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The Hope and Confusion of Intrafamily Nurturing

My wife and I are driving our four kids to a family reunion in Wisconsin in a couple of days and we always enter these situations with caution, fear, a dollop of hope and a fistful of blind ignorance. We have several traumatic experiences stored in our unconscious emotional memories - even the mention of driving the kids half way across the country elicits anxiety and involuntary twitching. Last year Jack (7) got his fingers shut in both the car and hotel doors in one day, evoking not empathy and support from his 10-year-old brother, but mocking mimicry of his pain induced howls as if to highlight his overreaction to having the solid core hotel door shut while his hand was wrapped around the hinge side of the door.
The lack of intrafamily nurturing is definitely one of the the top five issues that plagues us as parents on a regular basis. The kids are pretty good at avoiding each other at home, but it's when we're out on the road, staying in hotels and tents with no one to depend on but ourselves, that their natural talent for alienation and ridicule really blossoms. It is also however when attachment breakthroughs are made, due in part to the stressful and demanding conditions of travel and the interdependence that those conditions promote.
After recently returning from a 4th of July weekend in the mountains, Jack gave us hugs goodbye as he exited for a friends house and since Grace (4) was between us, he put his arm half way around her in a grudging acknowledgment of her existence and after he left, Grace was beaming and proclaimed, “Jack hugged me!” She took that small gesture as the wholeness of his eternal love for his loyal sister. Ian (13) and Will (11) even began hanging out together. They were buddies when they were little, doing everything together, but as they work their way through middle school, their relationship has metamorphosed into a gladiatorial clash to the death.
Suffering through the painful and petty conflicts that continually arise on our family adventures offers not only lots of parenting practice, but also the opportunity for authentic and true connection, which will help wire their brains for complex and meaningful relationships in the future, and the basis of those attachments will have been formed and nurtured in the family. It is with this optimistic vision of tolerance and guidance that I plan the details of a family vacation that will certainly test all of my theories and assumptions.

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