When talking about ditching the suburbs with other families we are often asked “what about friends”?
Here’s the way one person asked it (a bit edited for brevity):
You guys are literally living my family’s dream. But, we are scared to do it for one big fat huge reason. My question is this.
How are your kids coping with not having the traditional experience of growing up in one neighborhood? How are they dealing, long term, with not having a “normal” childhood with stable friends?
The only reason we stay put is because I’m terrified that my kids will be socially inept or have serious issues if we pull them away from family and friends and never allow them to stay in one place long enough to develop any deep meaningful friendships.
I feel like they need to have stable people around them in their lives, and I fear that a life on the road will be isolating and they won’t develop the skills needed to maintain deep personal friendships.
I’ll use the above question as my outline for an answer.
Let’s be clear here: we’ve only been traveling about 18 months out of the last two years. From a scientific perspective this is a horrible experiment. The sample size is too small, the length of the study is too short, and we have no control group.
I’ve often reflected on how we should possibly have a few more kids so we could do some A/B testing with some of our more important descisions.
But the truth of the matter is we don’t know the long-term impact of choosing this lifestyle over another. It’s life. You evaluate your options, prayerfully consider them, and choose what you believe God is leading you to do.
For us, this was a period of full-time travel for our family.
What is normal? Who decides what that is and what it should be? Why is normal better than unusual?
Why do we want our kids to excel and stand out (not be “average”), but not too much, and expect that result out of an upbringing and childhood that is completely average?
We see the current “normal” suburban American culture as being very kid-focused. Many families plan their entire schedule (and hence life) around their kids. Little League. Soccer team. Marching band. Gymnastics.
Dad is at one game with one kid talking on his cell phone to Mom who is at another game with another kid. Vacations get arranged around travel team schedules. Campsites get setup on Friday night but then the minivan pulls out early Saturday morning loaded with kids wearing uniforms.
These activities and schedules end up taking a higher priority than family time. Or family relationships. Or sibling relationships. Or family adventures. A good relationship with your Dad or your brother doesn’t get listed on a college application, right?
This hasn’t always been the American way.
Families had farms or other family businesses and if you were old enough to pick up a broom or steer a pickup truck you were part of that business. Time for friends was a bonus (you never read about Ma Ingalls packing up the girls in the wagon to go off on a “play date”).
We don’t see where people of that generation came out the worse for it.
Quite the contrary, since the kids were needed and had some of the responsibility for the family well-being they came out better prepared for life than a situation that puts them at the center and serves them first.
We see a lot of kids and young adults these days who are selfish and self-centered because they’ve been taught to be.
We were never well-suited to this “normal” lifestyle.
We place our immediate family relationships and sibling relationships higher on the priority scale than external friendships. We’ll always be family - but we only get to live together as that family for a few short years.
Our kids have entire lifetimes to develop other friendships and we think those friendship-building skills are based in the family relationship skills that we’re building together.
People move. People change. There is no guarantee that by you staying in one place that your kids will have deep long-lasting friendships.
I grew up in one house, went to one school district, and didn’t keep any school-based friends much past graduation. We just all went in different life directions.
There is also the risk of “that kid” moving in next door and being totally the wrong influence on your own children, but the situation not easily being resolveble because the only real solution is that someone has to move and that’s not going to happen overnight.
There’s no reason that full-time travel has to “pull away” - it can also “push to”.
We have driven hours to meet back up with families we connected well with. We have extended our stays at campgrounds when a cool family setup camp next door. We have scheduled visits with family that we hadn’t seen in years.
We arranged to meet other home-schoolers in the area, giving our kids a glimpse of life in a place that isn’t Holland, Michigan and their kids a glimpse of life as full-time nomads.
As long-term homeschoolers we’ve been asked countless times about “socialization” and frankly, are just tired of the whole issue.
There are tons of resources online to answer this question if you are truly curious about the socialization of homeschoolers.
Or just go meet some.
But past the homeshooling piece of it, here’s are some things that we have found full-time travel to offer in the way of “social training”:
- Learning to navigate new social settings (public transit, church services, farmer’s markets, etc) all while being able to be coached by you because you are doing it together as a family.
- Learning to problem-solve where the solution requires using public information and conversations with strangers (wanting to attend a posted event but needing to ask a librarian or church information counter person for more information or directions).
- Learning to work through crisis (accidents, flat tires, trailer breakdowns, missed turns, lost reservations, not-as-advertised RV parks or attractions, etc).
- Learning to meet and converse with people of all ages, races, and backgrounds.
- Learning to appreciate veterans and senior citizens by interacting with them more.
I’m confident that once our kids launch from our nest they will be able to jump into new social settings, get oriented, and find their place because it’s something we will have practiced together many many times by then.
It’s true - life as a fulltime traveling family can be isolating. We’ve been the only RV in a state park campground for entire weekends.
Even if there are others around, they are often not families but retired people. We actually don’t mind periods of either - the quiet times are great for connecting as a family unit. We’ve grown to appreciate and be inspired by the people of older generations that we meet.
We need to remember that we are flexible. The main reason we are doing our current camp-hosting job is because it offered all of us time with friends we knew and the opportunity to meet new people who are all working together with a common goal of keeping a park running.
We’re working with other camp-host couples, Nature Center volunteers, Trail Volunteers, park staff, park regulars and local Sheriffs deputies who have offices here.
It’s nice to get a free campsite and some amenities. Honestly, though? I could cover a week of camping here in less than two hours of billable time - so it’s not a clear financial win.
When you do one thing you are not doing something else - that’s opportunity cost.
If you have the means, motive and opportunity to travel extensively with your kids and don’t, what will they have missed out on?
Exposure to other places, landscapes, cultures, religions, languages, even - potentially and ironically - other better and deeper friendships with people they wouldn’t have otherwise met?
For us once we investigated the idea of long-term travel with our kids the opportunity cost of not doing it was too great.
So, What About Friends?
My kids know more other kids now than ever. Just about every age-mate they’ve met along the way has been added to their email, phone and Facebook lists.
Are they all “deep personal friendships”? No, certainly not all of them - but I’m sure all your friendships aren’t “deep” either. The rest? I don’t know - they are young teens after all.
Overhearing their conversations and what sends them into fits of laughter can rarely be called “deep”.
But I have to believe that somewhere in these friendships are ones that will last. I could be wrong, but either way I can’t see how being in once place for longer periods of time would guarantee better results.
Like the Number 1 worst rock lyric says:
Only time will tell if we stand the test of time.Van Halen
Preach it “Deep Eddie”.