We are asked, on occasion, what we “do” about the social needs of our children.
Granted, the question has never been asked by anyone who’s actually met our children. Spend an hour interacting with them and you’ll know a few things:
- They love to talk.
- YOU are their socialization of the moment.
- They have friends all over the world (get out your note pad so you can keep track of names and places, they’ll expect you to remember later!)
- They don’t really know they’re kids.
Well, they do know they’re kids, obviously, but they don’t really see why that matters. They have friends of all ages, and that seems very normal to them. Perhaps because, it is.
What people mean, when they ask that question, is, “What do you do about your kids’ need to hang out with other kids?”
And that’s a fair question.
Obviously, they’re not in school 8 hours a day, 5 days a week with 20 other urchins of exactly their same age and experience, so there must be a social deficiency, right? They must be missing out on hanging with their buddies and doing “kid stuff,” right?
Erm… no. Not really.
The first thing I’ll freely admit is that being a family of six is different, socially, than being a family of two.
My kids are friends with each other, so each of them travels with three unique friendships in their backpacks. They hang together sometimes, they pair off sometimes. They like to be alone sometimes. If we had just one kid, it would be much harder to provide the diversity of friendship and interaction that happens quite naturally with six of us.
Just this morning, as Hannah was crouched by the woodstove, hanging her hair over the vents trying to dry it, I asked, “So Peep, what are ya going to do today?”
“Well… I’m going to work on my book project with Jessie… then I think I’m going to do something with Ez.”
At that very moment Ezra and Elisha were talking through an elaborate lego game that I do not understand but that they love passionately.
Where was Gabe? Out the door to work for the day. He’s got a gig working with an older man who’s become his friend while they haul brush, cut stuff up and rake.
So the first answer to that question: They have each other, and siblings really can be good friends.
I’ll bet your kids talk to their friends every day, don’t they?
My kids do too.
I often wake up to updates about Will’s progress on his novel or how his trip to the Czech went. (Will lives in Germany.) I get daily reports on the status of the Wood children and their little ones’ antics. (The Woods live in the USA.) Gabe occasionally plays games with boys spread between three continents at the moment. Emails fly back and forth around the planet like notes passed in my seventh grade homeroom behind Miss More’s back. The classroom has just gotten exponentially bigger!
The second answer: Technology helps
There’s another obvious answer as well: They make friends.
Everywhere we go, and across culture and language barriers, they make friends. Some of their friends are people they’ve never even met!!
A list of people considered “best friends” that we’d never have met if we hadn’t started traveling:
More “buddies” they wouldn’t trade:
When one of the kids reads this post I’m going to get in trouble for forgetting someone important, but honestly, I can’t keep track. I should also note that the age range of the above set of friends ranges from five to seventeen and my turning 13 year old would be FIGHTING mad if you suggested that he can’t really count the five year olds as his real friends. Age only matters if you let it.
Please note: these are ONLY their traveling friends, there are, of course, the long list of their long term bestest friends who they keep in touch with religiously, and who send us sweet little packages and cards and who we Skype with whenever we can.
There’s another factor at play though: Our kids have “friends” they’ve never met.
These are kids whose blogs they follow, or who live in other traveling families that we haven’t crossed paths with. These are the kids they are sometimes in classes with or that we get updates on via Facebook.
Ezra is quite keen to meet a child we are sure to be his brother from a different mother, they’re the same age, the same “bent” and are equally traveled. For now they snicker at each other’s antics from afar.
The whole tribe is on the edge of their seats this week worrying about a boy who took a nasty fall from a horse in Mongolia this week. He’s being airlifted to Hong Kong for surgery. He’s Elisha’s age.
The second week we were in New Zealand our friends, the Alboms, hosted a dinner party for a group of traveling families. We are all converging on Auckland for one night, taking flights in and out, weaving our threads through the same city for one day. There were about ten kids between 7 and 16, none of whom had met in the real world. All of whom hugged hard when they left and swapped emails like day traders. The parents got on just as well.
There is a brotherhood among traveling children.
It’s not that our kids don’t fit “in the box.” Au contraire; I’ve never seen our kids in a situation where they couldn’t find common ground and enjoy their compatriots, even when they’ve visited “school” for a day. It’s that we’re raising our kids to be able to box hop, and peek over the top to realize that there is this whole space between the boxes that is also fair game.
Other traveling kids get this. No one told them. It has never been explained. It’s just part of their reality as what is sometimes called “Third Culture Kids.”
You know how, when you get together with people you went to high school with and you all start swapping stories about this teacher, or that clique, or that time SOMEONE dressed the Virgin Mary in a bikini with a lei and propped a sign behind her praying hands that said, “Mother Mary goes to Hawaii!” there is instant camaraderie?
It’s like that.
- They tell stories.
- They swap third world bathroom horrors.
- They collectively roll eyes at overnight bus trips from hell, hot days spent looking at ruins their parents loved when they just wanted to go to the beach!
- They trade tropical illness tales and they laugh about that one time when so-and-so was pooping to death!!
- They tell the story of riding camels for Christmas and instead of the other kids calling them liars and threatening to punch their lights out (yep, really happened) the other kids ante up with their stories of riding elephants, and Mongolian horses, and giraffes and whales!
Okay, maybe not giraffes and whales.
I love those moments. Those moments are the BEST because those are the moments, and the friendships that are happening in the space between the boxes, you know?
Are our kids socially weird?
It is the family joke… kind of… that the only real social downside of our travels is that Ezra is quite convinced that his peers are the 24 year old backpackers we hang with in hostels. And they are… and since one day he’ll be 24 (and then 34, and 44) we’re not worried. It will all come out in the wash.
They would tell you that they have no desire to be “normally” socialized teenagers. Hannah and Gabe shudder at the thought.
Are they socially deficient?
No. There’s no deficiency… just difference; and difference is okay. It’s better than okay, in fact, it’s good.
Because they’ve been socialized differently they aren’t uncomfortable in the same ways that many teenagers are. They like the “teen box” but they like the other boxes too.
Their favourite place?
Running amok between the boxes with the handful of other kids who they love more than life and live there too. And the adults they run into between the boxes, now those are the people who are socially challenging and inspiring. Those are the folks I hope my kids crash headlong into whilst playing hide and seek and shouting from box top to box top and careening around corners out there in the real world.
So what do we do about the social needs of our kids?