Posted by Discovery Parks on 19 Oct 2016
First of all, let it be known that I LOVE my kids! Like most mothers I am blinded by my love and think that the sun shines out of their cute little behinds, but... I am also a realist and painfully honest, so I am not going to sugar coat this experience. This is going to be a truthful, warts and all account of what it has been like travelling around Australia in a caravan with three, let’s say ‘lively’ little bundles of joy!
Before leaving on our 5 month caravan trip around Australia, I was given plenty of advice about parenting on the road by those who have done it before us. I was advised on how to do it, what it feels like, what to expect and how to survive it.
What I have learnt, however, is that parenting on the road is different for every parent. It all varies depending on the age and gender of your kids (little boys are an alien race that do not speak the language of reason!), how many little rascals (did I say that? I mean cherubs) you have in tow, your own temperament and whether or not you are crazy enough to attempt any other projects while on the road, like working, or writing a blog!
Don’t get me wrong, this has and will be the most incredible opportunity for James and I to get to know and bond with our children, but it has also been our greatest challenge and has given us insights into our own personalities that only caravanning with children for 5 months can give.
So in a nutshell, the only advice I would hesitantly give on parenting on the road is ‘don’t take any advice on parenting on the road!’ Or take it, but don’t think for a second that that is what your experience will be like.
We came across one family with four older daughters and one younger son. Their experience was obviously very different to ours. Each of their angelic girls was eager to help, quiet, calm and affectionate. Our kids are equally as affectionate, but their affection comes at us like a bull/tornado/atom bomb. This might be why they have five children and why if I even think of us having any more than three children, my eye starts twitching!
What I can tell you, is what this adventure has been like for US! And how we have come through ‘parenting on the road’ in one piece and much better for it.
Our ‘Situation’ ie who we are and what we needed.
We were told plenty of times that it would take about 8 weeks for us all to find our groove. We are 18 weeks in and are still learning, but although the ‘8 week’ estimation wasn’t spot on for us, the premise was right. What we discovered, however, was that there wasn’t just one groove to find! We all had our own unique groove, so we needed to discover what each of us needed to feel comfortable in our new situation.
James and I are head strong, emotional and impatient, so this was always going to be a challenge for us.
Tom is loud, emotional and physical (that a nice way of saying he is a tornado with a face).
Eddie is also loud, but in more of a middle child ‘my big brother just hurt me’ kind of way.
And Bonnie……. how to briefly describe the force of nature that is Bonnie? The best way I can put it is that she is a dancing queen crossed with kung fu panda, crossed with a fog horn.
Together we are loud, lively, emotional and in James and my case, tired.
Upon realising that all of this ‘liveliness’ contained in a caravan can lead to chaos, we quickly discovered what each of us needed on a daily basis to start the day on the best foot.
James – needs a run each morning, a coffee, some raisin toast and to have the kids doing some school work by 9am.
Tom – needs a bit of a sleep in, an orange juice, a bit of an energy release and some Weetbix.
Eddie – needs a cuddle with his mum, someone to escort him to the loo and some sultana bran.
Bonnie – needs to be transported right into the middle of our bed the minute she wakes up for a cuddle, followed by a bit of a play with Eddie (after he has had his mummy cuddle!).
And me? – I need a big drink of water, a cup of tea, a walk and a shower (by myself!).
Once we discovered what each of us needed to start the day on the right foot, things got easier.
We have heard many different ways that families approach schooling on the road. One lady even dressed up as a teacher and made her kids call her ‘Mrs ………….’ while they worked. We knew this very serious strategy was not for us.
We wanted to make sure the kids didn’t fall behind, but didn’t want to miss out the once in a lifetime adventure we were on by spending our time stressing about school work! (especially as our kids are only 4, 5 and 7).
Initially, James and I had different priorities when it came to schooling, which ended up being pretty much the only thing we ever fought about.
James was keen for the kids to keep up with the same material as their school peers. I wanted them to focus on a journal of their trip, writing stories and illustrating their memories.
Both of us discovered great ways to make our concepts of schooling happen.
James discovered that stores like Kmart and Big W stock an amazing range of work books for each grade level, including kindy level. While the kids don’t love this part of the day, it will hopefully pay off when we get back and the kids haven’t fallen behind at school.
I discovered the Canon Inkjet ‘Selfie’ printer! My new baby. At first the kids were getting a bit bored writing about places they had already forgotten and sticking postcards in their journals, but after I found ‘The Selfie’ printer and they could stick photos of themselves in their journals, it became exciting for them!
These days we meet in the middle. The kids do school work for one hour each morning (Monday-Friday) starting at 9am. One kid works on school books, one works on a lap top doing ‘Reading Eggs’ and one works on their journal. After twenty minutes they swap, so that each has a go at everything.
You’d have to agree though, that the learning they will most benefit from on a trip like this is at the good old ‘school of life!’
With no input at all from us, the kids are growing into super cool little people from the challenges and opportunities that the universe is throwing at them. In almost every caravan park they meet countless fabulous grey nomads, who love to talk them! They playing with other kids, pay for things themselves, help with the dishes, hang out the washing, go to the playground by themselves, look after each other, and have even conquered the challenge of having to go outside to get to the loo at night!
