whether its beneficial for us or not, is not  a good thing.     But what does  a moderately balanced family life  look like and are we really having quality family  moments during those times together?

Maybe there is a secret formula to achieving optimum family time, a  bit like  the 3 fruits 2 veggies a day dose…so something like an equal parts me, relationship, kids…then there’s friends, extended family, work, hobbies etc.. Is my cake tin overflowing yet?!

It’s one thing to compartmentalise things neatly in  a chest of drawers,  it’s another to achieve this perfect  division of time between competing needs and wants….and how to do this when your entire day, yes 24/7 is spent with your family!

It’s a good thing that I like my kids and husband and they like me,  otherwise spending 24/7  together would be excruciatingly painful and harmful in the long term!   Yes, we have our moments of frustration, annoyances and disagreements but these moments usually pass and are resolved, otherwise we would all be feeling pretty miserable.

the one room house!
the one room house!

There is no other room to run  to or hide in when in a car or tent, there is little other distraction e.g. a friends house, a local bar or the television, when out in the middle of nowhere.   There may be a next day but between now and tomorrow there is a myriad of things that need both the attention and  the cooperation of you and your partner working together to ensure there is a bed to sleep in, food to eat, a place to get to,  kids to be taken care of.    Yes, there is a tomorrow, but the present is as good a time as any to sort things out or to decide if the tribulations  you did think are important then, are still now.

Yes, family time when travelling can be intense and it can sometimes feel like it can make or break you and the relationship.   However, what it can also do is build such an enormous bank of memories and experiences that it leaves you wondering how the hell you did it all…..and how you could even  begin to have done it AT ALL, if  it wasn’t for the we/us.

I remember reading an article some time ago about some of the top ten parent regrets.  The first five were something along the lines of: not spending enough quality time with the kids, not having enough holiday time as a family, and not enough time spent with kids in the baby/younger years.

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creating memories

I often think about this, because during those moments when I am struggling with the current thoughts of; not having enough sleep, not having enough me time or personal space and not having enough relationship time with my partner, I remind myself of what everyone reminds me, and of what I see and know is happening;  kids grow up so quickly.  I know this but sometimes it feels like another world away.

My eldest son is almost 5 and will soon be a school age kid.  I look at photos to remember what it was like when he  was a baby.  It seemed like the moment would last forever…including the sleepless nights, but it doesn’t and it won’t.

As we travel and meet other travellers, sometimes older retired couples, we know that at some point that might just be us, travelling together but no longer as a family.  It brings both a smile to my face and a tinge of sadness.

Spending 24/7 as a family doesn’t guarantee quality time or yours or others happiness.  Sometimes you’ll be happy other times you won’t.  But it will be whatever you and your family make of it.

Sometimes things aren’t so black and white.  Gadgets and technology can interfere in the quality of the  time spent together, other times these moments may be  quality rich.   Watching a tv program together, hanging out, engaged, interested and talking about what we are seeing is also good fun.. other times I have sat there in a world of my own, enjoyed and relieved to be in my own headspace, reading, doing my own thing, while my son is in his..definitely some quality time for me.

What I do know from spending a lot of time together as a family is that I am 100% comfortable with my kids and my husband.  It doesn’t mean that I don’t get annoyed or frustrated  or some habits irritate or infuriarate ( including my own), but that I’ve come to experience all of their personality and they mine..  Not only are we comfortable with each other, but more importantly we are able to spend time together and lots of it without losing our  heads too much.

For me,  a lot of that comes from being mostly happy and okay to be in this space.    I am happy with where I am because, here, with my family is where I think I should be and where I want to be.  We are overseas because this is where my partner and I want our family to be.      What I have gained or lost is my balancing act….. I may have forfeited girls nights out or romantic weekend getaways with my partner but I have gained in other ways I couldn’t have otherwise.  I am hanging out with my partner and best friend as much as I like and I’m doing something I love together with my kids.

