This week I have had a few days of space to sit back and reflect on my recent travels. Most of this reflection has been really positive and has led to the furious writing down of ideas and making of lists. However, I have also been thinking a lot about the downsides of long-term travel, especially when it comes to the effects that it might have on my kids.
For me, the positives of travelling the world with my kids vastly outweigh the negatives. However, the negatives are still there and I wouldn’t be much of a parent, or an honest blogger, if I ignored them.
So, with this in mind I decided to write a short series about the downsides of long-term travel, especially with kids, and what, if anything you can do to avoid them. So here goes –
Number One – My kids don’t know where they are from
This is a funny old one, and while it isn’t terribly serious in the grand scheme of things, it really does bother me.
“Where are you from?”, is a pretty standard question when you are on the road. On average I reckon someone asks us this pretty much every other day. As a family, we often laugh when we remember the time when my then three-year old son answered ‘Bangkok’. This question can even be a bit of a pain for my husband and me. We were both born and bred in Northern Ireland, but we both left some time ago to live elsewhere. Even though we know where we are ‘from’, a lot of people get a bit confused when we say that we are Northern Irish. To keep it simple, we often say we are from Ireland or just the UK.
The kids have a more complicated situation again. They were both born in London, where we lived when they were very small. We left there when my daughter was four and my son two. Since then we have travelled around Asia for eight months and lived in New Zealand for 12 months. I started noticing recently that they became really confused when asked where they are from. Sometimes they said England (although my son has no memories of London at all) or New Zealand (although they know they aren’t). Sometimes they even said Ireland, although they have never lived there, North or South!
Now, I know that this is all just superficial chit-chat and no-one really cares where you say you are from anyway (unless you say America, then you get to hear everyone’s opinion of your country whether you want to or not). However, every time it happens I feel a bit guilty because it reminds me that my kids are a little bit rootless. Have you heard the old wisdom about giving your children roots so that you can help them find their wings? Well, I can’t help but feel that I might be failing a bit in that respect.
So, do you need to stay in the same place to give your children roots? Do you need to root them in one house? Or one town? Or one country, or even one culture? Do you need to root them in their family, or do you need a whole network of people? I just don’t know the answer. I’m not sure anyone does. My instinct tells me that it entirely depends on the child. I have met lots of adults who moved around continually when they were children and I always grill them about the long-term effects of their geographically rootless childhoods. Some loved it, others hated it. Some found their lack of roots liberating, others found it destabilising. I am constantly reviewing which of these childhoods we are creating for our children.
I would love to hear some other opinions on this, so if your children move a lot or you were a travelling child yourself please let me know what you think. Do we all need somewhere to be from? Is a cultural identity a necessary part of our story? Does having roots help us find security in the world? What happens when you are not ‘from’ anywhere? Lots of questions I know, but all insights will be gratefully received.