In 2016 my husband, children and I traveled along the west coast of the United States and then departed from Portland, Oregon to Frankfurt, Germany. From June to November we ventured through Europe stopping in Germany, Spain, France, and Italy then rounding off in the trip in the United Kingdom.
My life as a parent had been pretty much on autopilot. We had our routine, our comfort items, our space, our friends and our families. There wasn’t enough change in my life during those months leading up to our departure for me to even consider how stressed out as a parent I really was. Stress just seemed normal, always worried about every little detail and the ‘what-ifs’. But then, over the course of a few months we shed almost all of our belongings, leaving our lives in eight boxes stored at my parents house.
It was terrifying. The stress beast was officially awake and made itself known.
At some point while we were traveling abroad I realized the level of stress I was feeling wasn’t normal at all. Being in an unfamiliar country only fanned those flames. I had to let it go and traveling was the antidote that I needed.
While we traveled through the cities we visited, we met more and more families who like us were either on vacation or on a similar expedition as ours. We hardly ever ran into American parents and if we did they were expats or temporary transplants from another country. The laws of parenting were different and at times shocking to me and my husband. Children were not hovered over. They were given freedom accompanied by a relaxed attitude from one or both parents. I, on the other hand, was stressing out to the max. We met a family from Switzerland who were living in Barcelona indefinitely. Their son was four and regularly allowed to take his bike and play across the courtyard for hours alone, going in and out of the park, zipping around making friends. This was his normal and I realized in that moment I had always lived in an elevated state of stress and had always been a tense parent. It was just coming to fruition during our first 15 days out of the United States.
What happened after that moment in Spain changed the way I parent my own children. Instead of constantly playing the ‘what if’ commentary in my head, I gave my children more freedom and began to live in the moment. When my youngest son got sick in Pompeii two months later, I didn’t tear out my hair and toil over what to do and where to go to get him seen. I relaxed, asked a few questions and got him in to see the city pediatrician. I now let my four year old explore a large park where we now live and let him know where I’ll be when he is ready to return. Life is easier for both him and I and honestly so much more fun.
I certainly still have my moments of stress, but I have been given this incredible gift of relaxation that I don’t know if I would have known had we stayed in the states. Gone are the days where traveling on planes, trains, boats and in cabs makes my stomach jump into my throat. I no longer fuss over travel plans and itineraries. I just let it be. I take a deep breath and enjoy the ride.