Plus they are learning to grow resilience and tough skin through a myriad of ant bites, scorpion bites, jelly fish stings, surfing injuries, falling off bikes, tangled fishing lines and so on…. The important thing is that whatever happens, after a bit of a cry and a cuddle, they are learning to get up and try again!
So that’s it, schooling on the road, Lindsay style. Whether it works for other families or not, who knows, but it’s working just fine for us.
This has been an interesting journey for us, as James and I certainly aren’t masters at following through with our threats, in fact I even heard Eddie telling the others not to worry if they had already had their one glass of juice that they are allowed each day, because mummy would probably forget by the next time they asked anyway! Grrrrrrr!
We also found that threatening that ‘we won’t go to’ whatever fabulous thing we were going to go to the next day was a bad idea, because that meant we would all miss out.
In the end, quiet time in their bunks seemed to be the most effective form of conflict resolution.
It didn’t take long to work out the magic recipe needed to ensure the kids were exhausted but happy at the end of each day. It comprised of a delicate blend of physical activity, learning, down time, eating and play. Each box needed to be ticked each day to ensure all of our sanity and a good night sleep.
It pretty much went like this…..
6:30am – 9am
- Fluff around in our pyjamas
- Trip to the loo
- Cuddles on mum and dads bed
- Get thrown out of mum and dad’s bed after getting in with dirty feet from trips to the loo.
- Eat breakfast with the inevitable spilling of milk on pyjamas.
- Mum gets out of bed to clean up the spilt milk.
- Get dressed.
9am – 10am
- Kids complain about learning
- Dad reminds kids about how lucky they are to be here and not at school
- Kids give up pestering and continue with learning
- 10am – 12pm
- Some physical activity, usually a swimming pool, hike, beach visit, tour or walk around the town we are staying in.
12pm – 1pm
1pm – 3:30pm
- Activity number 2, usually whichever activity hasn’t been covered between the 10-12pm slot.
3:30pm – 5:30pm
- Chillax time. Usually a board game, a bit of tv or playing an audio book through the caravan stereo (audio books are the bomb! Especially in the car when driving long distances, it’s soooooooo relaxing!).
5:30pm – 7pm
- - Dinner
7pm – 8:30pm
- A mad dash to get into pyjamas and brush teeth in order to finish watching whichever movie we started watching at 4 o’clock.
We found that we naturally and without planning, fell into this routine in whichever wonderful place we visited. It ensured we all had enough activity and chill out time that we got to bed relaxed, with full bellies and all tuckered out!
Just dealing with it when it gets too much (on the parents obviously!)
We have had a few times when we have seriously contemplated turning around and heading home. Times when fighting, arguing and whingeing were at an all time high, brought us to breaking point pretty quickly!
At one of our lowest points, I happened to pick up ‘Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff’, a book that James and I often look to for some pocket size therapy! The actual page that I randomly opened the book to, suggested that the best way to look at hard times is as ‘a test’, and to then laugh at yourself for the way you are handling the test. It worked! As soon as I pictured myself being watched by some giant disapproving teacher, I realised how silly I looked from an outsider’s point of view. I was letting stress and exasperation dictate my responses to the kid’s chaos. The minute I approached behaviour issues as a challenge that I knew I could ace with flying colours, my responses became more measured and reasonable (and I felt like high fiving myself after each of them!). In fact, I ended up writing ‘this is a test’ on a piece of paper and sticking it to the wall of the caravan, so that I would never forget this little piece of advice, worth its weight in gold!
We often found that after a long, long day of taking the kids from one activity to another and feeling pretty worn out, the universe would step in to reassure us, and one of our kids would pipe up and say “dad…. Today was the best day of my life!” When we heard that one sentence, the tiredness suddenly didn’t matter and we felt pretty sure that we were on the right track!
Remind yourself, this is the chance of a lifetime!
The other big kick I would give myself whenever I was feeling like we needed a break from the kids, was to remember, that THIS……. Caravanning around Australia with my kids, was a very rare opportunity for James and I to get to know them in a way not many people can.
Once home, they would be back at school, we would be back at work, and this precious chance to spend so much time with our kids would be gone. We are not likely to ever be able to afford to do this again, so this is our moment.
Again, this was something that needed to be written on the wall! Even though having little encouraging messages written on the wall might make you look like a massive goober, if it helps you to make the most of a rare opportunity like this, do it! (just don’t let people inside your caravan!).
In a nutshell, parenting on the road can be hard, it can be hilarious and it can give you insights into yourself and your family that you never thought possible!
Whatever you do, Don’t waste time crying over spilt milk (figuratively and literally, coz it’s amazing how much actual milk gets spilt in a caravan!).
Just do it your own way. Find out what each of you needs to keep it together, read stuff, write stuff on the wall, high five yourself when you do something awesome and remember…….. This is the parenting chance of a lifetime!
written by @ispylife