When we left Australia it was a slight shock.  Even though we have been   pretty hands on parents before we left for travel (I stayed at home with the kids and my husband had flexible work hours running a business so he could be around to help out), it initially was and can  still be an ongoing adjustment to  being together 24/7.   It feels normal, and most of the time I don’t think about it, but at different times, I will feel it more intensely than others….depending on what has been happening,  where we are, what phase the kids are going through, what phase I’m going through,  how much sleep I’ve had etc etc.

Even as a stay at home parent in Australia, my days were filled with playgroups and play dates and family catch ups – weekend lunches or dinners.  I was rarely alone and rarely at home!!!    Then, suddenly we were on the other side of the world away from family and friends.  I wasn’t daunted by the prospect of  full time parenting….I was and had already been doing that part, mostly on my own.    In fact, I was looking forward to it being easier, given that there were now 2 of us to share all the responsibilities.    There wouldn’t be the same pressures of work and domestic responsibilities, there wouldn’t be the same  energy and time  consuming distractions that seem to come with living in a modern society whether it be gadgets, paperwork, beaucracy etc…. Simple living would be the aim……

On the other hand, it would be only the four of us, all the time.     None of the  other nice and comforting  distractions of family and friends….for either us or the kids.    Yes we could negotiate time and space for ourselves but a date night or time together alone???  How and when would that ever happen?  Yes we might have all this time for each other as a family, but what if it was too much time!!!

crazily intense at times
crazily intense at times

You would think there would be oodles of time in a day to devote to each of us having some “me” time.   However, in the daily reality of family travel, sometimes a shower alone was the most I could manage, if anything at all.  Other times, this “me” time came at the expense of the other…..e.g the burden or joy, depending on what sort of day we were having, of looking after both  the kids would all fall onto my husband or me.   We met a NZ family, who were taking a gap year with their older children.  The children were at school during the day and they were both at home enjoying the peace and quiet….now there’s an idea!

There is a reason why the proverb ” it takes a  village to raise a child” exists.  That is, to meet the needs of a family, and essentially look after thè youngest members of a community, requires the effort of all the community!!!   Children, parents and the community all benefit from the added support, care,  friendship, learning and working together that comes from this arrangement.

I would like to think this is the ultimate parenting philosophy and goal but who knows, it’s not a concept thats been tested or utilised  well in the western world.   I do know however, what it is like to have a house full of family members and while it can be chaotic and crazy, I have enjoyed the company of chatting to other family women, the kids who disappear with other kids to play for hours, the cooking,  washing up, and everything else that is shared and seems to just happen together.   Its an exhausting day but exhausting in a different way..not the ‘I’ve been overloaded, stressed out of my brain with too much stuff to do today’, but the “I’ve had a great exciting, happy busy tired sort of a day”.   So why were we removing ourselves from this entirely?!

travel..the "family way"
travel..the “family way”

Somehow travelling overseas as a family felt not only possible but easy, fulfilling and practical.   The reality was, we were going to be parents regardless of which country we were in.  Travelling in the  toddler and preschool years made sense….yes it could be challenging but we had no schooling commitments and parents are still pretty cool in a kids eye, to hang out with at this age…. . Being together meant that my boys could have both their parents with them.    Sure I’m good at reading and craft but I would rather leave the lego, and science questions to my husband.   It wouldn’t have to wait til he got home from work…..and I wouldn’t have to wonder and wish he was home sooner.

Separation anxiety

I’m referring to my separation anxiety not my kids… When we  arrived at our first destination in Santiago,  I felt some separation anxiety that I had never experienced before on my travels  as a single person.  My husband spent the first few weeks  trying to find a suitable road vehicle and I hung out with the kids.  A couple of times I had the scary gnawing gut feeling of what if?  What if something happened to my husband? What would I do, two kids alone, strange city, didn’t know anyone etc….It was frightening.

