LESSONS FROM THE ROAD: PART ONE

Hitting the Road Through #EndlessCaravan

In the Spring of 2017, our family packed up our bags and we flew to Jackson Center, Ohio, and the headquarters of Airstream, who provided us with the trailer and the truck as part of their Endless Caravan Campaign. This beautiful endeavor allows families who have creative visions to move around the country and do their great work, while also getting to experience living in an Airstream trailer. I have so much gratitude to Airstream and their vision, because what unfolded over the next three months I believe radically changed all of us as a family.

From Ohio, we all headed out across the United States for a season-long journey in an Airstream trailer, 23 feet long (about 175 square feet), with two kids ages 8 and 4, my wife and myself. There was one queen bed and a kitchen table that transforms into a single bed. We had an ambitious route to cover 9,000 + miles covering 23 states.

Along our journey my wife planned family arts events through her business, The Art Pantry,and I spoke at schools through my work with Yale Universities’ Emotional Intelligence Lab. We had no previous experience towing a trailer and we booked almost no campsites in advance. In 3 months, we learned a lot about trailer life, this incredible country, our family, and how families are doing across the country.

Hope Lies in Our Families

Before the trip we were not sure what we would find as we traveled the country, but one thing we found was hope: hope in our collective, in one another, and hope that our children will have a bright future. We found this sense of hope in the amazing families we came across. There was not a single state across the Southeast, Southwest, Midwest and beyond that did not have amazing, inspiring families.

We encountered so many beautiful families who love their children, who love each other. We saw children who are happy, who appreciate their parents. We saw parents who are grateful for their children and for the opportunity to be a family.

This hope is what I want to share with you through this series of reflections: through the opportunity to focus on, heal, and love our families, and through supporting one another, we discover what this will make possible for us as communities, for us as a society, and ultimately for us as a world.

In this series of articles, I want to share what I learned from traveling with my own family as well as the lessons from interacting with hundreds of families through my work with Yale, speaking at schools to parents and administrators across the country, and through the events that my wife held, doing art with young children and being with families who had their own dreams that they shared with us.

Claim Your Family

The first big lesson of the trip was that we learned to claim our family. We live in a society that is constantly comparing one family to another; we’re comparing one lifestyle to another, one family’s choice to another. Something about going on this trip helped us to claim our family spirit. We recognized we have this special unit, the four of us, headed out across the country and it was our adventure to have. It was our journey to grow closer together.

The beauty of claiming your family is that it makes it yours. You don’t have to compare or try to be like anybody else. It’s family — it’s your family, and in reclaiming it, you can begin to push back against society’s inertia that often splits families apart, whether through struggles around technology, overworking, or peer groups that our kids become part of that we have little control over. Being together on this trip helped us to reclaim our family. I believe it is possible for all of us to go through the process of reclaiming our family by acknowledging that this is our beautiful gift that we have created with our partners and loved ones to do amazing things together.

So, as we traveled across the country, we started to understand for ourselves that we were living somewhat of a dream. We were outside society’s norms. We were free to be us. Our kids were not in school. My wife and I were not working 9-5 jobs. We were figuring it out on the road, while on the move. And we were doing it together.

Allan Watts describes life in our culture from going to kindergarten to first grade to second grade to third grade and they kind of lead you along in this ‘here, kitty, kitty,’ fashion until you get to high school, and then if you’re fortunate enough, to college. And then after college, you get this great job and you start a family. And somewhere in the course of this spectrum, you end up in your 40s and you have this wake-up moment, and you go, is this it? Is this what my life is all about?

I believe that there is something magical that can happen in a family when we wake up to who we are. We wake up to who our partner is telling us they are, and we wake up to who our children are showing us that they are. It’s in this awakened state that we have some freedom to live the life we want to live.

So many families are suffering right now because they often feel stuck, that they have to live life the way that they have always thought they had to live it, or the way they see it being lived by other people in their communities. And if there’s one thing that anyone takes away from this offering that I’m sharing, is that you are empowered to live your life the way you want. Especially in your families, because you created your family.

And yes, immediately you might ask me, ‘Well, how are we going to live the life we want with our finances? How are we going to live freely when we live where we live? How are we going to live differently with our kids’ educational needs?’ And I would say, let’s stop for a second, and let’s dream first. Before we put up all the obstacles and find all the blocks, let’s make sure we’re aligned on what you truly want. And if we can get a glimpse of what you truly want, and if you can claim your family, then I think we’re on a totally new journey.

