There is a program on television in the UK at the moment called Escape to the Wild. In each episode, the presenter Kevin McCLoud visits a different British family who have chosen to leave the rat race behind and set up home in a wonderfully wild and remote part of the world. So far, we have seen the von Engelbrechten’s on a beautiful island in Tonga, and the Pickerings living in the shadow of a volcano in Chile (there has also been an episode in Belize but I haven’t caught it yet). It all looks amazing, idyllic almost.
But is it? Both times while watching – and I know many of my friends were thinking the same thing – all I could focus on was the children.
The first family, the ones on the island in Tonga, were home-schooling their three boys. The seemed like a lovely family and the boys appeared exceptionally well-behaved, happy and surprisingly normal. This could, of course, be all down to the editing; but there didn’t seem to be any major problems in the way they were being brought up. Although the oldest boy (by now a teenager) had decided to give boarding school in New Zealand a go. He’s probably hoping to meet a girl.
There was no mention in the documentary of how the second family were educating their children, beyond the no-doubt fantastic education they were getting living in a new and fascinating country and helping their parents build a house out of earth and kill wild boars. The children were definitely school-age so I am sure the parents did have this planned out – there were other people living in their neighbourhood (unlike the von Engelbrechten’s in the South Pacific) so perhaps the kids were due to start at the local school.
But schooling apart, I couldn’t help but wonder what sort of a future these children had. Yes, it looked idyllic. And yes, the parents who had escaped from their stressful lives in London or Wiltshire kept telling us how amazing it was (and the views were, truly, magnificent). But children need more than beautiful views, sparkling seas and erupting volcanoes.
Socialising with others is such an important part of childhood. All of these children were aged between about seven and thirteen, exactly the sort of age that children learn how to make (and keep) friends, about bonding, about relationships with people outside of their immediate family. These children only appeared to have each other to do this with – and, as we all know, a relationship with a sibling is a very different thing that with a friend. You can more or less say what you want to your brother or sister and they will still stick by you. The same certainly can’t be said of friends.
There is no way of knowing of course what the future holds for these particular children and, chances are, they will be fine. They seemed to have eminently sensible parents who were able to give them a lot more attention than many of their contemporaries were likely to be getting back in Blighty.
But I still worry about children whose parents take them away from all that they know and love because they, the parents, are fed up with a certain life-style. More and more I am reading about families who give up everything and move to very remote and isolated parts of the world with their children – and I don’t mean people who are doing it for a year or so, I mean people who see it as a permanent thing. People who think it will be easy to educate their children themselves, and people who haven’t really thought through the implications of what happens to those children when they reach a certain age.
As well as anything else, what if those children decide at some point they don’t want to live like this? And what if, in the future, they want to go to university in their home country – but haven’t got the necessary qualifications. Of course there are good schools everywhere – local and international – but a lot of people are purposefully choosing more remote areas to live and work (now that technology has allowed them to do so), places where schools like this simply don’t exist. And, as in the two families in Escape to the Wild, there don’t seem to be any other children.
I am very open to hearing more about this, as I will admit I don’t know a lot about this sort of lifestyle. I recently decided to leave a Facebook forum because of a discussion around moving abroad with children which didn’t seem to consider the needs of those children at all. It felt very much like the parent wanted to do something for herself, and the children were just going to have to come with her. I might have been totally wrong but I could feel my frustration at this person and decided better to back out than say something I regretted.
So please, if you have done something like this, or are planning to, do come and tell me about it. If I am wrong, I would love to know. Or if you agree with me, I’d like to know that as well 🙂 All views are welcome here!
Beach photo courtesy of Elyse Patten; friends’ photo courtesy of David Amsler