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Mothering on the Road

By Emily Milner


If I had to envy anyone else’s life, it might be my good friend Shelley. She sold me her trampoline last spring–a double layered one, with a net–as part of a larger plan: to sell not just her trampoline, but every possession that did not fit inside an RV. The RV also contains her husband and five girls. They got rid of a lot of stuff, and that is part of my envy: holy cow I have a lot of stuff. I like my stuff, and I have a hard time getting rid of it even when I know it’s cluttering my life. To have an excuse to just dump it all and start over might be very good for me.

But it’s not just the getting rid of stuff I kinda envy. This is her plan: to road school her kids while traveling around the country for two years. They have a couple of sponsors for funding, and that plus the internet means they can see the United States as their job. It’s a little bit crazy and a little bit brilliant. I have never heard of anyone brave enough to live an RV life with five young children. So far (and it’s only been a couple of months) she and her family have been to Mount Rushmore and the Laura Ingalls homestead in DeSmet, visited Martin’s Cove, and gone to the science museum in Chicago, among other things. They plan to visit everything from national parks to quirky roadside attractions. You can read about their adventures here.

When she first told me, I was blown away that anyone would dare to leave home, job, friends, ward, doctors, schools, everything, on such an adventure. I couldn’t do it, but there’s a part of me that would love to see every single place she’s going, and see them with my children too. And she’s going to do it. I love the Little House books; I read them over and over as a child. Am I ever going to trek out to DeSmet? Not likely. It’s not on my way anywhere. Just getting ready to go on vacation is enough of a headache and hassle that I can’t really fathom what it took to make this happen. And maybe that’s why I would never do this: I’m not really willing to make the sacrifices necessary to live life on the road. It’s not just about letting go of stuff, it’s about letting go of nearly everything familiar in order to experience everything new. And I’m such a creature of habit that I resist software upgrades if it changes the interface in any way. I like things to look the same, be the same.

I am not brave enough to mother on the road, to be the anchor of stability for a family in constant change. But Shelley is–I romanticize life on the road, but I know it’s got to be hard. There’s a steep price to pay for the privilege of seeing the entire country with your family. And maybe at the end of two years, she’ll say it wasn’t worth it. But reading her blog makes me wish I could come along. If you see her RV pull up in your church parking lot one Sunday, give her a hug from Emily.

Would you ever seriously consider mothering on the road? And if you were daydreaming about an extended road trip, where would you go? Do you embrace change or resist it?

About Emily Milner

(Poetry Board) graduated from BYU in Comparative Literature, but it was long enough ago that most of what she learned has leaked out. She would like to mention other hobbies or interests, but to be honest she spends most of her free time reading (although she does enjoy attempting yoga). She used to blog at hearingvoices.wordpress.com. For now, though, Segullah is her only blogging home, and it's a good one.

15 thoughts on “Mothering on the Road”

  1. Holy cow! Shelley and her family came to our ward in central Illinois a few weeks ago (unless there are more RVs like that one hanging out in LDS Church parking lots). I wish I had already read this post. I would have delivered your hug.

    Would I mother on the road? Probably not deliberately. Traveling with small children stretches me a bit past my comfort zone. But what an adventure!

    By the way, DeSmet is pretty cool, worth a visit if you are a Laura Ingalls Wilder fan.

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  2. If I did something like this, it would be in the Middle East or China or Central Asia. It would be impossible though, at least right now. Even if it were possible, I need a little more stability than constantly being on the road can provide. I couldn't be a good mother if I were moving someplace new every few days.

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  3. Yes, yes, yes. I would do it. I would jettison nearly everything we have in order to live that sort of life. I am desperate for adventure and excitement, to see the world with my family alongside me.

    Instead, we tick along and I dream of emigrating. My husband is more careful and methodical than I could ever be, which is fantastic in many ways, but going somewhere on a whim is just not his way of thinking or existing.

    I'd love to move back to America for a few years, just so my kids can have a taste of what it was like for me growing up. Someday, perhaps.

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  4. When my kids were 6, 8 and 10, I took them for a month through Mexico, volunteering for a week at an orphanage and visiting beachs and ruins. A couple years later for a month in Honduras with a week volunteering in a rain forest. The rules of the road were: no whining, no fighting, no complaining – which we repeated often. Amazing how kids will rise to the challenge and acted better than they did at home. Those, and other trips, are some of our greatest memories.

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  5. My husband's job would never allow this sort of adventure, but if it did, I would have jumped at the chance. It's not forever, just a couple of years! And what an awesome couple of years! I'm sure this will be the adventure of a lifetime.

    My husband is a commercial airline pilot, so we have the travel bug in our house. We also home schooled and took advantage of the flexible schedule and opportunity to travel as often as we could.

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  6. No, at the time this variety of lifestyle would not be appropriate for my family. Well, and I can't imagine getting rid of things like the quilts my great-great grandmother made simply because they don't fit in an RV.

    Still, I will admit there is a certain appeal to the notion.

    Yet as a kid I'd would have gotten tired of being subjected to the "Hello Song" every Sunday for two years.

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  7. Thanks Emily! Great article!
    It has been challenging living on the road with my family, but well worth all that we get to do and see.
    And Juliana, I'm sure that was us. Too bad I missed the hug from Emily 😉

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  8. I did take four children to South America for five months, carrying only what we could bring in two checked bags each. We did live much more simply, with only eight changes of clothes each, and doing our laundry by hand.

    In some ways it was easier than a road trip, since we weren't on the go. But the US has become homogenized, with a Walmart near most major highway intersections, so a US road trip is less challenging that way.

    But I confess that in the back of my journal, I did keep a list of things that I wanted to do when I got back! And I am not sure that I am up for more than a year of it.

    I think this is such a great example of how each of us have to find our own way of parenting. There is no right or wrong, just what the Lord wants for our particular family at a given point in time.

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  9. I could never see myself doing this–I'm MUCH too much of a homebody! (I like watching my trees grow and would like to be buried in my own backyard. ;)) But I enjoy reading others' experiences and seeing things through their eyes.

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  10. I was thinking some more about this, and my own little family of 3 gets on my nerves enough at home. I think my worst nightmare is living in an rv with my kid and my husband around me all the time.

    But I would love to see all the stuff. Maybe if I went by myself…

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  11. This is the third…. no forth person whose blogs I follow that has decided to pack up and travel for a year or two with their children. This is the first to take more than 2 at once, nevermind 5 and all girls.

    It actually has me very jealous because Id like to do it sometime. Id travel internationally though, becasue although my country is full of natural wonders. I'd love then to be exposed to more culture than is available in the vast distances of Australia.

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  12. I talk big and sometimes think I would love to do something dramatic like this. Shake the moorings of my life. But then I realize a huge part of me needs stability, routine. And I worry, would my children really be okay with such an upheaval? Probably yes. But I haven't the guts. I totally admire your friend and wish some day I might do something as radical.

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  13. I met Shelley and her family today, and they are wonderful! We, too, are crazy enough to do this. I'm currently traveling with my four kids ages 9 months to fourteen for a year while my husband is deployed in Afghanistan. We met at church today. 🙂 So fun to find another family on the road. We, too, sold our home and most of what we owned to go on this adventure, and honestly, I can't think of a single thing I'd rather be doing right now, unless it were this with my husband. Of course, if he were home, we'd be tied to whatever place his job were in. Sad to be apart for the third year in a row, but so happy to be making the most of it and exposing my kids to all different climes, places, and lifestyles. I highly recommend it to anyone with a bit of an adventure spirit. 🙂 Cheers!

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