What does it mean to you to claim your family as yours?

Tell me in the comments below!

All Parents Get Angry: You Can Choose What Happens Next

The choice is yours.

I was on a call the other day with a dad who said to me, “That sounds nice and good the way you describe treating people with kindness when I’m upset or working through my emotions and not taking it out on anybody. But how do you do that?”

It was so clear to me after meditating on it for a moment, that what he failed to recognize was the role that his own personal choice plays in all of it. I started to see that we as families, and parents especially, have a huge opportunity to realize the role of choice in all our decisions and how we interact with people, especially our kids.

 

Fundamentally, we are the choosers of all of our actions.

We live in a culture that is often motivated and controlled by our subconscious, repeating old patterns that we’ve learned and practiced. For example, the dad I was speaking to was somebody who’s known to lash out if he gets overwhelmed or frustrated. If things get too intense for him at home, he’ll just start screaming at his kids and his wife. He’s been doing that for a long time, so it’s just sort of how things go at the house.

What I’ve been working to show him and his family, and everybody through this post, is that we are the choosers. We are choosing even when we are not conscious of it. So, do we choose to lash out at somebody when they’ve upset us?

When we realize we’re the chooser, we can begin to do the work of choosing something different. We can choose to state how we’re feeling instead of lashing out at people. We can choose to take space and not engage with anybody while we’re running too hot and too full of anger. We can choose to do things like go for a run, meditate, cook or do anything that brings us peace. We have the choice to manage our actions, so that we don’t get so angry and overwhelmed that we have to lash out at people.

All of these are choices that we can make. Nobody can make them for us. You can’t tell somebody to stop drinking if they have a drinking problem. They have to choose to do that on their own, and often times it takes serious consequences or a big intervention for them to do that. But ultimately, the way that a person stays sober is that they choose to stay sober once they’ve gotten there.

The same is true for parents who choose not to scream at their kids anymore. For parents who choose to not let their own overwhelm and fear and anxiety take hold in the course of a situation with their kids leading to fights or screaming and shaming, making a situation a whole lot worse.

As soon as we recognize that we have a choice, we have begun the big work: the personal transformation work to choose to be who we want to be in this life.

On the road I’ve been talking to parents a lot about this idea that Yale calls the ‘best self,’ and often times when things get really hard, we lose our idea of what our best self is as a parent.

When I’m speaking of being a best parent, I’m talking about that view we had of ourselves before we even had kids. That perspective of the kind of parent we were going to be: one who could be there for our kids, who wouldn’t overreact, who could say yes to things when it was appropriate. Remember that parent we wanted to be, the one who made sure their kids had all kinds of fun experiences?

That view of ourselves, of the best self, the parent that we believed we could be often goes right out the door when things get hard. You come home from work, it’s dinnertime and there’s homework to be done, or you’ve been at home all day and you’re husband comes home in a grumpy mood and you feel like you’ve been doing everything all day. You just need a little bit of help, but you don’t know how to ask for it. In those moments you may not know how to choose to be your best self. You are like that confounded dad at the beginning of this post wondering, “How do you do that?”

You recognize that you have a choice. It’s like waking up from a dream and becoming conscious.

Now, recognizing that we have a choice doesn’t automatically mean that we choose to act as we want every time. Oftentimes our subconscious will take over and we will do the thing we’ve always done. We will do the thing that we learned from our parents. We will do the thing that we see played out at work or on TV. We will not know that we are acting in ways we don’t want to.

But when you become the chooser, when you act in a way that you didn’t choose, that your subconscious led you toward, you get to reconnect with the person you impacted and try being the person you consciously want to be.

For example, screaming at our kids over spilled milk is my favorite example. We get to apologize to them. We get to reconnect with them in a good way and let them know that we’re sorry we got so overwhelmed that we screamed at them. Then we can invite them to be more careful when using their cup.

We can do that. But then we can also choose the next time to not scream over spilled milk. We can get right back to being the chooser, and choose the things that align with our best self, the things that we believe in, and our values.

If you have any questions or need some support please call me at 415 370-3767 or email me at aaron@coachschiller.com. No parent should ever feel like they don’t know who to call when things get tough.