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Challenge: Traveling with Kids

How International Travel Prepared My Family for a Pandemic

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As my family has struggled to adapt to all the changes brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic, I tried to think of ways to help my daughters cope with this new reality. After four months in the same house together with very few outings, the sibling bickering and irritability was reaching new heights! My middle daughter was complaining of being tired even though she hadn’t done any tiring activities. Then I realized we’ve had this feeling before!

Having traveled to sixteen countries on five continents with our daughters (ages 13, 11, and 9), we’ve learned a little about adapting to new circumstances. Its not uncommon when in a different country for one of the girls to express being tired or grumpy “for no reason.” I usually take that as my cue to explain “culture stress.” Having lived in South Asia in my early 20s, I consider myself qualified to coach them through this! Culture stress is the feeling of fatigue or frustration that comes from having to do normal activities (shop for groceries, go places, eat at restaurants, use public restrooms) but you don’t know the norms. You are constantly observing, learning, and making decisions when it feels you don’t have all the necessary information- what does that say? Did I hear her correctly? What does that sign mean? Is that a toilet?... It can be exhausting! And usually leaves us with a short fuse for those around us.

Ironically, this is what our family is experiencing being stuck in our own home during coronavirus. Even going to the grocery store, a once “normal” experience, is now new: Did I remember my mask? Do I have hand sanitizer? Where are my disinfecting wipes? Don’t stand close to anyone. Obey the directional arrows. Stand on your spot while in line.

A previously simple question of “can I go to my friend’s house?” introduces all new questions: Who else have they been around? Have they been isolating? Do they know anyone who is sick? Will you play inside or just outside? The constant decision making in this new setting is stressful for parents as well as kids.

Having experienced this disorienting feeling while traveling, I know it will get easier. Things will become “normal” again even if its a new normal. I’m thankful I can remind my daughters of their experiences of culture stress, encouraging them to have grace with themselves and others. And until we can travel again, we’ll embrace this pandemic life with the same principles we apply during our travels- a sense of adventure, a desire to learn, and a heart for others.

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