A novel I’m reading right now includes some parenting advice that really stuck with me: The hardest thing about being a parent, according to this book, is recalibration. The better you are at quickly reconfiguring your expectations, the better you will be as a parent.
Recalibration, to me, really is a fundamental component of parenting. New parents do it from the day our little bundle of joy arrives, turning upside down life as we knew it and, in my case, contradicting much of what I’d read in a last-minute attempt to cram for an exam that lasts a lifetime. And thus began the process of recalibrating my expectations about what my life would look like post-baby and what I can reasonably expect from my children, from my spouse, from myself.
In our experience, this concept of recalibration rings particularly true with respect to long-term travel. We’ve done this kind of travel before, but never with children. Expectations that were reasonable when we traveled around the world for a year on our honeymoon are ludicrous now. Gone are the days where we defined success by how many miles we hiked or how much better we understood the history of a place. Success today often comes in the form of our children’s smiles, and they’re not smiling (at least, not for very long) when we’re on long treks up steep hills or participating in informational tours about ancient buildings.
I remember when my parents first got GPS in their car. An automated voice would announce she was “recalculating” if ever they strayed from her prescribed route. Somehow, she always sounded frustrated as she frantically tried to get them back on track.
Like the know-it-all GPS lady, we created a new roadmap for life on the road with children. We revised how we choose where we stay and what we do, but the difference is most stark when we’re finding a place to eat. We waved a wistful goodbye to the days when we chose a restaurant based on its number of Michelin stars. Now our primary consideration is whether the presence of two young children will send the place into disarray and result in broken glassware.
This new way of thinking isn’t necessarily worse; we certainly wouldn’t trade it. But if we tried to cling to our pre-kids calibration, we’d be endlessly frustrated. So we slow our pace way, way down. We consider our day successful if we did one, maybe two, activities. We change locations less often. We avoid events that take place during naptime. Rather than trying to visit all of the tourist hotspots in a city, we seek out playgrounds and beaches and ice cream shops.
This recalibrated mindset drove us to leave southwest France earlier than we had expected and make our way back to northern Spain. The food in France was delightful, and the vineyards beautiful, but the places we visited were weren’t cut out for families the way these Spanish towns seem to be. We’re in Llanes, Spain now, where every third family in town has a stroller and every shopkeeper has a smile for a little girl in pink cowboy boots and a toddler in search of something to upend—exactly the way he and his sister upended life as we know it.