Downsizing to Simplify & Serve Abroad
How Is This Impacting My Daughters?
This is the third in a series of articles about the life changing decisions my wife and I have made to detach ourselves from most of our belongings and financial commitments in order to create opportunities to explore the globe, and to focus on our project, www.tolivefor.org. Quite honestly, I am not even sure where this article is heading because there is such an emotional lump of self-doubt and pain in my heart as I wonder what our decision feels like and means to my daughters.
Allow me to “set the stage,” if you will. I am four years into my second marriage. I have two daughters, one is heading into her 4th year of college, and one has just finished high school this year. I carry pain around the break up of my first marriage, especially in relation to the impact of my daughters. Intellectually, and as a trained counselor, I ‘know’ that carrying shame and doubt is not healthy for anyone, and with the help of my own counselor, I keep working on letting go of this negative energy force, but these feelings still have a small, part time residence in my heart. This old shame seems to have found new life because our decision to downsize and minimize to explore the world means not being physically near my daughters on a daily basis, though we have made it clear that we will create opportunities for them to visit us. As my wife and I prepare to move into our one-room Maine summer apartment (with 3 suitcases and 2 bikes), and then head to Central America in the Fall (with just the suitcases) for a self retreat of writing, yoga, & surfing, and then to Hawaii for the Winter for a wonderful service opportunity (another blog topic), all 1-room living experiences, I am asking myself every day: “Am I abandoning my daughters all over again?”
Actually, the question, I believe, is not that simple to ask, nor to answer. Perhaps, there is a different question to ask, “Am I abandoning my self if I don’t try to live in a far less materialistic way, and if I don’t try to serve our sacred earth and the people living on her?”
On our last trip to Central America, my wife and I would ask complete strangers of all ages what they would do as the parents of 4 young adults (I have two daughters, my wife has 2 sons), or, if the person we were asking was a young adult, we asked them how they would respond if their parents made this decision to down size and detach from their native home and lifestyle. One could argue this was a biased survey because nearly everyone we met on our travels was doing what we wanted to do: exploring the world! Of course, the results were nearly unanimous, as most respondents encouraged us to take the leap, adding that they believed it was time for our young adult children to walk on their own path.
But, on a daily basis, these questions are in my heart: What is the impact our ‘downsize and detach’ decision is having on all of our children (ages 18 — 23)? What are the immediate and long term effects on our children?
A few nights ago, my younger daughter and I talked about the recent decisions my wife and I made. I wish I could paint a rosy picture here, but my daughter is sad about our decision to be ‘on the road’ for the Fall and Winter, though we invited her to join us for our Hawaiian winter experience. There are many levels and reasons for this sadness, but having to re-home the dog is one of the reasons for the sadness, and this is sitting very heavy in my heart right now. I also recognize this is a very vulnerable time in her life so what’s the right thing to do, as a parent?
Let me start by stating that I don’t think there is one right answer; in fact, what is right for me, can be very wrong for another parent. I move forward only with one core feeling and value: Love. Love for our children. Love for us. Love for life. Love for this earth. Love for teaching and serving. Love for others. Love. I understand our decision to downsize and detach may be judged differently than love, but I am trying my best to stay centered on love. I can only hope our children recognize this some day, if not now.
For my wife and I, we spent time talking and meditating and felt mutually led by these values in being overseas and nomadic for the unforeseeable future. 1) Ultimately, we must do what we feel is right for us, in the belief that following our truths and our passions will bring the best benefit to everyone, especially our children. 2) Our children must learn to experience and walk their own path. 3) It’s a cliche’ but life can be short, and we just never know, so do what we can to enjoy each moment. For us, this is traveling, being in service, and sharing joy. 4) This may seem trivial, but we just are plain done with Maine winters. It’s just too dark and cold for too long! After 25 years here, it’s time to explore warmer places. The sun is definitely a source of energy and positive vibes for both of us. 5) Our venture, To Live For, is a major focus now that we have split form our traditional jobs and businesses, and sold our home and most belongings. This venture is all about meeting inspiring people and sharing their stories and talents and what better way is there to do this than to explore the world. Even as I type this point, I become more excited, because we truly feel called to share the vibe of all the inspiring people we continue to be blessed to meet.
Just today, I interviewed a family of 6 (The Lockharts AKA “Definitely Not The Jones) for our To Live For project, and, get this, the entire family agreed to their own downsize and detach plan. They sold almost everything in order to “find ways to live outside the suburban dream and expand their horizons.” They are 6 months into this journey, and have no regrets! They are excited about what lies ahead, even though they don’t really know exactly where they will be living in 6 months. (Read their blogs here or a different one here.)
There is just something about this ‘calling’ or this ‘knowing’ that we are supposed to make a difference in this world by sharing joy and positive vibes, and I have learned to trust and pay attention to my ‘knowings.’ I have to give this a shot, this ‘downsizing to serve and travel’ adventure we are on. I have to pay attention to my knowing.
How am I countering my self judgement around the feelings I am abandoning my daughters? Every morning and night, I practice visualizing them being full of joy and light. I pray. I seek faith and protection that everything will work out, and that they will find strength in their own convictions, voice, and courage. I trust they will flourish as much as we will, and that when we meet up somewhere overseas, there will be a lot of stories, laughter, tears, and joy, as we watch the sun set over some yet to be determined body of warm, turquoise water.
I believe most decisions boil down to two feelings: love and fear. I am moving forward in love, for each member of our family, and for service to others.
Fear would like me to stay locked into this expensive North American lifestyle. Love gives me freedom to let go of materialism.
With almost all of our belongings gone, there is not much left for me to call my own, except for family. I hope all of my family, but especially my children, recognize that this is all about creating an amazingly different type of love and life, which I hope will come back around to bring them excitement, joy, and love in their own lives.