Every once in a blue moon I mourn the loss of my children’s American childhood. Why do I feel this way, I think?

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Ella as a baby

It happens when I reminisce about the great childhood days I had playing in the woods, building “shoes” out of shingles to walk in the creek and catch tadpoles, building forts, climbing trees, and catching butterflies. Of the days my parents played in a band in an outdoor auditorium while we kids marched around to patriotic songs holding an American flag. Or the days when I grew older and suddenly Oprah came into my life, as did boys, malls, and shopping at the dollar store for fake nails and nail polish. Or how about the high school days when I drove around town with friends to the movies, to the carnival, and to the theater to perform or watch musical theatre productions that filled my heart with song and dance?

Will my children ever know what it’s like to run around free in the woods, not worrying about a schedule or a time to return home?  Will my kids ever wander aimlessly in a creek catching tadpoles or frogs, and studying the little fish on their own? Will my kids build forts in the woods, make new trails, or spend long lazy summers outdoors?

Or what about when they’re older…should I regret the fact that they won’t get hooked to American television after school, like I did? That they won’t get to see Oprah, Ricky Lake trash, or the TGIF specials that ran all Friday night for kids like me who weren’t old enough to go out and date?

Will they know what it’s like to go to the mall with girlfriends and talk about all of the boys they think are cute? Will they know what it’s like to watch movie after movie with friends at the cinema, having nothing more important to do? Will they get a chance to drive around town doing nothing in particular (and hopefully not getting in trouble)?

What about school? Shouldn’t every American child have memories of playing on the playground, dreading PE classes, or reveling in group choir classes and performances for the holidays?  What about learning to do four-square dancing (I grew up in the midwest), playing dodge ball, or riding around on sit-down scooters in a gym?

Aren’t these typical American experiences that every kid should have?  If it shaped me…shouldn’t it shape them?

When I get bogged down with the thoughts of what from my childhood, I can’t help but wonder what my parent’s childhood was like. Surely it was different than mine. In many ways, I can bet you that my childhood didn’t resemble theirs much at all! Did they mourn the fact that I didn’t have their same childhood? Did they wish for me that TV didn’t take over my life when I reached 12 years old? Did they wish that I could walk around town at a young age (living close enough TO town instead of in the suburbs) and go to the store to buy penny candy or some ice cream? Did they spend more time outdoors than I did?  Were they more involved with their community? Did THEIR parents mourn the loss of THEIR childhood?  Did they wish their children had been able to spend their classroom years in a one-room classroom, as well? What else did they feel their children missed out on?
Putting that into perspective…I have to stop and shake my head.

My kids may not have my childhood, but do they really need it? Is it really all that bad?

I mean, seriously. Look at what my kids DO get…

-They’re worldwide travelers that have had their hearts opened to new cultures and ways of life.

-They’ve experienced the ups and downs of physical exertion…what it takes to walk or climb long distances to reach the “reward” (experience) at the end.

-They’ve seen parades, festivities, and all sorts of unique things I would never have dreamed of as a child!

-They’ve touched history, walked in its path, and better understood that the world has a much deeper heritage than they would have ever realized from a book.

-Their minds have been opened to unique religious traditions that they may not share or fully understand…but they’ve been reminded that we are each children of God, and no one is any less of a person for believing in something different.

-They’ve learned problem solving in its most basic form…where do we sleep? Where do we eat? WHAT do we eat? How do we get there?

-They’ve been exposed to many different languages, and have learned the value of learning languages other than their native tongue.

-They’ve learned about currencies all over the world, and have picked up the currency in each country with wonder and delight…pointing out how it is all unique and questioning what king or ruler is portrayed on their bills.

-They’ve made friends with such a variety of people…I have to stop and wonder, “who COULDN’T they be friends with?” There’s no limit in their minds, as of yet. If a person is kind and loving–they’re friends. I hope it stays this way!

-They’ve tasted food throughout the world, and can tell you about different types of eating habits in different countries!

-They have friends and family back at “home” (wherever that is in the US) that they love to visit, and immediately become chummy with upon visiting. They get to stay connected with them face-to-face on Skype and Facetime!  (imagine how that would have changed YOUR childhood?!)

-They’ve seen such a variety of animals at worldwide zoos…animals that I never knew existed until our recent travels!

-They’re learning that stuff doesn’t make people or families. It is the memories and experiences and love you share with others!

-They’ve seen the beauty of God’s geological creations up-close and personal. They’ve seen the testimony of a creator who loves them and blesses them with a wondrous feast for the eyes!

In the end…kids can never have their parent’s childhood. And should they?

No. The world isn’t the same as when I was a child. It’s also not the same as when my parents were children, or my grandparents were children.

This is my children’s childhood. It may not be the typical “American” experience…but seeing what that has morphed into for this generation of children…I’m thinking that’s a good thing.

A childhood is still a childhood, wherever it may be. It’s a time of discovery—both of self and the world around them.  These childhood adventures will shape them into individuals who aren’t me or my husband…but themselves. Totally and uniquely them.

When they look back as adults, what will they wish their kids could have from their own childhood?

A lot, I think.

13 Responses to “Mourning the Loss of my Children’s American Childhood”

  1. This is beautifully written, and your children have received such a gift from you and your choices. I look forward to my kids experiencing many of the same things as we travel more.