Home alone

I couldn’t imagine my husband leaving me for  5 days with two kids while in my home city and yet it felt completely okay to do this in another foreign city, when in London?  Why?   I don’t know, other than, normal is what normal is.  By this time, even though we were parenting together, there were lots of occasions when I had to parent alone regardless of where we were or which country we were in.

I coped because my kids were older- my youngest was no longer a baby.   I also had less expectations on myself of what should or needed to happen.     The only expectation I had of myself, was that I hang out with the kids, do the minimum required when it came to domestic duties and not feel so bad if we had a meal out.  Of course, the down side was having to be both the morning and the night person…first up and last to bed…. This would get wearing after a while and I really don’t know how single mums do it without adequate support.

What have I discovered?

These things and so much more!

My husband is a really good dad and my kids have  the benefit of what I hope is a quality relationship with both of us, not just now but for the long term

I  miss my kids having relationships with other family members and their friends from back home – different people offer different perspectives that can benefit both  us and the kids…

Having to wait til the kîds are asleep to have “relationship time” or me time!   My husband would still often run late at night or early morning just so it didn’t impact on me and the kids too much.

When the kids were looked  after by a family member after almost two years away, we had almost forgotten what it was like, and what to do with ourselves….We did however work out quite quickly what to do with this sudden spare time!

That spreading your relationship time evenly across the family sometimes requires a conscious effort…

That being a mum is pretty special and can mean so many things but I don’t want to be everything to my kids….I don’t want to be their playmate, teacher, coach, aunt, etc etc….I just want to be their mum….

The older the kids get the more these other external  relationships count.  I want my kids to have things that I didn’t have e.g. relationships with extended family, and I want them to have what I do have…..friends who have known me a lifetime…

That my boys are best mates at 4 and 2 and I hope this will last forever

That we love our friends and family back home but we have made new friends and memories that we can   take home with us!

That parents are pretty important and special people in a kids life and vice versa …..and that  there can never be enough memories to fill up that special bank in your heart and mind…

that after almost two years of travel I not only love my husband but  I really really like him, and his  company….somehow it seems to work out that when I’m not coping so well, he can and vice versa.   Support shows its form in so many different ways and so many times over

That even when coparenting, there are still the old age disagreeements about the division of labour and responsibilities

that even after spending 24/7 together, my husband still can’t read my mind……

To remember to enjoy and savour those moments when my kids want me to be involved, excited to show me stuff, want to hang out…rather than feel annoyed… these moments may not last forever…. Fast forward 10 years and it might be me, vying for their attention.

The kids have seen us in both our glorious and not so glorious moments…and I don’t mean without makeup!   When we muck up, get angry, make mistakes, argue, have a tanty.    Our kids know we are human and we are real.  But they also see us talk  (loudly sometimes) to work it out, resolve it and move on.

Periods of time in  confined spaces are bad…for everyone!

that sometimes the most difficult thing of all this time together is getting a family snap!

Feeling the responsibility of using this time I have with my kids wisely.  Making the most of our time together, ensuring they don’t miss out on same age activities, planning stimulating and challenging activities, sharing personal stories, family history, knowledge….after all you have a captive audience –  you and your partner are the most important people in their world…

That coparenting is pretty cool.  Although you often find it may  not always be what it seems..e.g while his sailing,  I’m with the kids, or vice versa…. Usually one person takes on the task that would need two people….  Sometimes,  it feels like a bit of a tag team effort.

that normal is whatever you make it.

What helps?

Having something to do that gives you some time off and headspace when you can.  My husband loves to run and I like to write.  Making time and supporting each other to have that space is important….and sometimes even after a bit of time away both you and the kids feel  joyous at seeing each other again…..some renewed energy

While there are disadvantages, there are also many advantages.  We think about how lucky and fortunate we are to be hanging out as a couple  with our kids.  This time will only happen once and it will disappear again in a blink of an eye…missing it would be the real loss……

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best friends