Why living with less makes us richer
Growing up in western society, particularly in London, can give one a very particular view of the world. We are taught from a very young age- through the media, by our parents and by those around us- that our lives are supposed to have a fairly standard structure and that we should, really conform to it.
There are often pre-cut goals laid out for us like those tiny pieces of leather that the Elves laid out for the shoemaker. We may not really get to choose the shape or colour or texture of the pieces; we are often simply supposed to pick up our thread and sew them dutifully together to make a shoe, by which point we will be convinced that we have created this shoe all by ourselves and that a shoe was what we really wanted to make in the first place. If you ask any average person what the normal pathway of life is you can expect (generally) to hear, “school; university; job; marriage; kids; retirement” or a very similar blend of those milestones. One of the things that we are told in our individualistic society is that one of, if not the primary goal of our lives is to accumulate financial wealth to pass on to our children.
This is not something that sits well for us, at least not when it comes at great cost of things far more valuable than money. Time, for example. I see parents rushed off their feet, both working full-time to pay a hefty mortgage, afford the latest gizmos for themselves and their kids and a fortnight in the sun. Kids are frequently in before and after school care, and a vicious circle is formed- in order to work parents must seek childcare, and then they become burdened by its costs so they have to work more.
Children are not getting nearly enough time with their parents. Of course there are circumstances that make it very difficult to prioritise quality time together, and it breaks my heart when I hear of situations where more time together is simply not an option for a family. But for many, it comes down to choice. When it came to choices about childcare and income we ruthlessly prioritised time with our kids over financial wealth and social status, and would do it all over again in a heartbeat. When we decided to homeschool, remote work or a location independent income for ‘digital nomads’ wasn’t something I had even heard of and I thought I would be taking early-morning and late-night cleaning jobs for the next 20 years (I would still happily do this but I am glad I’ve found something more creative). We still made the choice to homeschool, prioritising our values over the approval of the society around us. (NB: It still makes me laugh that people think home educating is an irresponsible idea, when one of the benefits is that we save ‘the taxpayer’ around £5000 per year per child by taking on the responsibility ourselves. Over the course of a standard education pathway for three children this adds up to £180,000).
With Patrick currently considering training to be a church pastor and our home-schooling lifestyle meaning that one of us needs to be at home (so far that has been me and I’ve worked from home to make it work), we will probably never be in a position to afford things that a lot of people see as a basic standard for success. Our kids might always share a room, they will probably never have expensive clothes or the latest gadgets, and we will probably never have Sky TV or a swish gym membership. That’s all cool, it’s our choice and we are very happy with what we have instead; we are undoubtably rich beyond measure.
With regards to our kids, I think they are some of the richest people in the world and I am excited to be storing up another kind of inheritance for them. Here is what we are hoping to bank for them, to leave them when we are gone and to equip them with the things they really need to have a full and successful life:
Autonomy. This is something that we value very highly, both for ourselves and for our children. If people are not free to move and think and do as they see fit, they cannot authentically develop into the truest form of themselves. I am stunned by the number of times I have allowed my kids to do something that I thought was going to be inconvenient or dangerous (think high climbing frames, cooking, etc.), and they have just blown me away with their maturity and capability. By giving them the space and freedom that is rightfully theirs, we can see their characters, strengths and skills developing at a much faster (and happier) rate than if we tried to force them into our own agenda. This benefits others as they will not have to spend their adulthood figuring out or ‘finding themselves’, they will hopefully never have lost themselves in the first place and can look outwardly to others who are more in need.
Compassion. In a world where the media is flooded by messages of hate, prejudice, violence and selfishness, we have to ensure that our children are growing up in an environment that cultivates compassion. This is not done by ‘instilling’ it into them or forcing them to ‘be kind’ (that is not kindness, that is compliance!). It is done by modelling compassion and understanding to them, being kind to them and bringing them up in an environment where they themselves can see the invaluable nature of compassion.
