Sunday, July 11, 2010

Extended Family Travel and the Effects Upon Children

The Harrison family is still at our home, preparing for the final leg of their 7,000-mile journey across the U.S. on their quint bicycle. If all goes well, tomorrow morning Yukon and Bear will escort them through the winding bike trails of Anchorage to the Glenn Highway, where they'll head towards the Matanuska-Susitna Valley and then north to Denali National Park and Fairbanks.

The more time we spend with this family, the more we are learning about them and their style of parenting and simple living. I have asked them how others respond to their trip and the questions and/or comments, both positive and negative, they have received. Since we, too, are involved in family travel as a lifestyle rather than an occasional occurrence, I was curious to hear what people say to and about them.
Comments apparently range from overwhelmingly positive to desparingly negative. Not surprising, of course, but surely hurtful to parents who truly believe they are doing right by their children in offering them an opportunity to pioneer their way across America. People have accused them of abuse, neglect, and false pretenses.

The question of "Why are you doing this?" has followed them from Kentucky, hanging over their heads like a little gray cloud that just won't go away, and people consistently want to know why in the name of heaven would you take three little girls, plop them on a bike, and take them away from their home and security for more than a year. I will admit I, too, first looked for a "cause" when I first heard about the Harrisons; after all, people just don't hop on a funny-looking bicycle without a mission to change the world, right?

Here's the answer: Because they can. And that's all.

I have discovered, these past five years in Alaska, that life is unbelieveably and remarkably short. Travel as a family is our way to connect with each other and our environment in a most intimate way, separate from the daily flux and fuss of everyday activities, jobs, and other distractions that while necessary, manage to take away some of the meaning behind "family time."

Yes, this family is tired. Yes, the girls get on each other's nerves and might need some adjustment time upon arrival in Fairbanks to regroup after their family's 12-month nomadic lifestyle. But is it harmful? I don't think so. On the contrary, I think it is the most valuable experience a child could have, and one of the best gifts a parent could offer.


Natalie said...

Those kids will remember and talk and laugh about that trip when they are 80, and will gain strength and confidence and wisdom from the miles. Can the average American say that about a trip to Disneyworld? Tell them that this traveller, at least, thinks they are fabulous and inspiring.

Meredeth said...

We just plucked our kids out of their busy secure lives in Seattle and moved to Italy. We tossed them into an Italian school mid-year where they didn't speak but four words of the language.

As a result:
- They are better friends to each other for sure (they have to be)
- We spend a lot more time together as a family (which is great)
- They are amazed that they were able to successfully complete five months in Italian school (what a confidence builder)
- Now that they have met some really great people who do things "differently," it is normal and not weird (it would be helpful to a lot of world relations if grown-ups did more of this)
- And my favorite, we aren't torn between spending money on things to fix in the house and traveling (priorities that are more in keeping with my values)

Kudos to your friends, kudos to my kids, and kudos to you for recognizing the value!

Yampu Tours-Monica said...

We own a tour company, Yampu Tours, and we have taken our kids on most all of our trips since they were babies. Now they look forward to our adventures and even have lots of ideas about where we should go next. I love these trips because I am sharing my passion with them and spending my whole day with them. I have never done a year long trip but as long as parants can keep the school work up and keep them safe and healthy, I think it is a good idea, at least once. Balance is Key!