Everything is disrupted right now — there’s no school, stores, or hanging with my friends — and I’m seeing it as an opportunity for a better life. We live in a dense neighborhood that will never be the same. All the benefits of our community come from lots of people packed into one place and without that, what’s the point? I want us to embrace the dream we’ve played with and move to a cabin. I want to homeschool the kids (who are 4 and 8 ) and I want to live a more rural life.
My wife and I have long talked about doing this in retirement, and we’ve even talked about how the kids would benefit from it. But now, she’s getting cold feet. She says that it won’t be good for the kids’ education and life experience. But the thing is, neither of us is going to be comfortable sending the kids back to school in the fall. How do I push the issue without getting into trouble — or driving myself nuts?
Leaving Las Vegas
Even though I live in the Ohio suburbs, I too have had dreams of using this time to opt-out of the rat race and get back to the wild. It’s an appealing idea — letting my boys learn by exploring the wild around them, giving my family room to literally breathe. So, I totally understand the impulse, particularly when the world seems to be paused. Because of all that, my first impulse is to tell you to just go for it, so I can have the vicarious thrill of you launching that adventure. But alas, I’m also a reasonable person who feels that decisions made in the passion of the moment don’t always pay off (incidentally that kind of thing has probably produced plenty of parents). My advice then is to be cautious.
There’s a lot to be said for moving to the outskirts. The biggest draw is the simple fact that nature is great for kids. Kids who are outdoors more often are healthier both physically and psychologically. Being outside measurably improves balance and vision. Nature improves mental health and has noticeable therapeutic effects for conditions like ADHD. And the outdoors is the best science classroom that any kid could ever have.
In terms of life experience, I think your kids would be just fine moving to a rural community. If you gave them opportunities to explore and encouraged some independence, they’d probably be quite happy with the change.
In terms of education, if you have the time and the means to home school there’s nothing to suggest that your kids would be at a disadvantage. As long as you followed their interests (while also keeping in mind state educational requirements) you’d likely be able to teach them all they need to know before moving on to college or a trade. So, no real worries there, either.
Why caution, then? Because no matter where you go, you take your family issues dynamics and personalities with you. All of the good things about rural living, nature and homeschooling are good for your average, generalized kid, and their average generalized family. But only you know if your kids would thrive with the change. And if you can’t say that with a reasonable degree of certainty that that’s the case, then you need to ask yourself some honest questions.
You also should consider that there is no place called “Rural”. Which is to say that rural communities are not monolithic. Some are built on tourism and have values consistent with that industry. Some are built on ranching, farming, mining or fracking. The people who live in rural communities have their own distinct cultures. Some of those cultures might align with your ideals, some may not. You should make sure you understand the culture before you make the move. Not doing so could lead to nasty surprises and conflict. That’s not going to help anyone.
Before you protest and worry I missed the whole isolated cabin part of this scenario, know that I have not. You will still need a population center somewhere nearby. Unless your dream is to build a self-sustaining Earthship in New Mexico where you plan to homestead off the grid, you need a place to get essential goods and services. That means interacting with other people. Fewer people than the city, but people none-the-less.
You should also consider that your children still need friends. This isn’t really negotiable. Kids learn from other kids. In fact it’s one of the most important ways they learn how to navigate relationships. Those friends will be attached to parents. Those parents will have unique values that you’ll need to be okay with. I’m not suggesting that you should look for a place that is perfectly aligned with your family’s worldview — after all, a little challenge helps people grow. But I am saying you don’t want to put yourself in a place where your isolation becomes even deeper than it is now.
I know of what I speak, many years ago my wife and oldest son relocated from Portland, Oregon, to a town of 500 souls in the Southwestern corner of Colorado. Although my mother lived there and we met many people we genuinely liked and saw eye-to-eye with, the loneliness and isolation was crippling. It was a gorgeous place to be and I will forever miss the mountain passes and the epic views from my back door. But those things aren’t what make a community a home. We tried to make it work. We even had our second child there, but who were as individuals was not compatible with the place we thought we’d thrive in. It lasted a little over a year before we found our perfect place here in Ohio.
And despite the fact that we were young and capable at the time, those moves were incredibly stressful. So if you do jump, expect that things in your family may get rocky for a while as people adjust.
So take your family’s counsel to heart. It sounds like your wife has concerns. Do you know exactly what they are? Have you talked with her about meeting you halfway? Have you talked over other solutions?
I get that this moment feels like the perfect time to break the status quo. And those urges are powerful and intoxicating. But maybe the status quo doesn’t need to be completely destroyed as much as it needs to be altered.
Think about it. And send me a postcard if you move to that cabin. I’ll still appreciate the vicarious thrill.