Relationship. Relationships are our most prized possession. We could have exuberant financial wealth, material gain and social status, but without true relationship it is worthless. We want to bring our children up in a way that highlights how much we value our relationships: with them, as we show them how thankful we are for their presence in our lives; with our friends and family, in the way we interact with each other; and with our brothers and sisters around the world as we seek to reach out and provide love to those who we don’t yet know personally.
Faith. This is a tough one. This is not ‘faith that everything will be ok’ in this world, or faith that things will work out in our kids’ best interests. It is not always faith in people, necessarily, or in the Universe making everything work as it should (tell that to the parents watching their kids die in their arms from hunger). This is faith in the eternal, or at least faith that they can walk an authentic spiritual path with our support. This is faith that the God we believe in will keep the promises made in the Bible; that those who suffer most in this world will be raised to be first in the next. That, ultimately, justice will be done and that the tears and pain of this world will fall away. This faith is not to be injected into them, or taken in fear. It is to be modelled, with the hope that it will be such a statement of love and peace in our lives as parents that it becomes irresistible to our children.
Love of learning. This is such a treasure to have, and one that I believe we are all born with. The sad reality is that many, many people will be conditioned to think that ‘learning’ is synonymous with ‘curriculum’, and who will really love something that they have no choice in? By allowing our kids to guide what, when and how they learn, we give them space to absorb as much knowledge as they are capable of, in a healthy way. We also nurture resourcefulness so that our kids will be equipped to know how to learn something when they want to; they will not rely on others for their education.
Adventure. The world is huge, with countless adventures, meetings and experiences to be had. By giving them a taste of what is out there, we hope that they will love adventures of all kinds- physical, geographic, academic and spiritual.
Courage. I don’t want them to be fearless. I want them to have the conviction and strength of character to do what they believe is right even when they are scared witless. That is true courage. When they look back on their childhood I want them to realise, “Wow, Mum and Dad put a lot on the line for their values”, and I want them to have that security that if we did it, they too can do anything they set their minds too. We believe that with God anything is possible and this is what we want to communicate to our children.
Gratitude. We, and our children, are exceptionally privileged. We were born in Britain, on this funny little island with free healthcare and mild weather and no deadly animals. We are white, and we speak English without having to put in any effort, and we were born into families with parents who worked and managed to get houses in decent neighbourhoods. We have automatically passed this privilege onto our children and if there is one humanitarian lesson I could choose for my children to learn, it is that this privilege has been allowed into our hands only so that we can distribute it to those who do not have it and make the world a fairer place. It is not ours to keep, and cling to, and use to amass more wealth for ourselves.
Awareness. We can talk to our kids and explain the way the world works, or show them pictures of scruffy children and fragile infants, but until they see the inequality of the world for themselves it will not move their souls in the way that it needs to. I can pinpoint to the very second the time that I was changed forever, in a dusty street in India, but that is a story for another day.
Love. “Now these three remain: faith, hope and love. And the greatest of these is love.” Love has become twisted in our poor, sad world. People ‘fall out of love’ with each other, choosing to base their relationship on their feelings, those unreliable mixtures of hormones and circumstance, as opposed to their commitment. People hit and threaten and blackmail their children, showing ‘tough love’ because they ‘need to know the world’s not a nice place’. Partners sneak and lie behind each other’s backs but think they are loving each other because they still feel positively towards each other. None of this is love. Love is sacrificial, patient, kind, gentle. It is selfless and giving and tender. It does not use force. I still do not understand how a society that wants children to grow up to be loving, treats them as though they are sub-human, not real people with fully-fledged human rights. They are, and they deserve dignity and respect and compassion- and it is through treating them this way that they will learn to treat others and this new generation, maybe, can step forward holding hands into a more peaceful world.
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Travel journalists, home educating our lovely brood of 3 girls. Planning a year-long RTW trip late Summer 2017.