We're two weeks into our travels from time of landing, and it's been an amazing journey (literally, emotionally, figuratively...) so far. We're getting our camping legs (more to come on advice about camping with a baby) and feel a bit more like we have a 'system' (a loose term when you're doing what we're doing) to how we're living, such that leaving the tent each morning, and the erection and pack down of the tent doesn't cause divorce each time.
The real challenge we've faced, and we're still working through as a family, is that life on the road is just that, life. We weren't blinkered to this before we started this journey; we knew that the trials and tribulations of having a baby wouldn't disappear once we were travelling, far from it. But we did think that having two of us there, 24/7, would make it all easier (and to put some context on it, Otis is a good baby)
But in fact, the opposite is true to begin with. The reality is that with any changing dynamic in a family, there is a period where everyone has to find their feet. And in the meantime, there are likely to be a few (ok, more than a few), bumps (translate petty, somewhat pointless arguments) along the way.
Every couple I know with a baby have said that it affected their relationship at the start. Sleeplessness, and a reality that you as a couple come second to this little human being who needs looking after all of the time is a sharp reality to contend with when they first arrive. But, you fall into a rhythm, gradually decide out who does what, work through the things you agree and disagree on in parenting to come to some kind of balance. The pattern in most families is still that one parent is more of the primary carer, and the other becomes the play parent because of work responsibilities, more of a novelty, albeit no less important, or responsible for the upbringing of your child, but they simply have less hours to be there to do the day to day grunt work.
That was our reality for the first six months of Otis's existence. I was on maternity leave, Ben back at work, the most present and hands on of dads, but the reality was that mid week meant that he often missed Otis being awake, and therefore weekends he took the lead, taking the opportunity to spend as much time with Otis as possible, and making sure I had a rest from the day to day chore side of a baby as well. My being the primary carer mid week came with a natural assumption that I had a bit more experience with Otis, and decisions regarding his wellbeing were often led by me.
Since coming away, the reality is that we are now both here 24/7. both primary carers, and the balance has shifted. I was excited about the opportunity to have a bit more free time, as Ben would be there to care for Otis. Ben was excited about seeing his little boy all of the time, who he adores. We were both excited (and still are!) to spend as much time as a family as possible. And a little apprehensive about how things would work when we wanted time together as a couple.
It's key to work out your roles, and not totally overlap all of the time. To allow the other one to find their feet (mostly me learning to allow Ben to find his own way with Otis, rather than barking orders at him). To appreciate that we both have Otis's best interests at heart, and have different ways of doing things.
And most importantly, we're learning that we need to find ways to have our own individual space, and space together as a couple when Otis isn't around, which is no mean feat when it's just us on the road. Ben looks after Otis in the morning to allow me to do yoga. We've spoken about things we'd like to do on the road that might mean the other one can have an experience that isn't feasible as a 3 with a baby. We've realised we need to have a night out each week, where we get Otis ready for bed and head out to dinner and feel like a grown up couple. And likewise, to allow downtime where Otis gets to do his own thing, and not get dragged around by us the whole time; and where we just chill at the tent, like we might do on a Sunday afternoon at home.
It sounds cheesy, but after a few blow ups, we sat down and wrote some travel commitments to each other. Travel might sound like escapism, but it's also a year of life, and we need to work hard to become a team, not a pair of individuals butting heads, and we realised that pretty early on. Living in such close proximity is a challenge, but also a huge opportunity to learn more about each other, as a couple and a family, so we intend to relish that. I hope, if you're considering travelling as a family (or indeed some of these apply if you're a new family at home), some of these might be helpful:
Our travel commitments:
(1) I promise to slow down and not rush in to advise
(2) Every day will be a good day
(3) I promise not to let an argument linger
(4) I won't keep things to myself / let things boil over inside
(5) I will remember that we both have Otis's best interests at heart, but have different ways of doing things
(6) I will remember to zoom in on Google maps (!) (this one relates to quite a few U-turns on our travels so far!)
(7) Once a week we will go out for a nice lunch or dinner timed around Otis sleeping
(8) We won't micro-manage the budget, giving ourselves days to splurge and enjoy
(9) I will make time to give time on your own when you need it
(10) We will have days dedicated to Otis and what he needs - not just accompanying us on what we do