How Family Travel Transformed Me
We left the United States 234 days ago. It’s been about that long since I’ve had an American dollar in my pocket. I don’t remember the last time I wore high heels, make up or had a girls night out with my friends. We’ve seen three movies on the big screen and I have forty un-heard voicemails lingering in the void. My previous life felt like a million miles away as we journeyed through time zones, exotic landscapes and old worlds still alive. As the remaining weeks of our #WheelersRoundTheWorld journey dwindle, I am ever contemplative of the changes I am bringing home with me—that this journey will never really end and who I am has been redefined.
I am more inspired by quiet, empty spaces than I’ve ever been. I am more comfortable with less words and more feeling than I have ever been. I don’t react like I used to. I don’t need to prove my point as much. I am at peace with my current state of affairs, myself as a work in progress.
I am also more comfortable with my children and husband as they are. THIS. This change was more of an adventure and challenge than all the logistics of planning and executing a trip around the world.
It didn’t happen immediately, in fact within the first month we had a friend join us on our family journey and I immediately knew I wasn’t ready to balance time with what she needed, what I needed and with what my family needed.
I realized during our friend’s short stay with us that I hadn’t said all the things I needed to say to my family to make this journey go well. I was not all in yet. I felt ashamed to take time away for myself (besides my early morning training runs when everyone was sleeping), but I was also afraid of the prospect of being all on— 100% parent for the next eight months straight. No “girls night outs”, no work outside the “home”, no vacations without kids or date nights. I realized the idea of homeschooling and traveling the world, as a family, was more of an ideal than a smooth reality.
I was facing a major intersection in my life as a wife and a parent. I wanted my daughters to rely on me more for their questions and basic needs, but they had simply gotten so used to Carter being the primary respondent. 90% of their parental requests started with daddy at the beginning of our journey. He had spent the past couple of years scaling back his work outside of the home while mine ramped up, tipping the scales to favor my time outside the family unit.
Prior to leaving on our journey, I had new house stuff to settle, work to wrap up and clients to have closure with while he spent weeks getting the girls prepped and started on their home school program. During the first few weeks of our trip in Tahiti, the wifi was slow to non-existent, which left the girls “behind” in school. We finally arrived to Fiji where we had a stable place for a couple weeks and plenty to catch up on. I found it stressful to manage what we had to do to meet the online private school requirements, with the spirit of just being in the present moment of travel and the paradise in which we were. I was also carrying a lot of judgment about how and when things should be done in the family now that I was more present and a part of the picture.
You can only imagine how well that went over.
Mild tension erupted into conflict and I realized I was going to have to admit that I had been absent in the family way of functioning. I also felt compelled to make some changes, but that wasn’t going to happen over night. Regardless of what I thought was and wasn’t working with Carter’s teaching, parenting and general way of being, the girls responded to it and were used to his way of parenting.
We had very little conflict in the “real world” back home because I was working out of the home or away a lot and he had his “system”. It wasn’t right for me to swoop in when it was convenient for me to be available and correct, revise and replace his modus operandi. He was stepping up because that’s what we had agreed upon. Now, things were different. How could I come in and change the way of the Wheeler world as it was?
I had to do so carefully and consciously.
But, of course I didn’t.
The first time, that is. I flew off the handle on more than one occasion in the early days of this journey, criticizing how he’d been doing it and suggesting how it should be done. We all have peeves about people and how they do things and it was my time to look inward, recognize and acknowledge my triggers and suggest sustainable change as a family, which meant I had to consider and accept the changes requested of me.
This eruption that occurred in the beginning of our journey was the catalyst to make real change in our family. This significant change would involve me in the picture more, with an opinion that didn’t always match the other parent in the picture.
Many relationships work because of a division of labor in the family system. There are often agreed upon rules and roles that work in an intact family of origin, blended families and even co-parenting families. What was making our situation interesting was this amorphous world we created for ourselves traveling around the world. We found it challenging to continually be parenting in the presence of the children, communicating on the fly, as we didn’t have a whole lot of separation of parent and child.
Since I was getting up at dawn to run most days, I would be exhausted by the time the girls would go to sleep and often fall asleep before Carter and I would have time to talk as adults. I also tend to be a morning-person-conflict-resolver and Carter prefers the evening. We had spent weeks missing (or avoiding) the opportunity for meaningful problem-solving time.
This friend who was visiting during these early days of us figuring out our new life made a comment that I should have spoken to Carter in private before bringing anything up in front of her or the children. What had been our reality up until that point was there was almost no privacy while traveling so closely and completely immersed with our children. At first, I felt judged by her, especially as a childless woman, but I am always one to favor learning over righteous indignation and welcomed her perspective, knowing I had been far from a perfect partner.
Silence and holding back had become my thing until my opinions exploded as derisive judgment. This is what happens. If we stay silent, we comply with what’s happening; sometimes silence works for a really long time and there is peace and harmony. Sometimes silence is a liar and a dark, deceptive breeding ground for disaster and break down in a relationship. When carefully broken, silence can also make way for a break through. Communication is the catalyst for transformation.
I have finally come into acceptance with Carter’s different way of expression than mine. He has a loud, booming voice to match his 6’3” stature and gesticulates wildly with his hands—all the time, Italian style, not just when he’s describing a great pasta dish. I find it offensive and over the top—he’s just having a conversation.
Before we left for our journey and during the first few weeks I was desperately afraid to be alone with just my family. My business is my lifework. What I’ve created in my professional life is a passion and a livelihood. I knew what I was leaving, I felt valued and important at work. I didn’t always feel like I fit in at home. I am independent and need a good deal of personal time. I had also separated myself, in many ways to protect myself from failure (as a mom) and rejection.
My visiting single, free-spirited friend was a trigger to my in-the-moment-evolving personhood. She made decisions based only on what she wanted and with whom she wanted to be with at any time. I realize now in many ways, her presence was a lesson in my colliding worlds. One where my internal and independent world I had fiercely protected for so long was only beginning to merge with a far deeper and more meaningful identity—one as mother and wife, sustained and empowered by the powerful love and bond of family. I wasn’t losing myself. I was gaining something bigger than myself alone.
There are so many clichés out there about the power of union in conquering life’s challenges. I also know, after more than eight months traveling this wild, crazy, beautiful, astonishing, fragile, creative and magnificent world that I would have only learned a limited amount from my one pair of eyes and ears, one heart, soul and mind, but added with 3 others, I have learned, experienced and gained perspective I would have never considered to ask, notice or discover on my own throughout this journey. For that I have not seen the world once, but in the minds, hearts and souls of my tribe, four times.
I have experienced the world four times over this past year, and I return back to the U.S. in July a more exponentially enriched, grateful and whole person than I have ever been.
For anyone who is holding back in their relationships, focused only on what they are losing of themselves by being in a relationship, please consider what you gain by going deeper. Imagine what more you could possibly gain, know, feel and experience by going all in.
In loving kindness,