    Here’s a bit more perspective on my kids’ current American childhood. For context: we live in a town that was one of Family Circle’s Best Places to Live for Families, and just rated Best Places to Live for Families in Washington, by BusinessWeek. Our average home price is $263,000.
    My boys (9 & 10) were recently playing in the woods behind our home. Incidentally, these woods will be torn down to build a 100ft tall manufacturing/tech building w/in 5 years. Anyway,as they were exploring, they found 23 used hypodermic needles, spray paint cans (used for graffiti & huffing), and used condoms. They found these things off a trail in a place we’ve seen teens, from this “upper-middle class” neighborhood hanging out.

    They were also told by classmates it is “gay” to have sleepovers with friends. They also are also missing recess for not finishing an assignment (because my son likes to write so much). This is the same consequence for kids with poor behavior. A 13 year old girl in our neighborhood recently posted nude pictures of herself to Twitter, and it went viral at her school(one of the “best” schools in the state).

    So, in summary…your kids aren’t missing anything and gaining everything. 🙂

  2. Good post. Let me encourage those who may read this, as one who was homeschooled and isolated from the American culture and regretted the isolation, that there is a big difference between those being homeschooled and intentionally not given contact with a public schooler, and a traveler. The traveler DOES have cultural interactions. Some go to schools in other countries for a while, we can just go out into the country and chill, we learn many languages and interact with cultures all around the world. I travel other countries a lot; its very rewarding, and it expands me, not isolates me.

    Thailand is actually a great place for that because the wilderness in Thailand is so different than the city; in many ways, it feels like going into a different culture. I love their campgrounds among many things.

  3. Beautiful post. I think about this so much.. about what my kids are missing… but what are they gaining?

  4. Alisa, THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU for writing this! This post put in to words what my husband and I have been thinking for a long, long time, and given the recent very tragic events in CT, our conviction behind our lifestyles as travelers has only deepened. All of your points pertaining to what your three children have gained as travelers are true and absolutely brilliant, but what about the most important element that factors into the very essence of what your family is doing? How incredibly blessed are your children to have their mother and father to share in this adventure with them, every day and every minute, in every corner of the earth you explore? For me, someone who grew up as a pseudo ‘latch-key’ kid (there’s a piece of Americana for you, no?), this fact alone is invaluable.

    I hope we have an opportunity for our paths to cross one day, we’d love to meet you guys!
    Emily, Ryan, Oliver & Kendley Rauch

  5. Thank you for writing this.
    This article opened up my eyes a bit. I actually grew up travelling. My father is French Canadian and my mother was Thai. I spent the first five years of my life travelling then we moved to California and would travel out to different places sporadically like Taiwan, Japan etc..

    I never for once considered that my children who are now raised Americans might be missing out on some American cultures. Although when I read your article the thought did cross my mind.

    I guess My biggest fear is that my two now teenage sons will resent me for travelling so much with them. Although I love travelling, it is sometimes harder for them because they miss the life we used to have which was a very upper middle class lifestyle in the silicon valley California. Ultimately, i think travelling is good for them, it opens up their eyes a bit and helps them think globally and more creatively. Even if they don’t appreciate it now, i think they will appreciate it in the future.
    God knows i resented my own parents for travelling so much but looking back, i wouldn’t have it any other way.

    Cheers,
    Annie 🙂

  6. Great blog post!

  7. Heatherly says:

    I love your entry. I think it is great they get to experience so many things. I do not know there is any perfect childhood. The worse thing I can see happening is when true learning and experience is replaced with hours of TV and video games. I am not talking about educational ones either. I love learning about other places and experiencing them. I have not been able to travel at all except in the USA. I can’t wait to travel though. Not in the typical tourist way either. I am sure what we all miss out on different things depending on how we were raised and where but are all those things we missed out on really important? As I look back I don’t care that my parents rarely let us watch TV(we were only allowed to watch Mr Rogers, Nature and as we grew older few other PBS shows.. this lasted till I was 13) or that they raised in a rather non American way or that we sometimes didn’t have running water or that we lived up in the mountains in a tiny square mile town. All those experiences actually helped define me and I like them. I would not go back and change them.

  8. This is absolutely the most amazing thing to me. I dream of something like this, but never realized that someone actually did it, with kids! I’m fascinated. I can’t help but wonder, how do you pay for everything? That would be the biggest hurdle for us, I think.

  9. Fabulous post! I’m a British expat in Australia ( soon to be nomadic traveller). I fret about my boys missing out on family Christmases, family anything, actually, and school, I loved school. But the reality is, they’re not me. They don’t know any different, they love their tropical hotel Christmases, it’s their tradition and school didn’t suit the elder one, he’s very happy to be homeschooled. I think they’ll be the luckiest and best educated kids around once we start out on our travel adventure. Apart from the travel, spending time together, being happy and relaxed, not stressed and tired, will be priceless. Glad I found your blog, can’t get enough of travelling families!

  10. The irony of our travels is that my children (who know of no life inside the United States) always pretend they are traveling to “America” (they are 4 & 2 and we’ve been outside the US for 2 1/2 yrs now). I think it’s cute, and on rare occasion I do sometimes long for the familiarity and predictability of a childhood there (knowing that their’s would be different than mine).

    However, the big picture is that I wish for them to develop a deeper understanding of themselves and to not take the superficial marketing and peer messages that all too often influence kids from every angle in the US (and adults for that matter too.)

    Frankly, it’s easier to live outside of the United States and be a conscientiousness parent, since the marketing messages and social pressure aren’t influencing us either.

    Nice article!

  11. Excellent! I wish I had read your post earlier! It would have saved me some time writing out my thoughts – I could have just read yours and said “Amen!” 🙂

    Love this: “They’re learning that stuff doesn’t make people or families. It is the memories and experiences and love you share with others!”

    Great post!!

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