One of the questions we are most frequently asked via our website is, “I am a solo parent - can I still join?” Our first reaction is always one of empathy for the person raising the question. It’s unfortunate that anyone would ever feel excluded or less able to participate in anything on this basis! We want to shout from the rooftops: Boundless Life is for ALL family units and we enthusiastically welcome solo-parents on a regular basis.
That said, we understand that solo-parents may have a different set of concerns and prerequisites and often seek reassurance that Boundless Life is right for their circumstances. We could list all of our reasons, but you would probably much rather hear this from parents who are LIVING the Boundless Life.
Michele and Joanna arrived in our Tuscany location independently of each other almost a month ago. They have five wonderful children between them. Their respective partners were unable to join the cohort due to work commitments back home. They are now nextdoor neighbours in a large apartment building in the heart of Pistoia which is occupied entirely by Boundless Life families.
I grabbed a few minutes with them between Extra Curricular Activities and gelatos to ask them about their decision to travel solo with their children and their life in Tuscany so far.
Did you have any reservations about joining Boundless Life ahead of your arrival in Tuscany?
Michele: I must confess that I have spent a lot of my married life as a ‘single parent’. My husband has shipped to sea 6 months of a year since we started dating roughly 7 million years ago. I have had many situations where I was the only “single” parent and it can be lonely and isolating at times. I suppose my reservation about joining Boundless was that this would be isolating for such a long period of time…3 months!
Joanna: My biggest reservation was having to be a solo parent for 95% of my duration in Tuscany. My husband was able to join us for the first 2 weeks but due to work constraints he wouldn’t be able to return until we fly home in late June. I worried about the safety aspect as well as being lonely without his company.
How has Boundless Life helped you overcome these?
Michele: Well, now I am so sad I am only here for 3 months! My oldest is begging for just “a couple more months, Mom” and I have literally never been happier! The Boundless community is without equal.
Boundless magically understands each person by deeply listening to each participant - to who they are, not just the words they say. I feel like they knew my needs more than I did and they placed me in the perfect living area to find “my people.”
The most magical part is that the neighbours I have been blessed with agree completely with respectful parenting. If my children are in someone's space when that does not work for that particular family, I trust my fellow parents completely to set them on the correct path. I believe that these amazing co-parents also know that my apartment is a safe place for their kids.
Did you know the kids figured out a way to tie ribbons to each other's windows and send notes to each other in a plastic flower pot!? They also organised “painting” classes with crushed rocks they found at a playground (and water) and taught several moms how to paint with the coloured water! Joanna’s daughter was the teacher and she runs a tight ship! Giggling is frowned upon FYI!
Joanna: I can not say enough about the community and the abundance of activities offered by Boundless. We are living in a self-contained apartment within the communal building and my three children are constantly roaming the building and playing with other Boundless families.
There have also been times where I have had to lean on the help of other families (walking my kids to school, picking up groceries for me, etc) and everyone swoops in to help without skipping a beat. Outside of our living space, there are constantly optional activities and park meetups being offered. The hardest part is choosing which ones to skip!
“The creativity that our living situation manifests within our children is astounding! I have 2 boys, aged 11 and 8 and both are stronger, smarter, gentler, braver and more perceptive citizens because of Boundless Life.”
How have your children adapted to life in Tuscany? Are they enjoying their time at the Education Centre?
Joanna: My kids are LOVING their experience. I have three girls ages 4, 7 and 9. I was worried about taking them away from their normal routines and friends, However, they have surprised me with their adaptability as well as their interest in living a new routine and making new friendships. As far as the Education Centre experience goes, my kids have never told me so many details about their school day. Needless to say they’re loving the new school vibe. It is extremely hands on and lives up to its real world applicable concepts being taught.
Michele: The creativity that our living situation manifests within our children is astounding! I have 2 boys, aged 11 and 8 and both are stronger, smarter, gentler, braver and more perceptive citizens because of Boundless Life. My children have never been in a school setting. I have homeschooled my kids from the start - although we have done several classes. I was convinced they would start begging for home from day two. I am still waiting for the begging! It has been 1 month!
My youngest was diagnosed with ADHD and mild autism. The staff at the Education Centre and I had made several plans in case he could not manage a school experience. I pick him up one and a half hours early to help him be successful. He has taken to getting weepy and says, “Please don’t pick me up yet, Mom. I want to do reading here!” If you tell me there is a greater parenting win than that, I will not believe you!
What’s it like being neighbours?
Michele: To make Joanna laugh is an addiction I will never be cured of! There is an ease to her grace that is infectious. She is an absolute delight to be around and I consider myself extremely lucky to know her, let alone get to call her my friend. Joanna has also been my life-saver. The kids were sick and I got a really bad fever. It was Joanna that brought me Advil.
My son got a hurt finger and Joanna had the band aids at the ready! My eldest takes online math class and the wifi went out but that 5th grade math whiz next door came to the rescue, whipping mixed numbers and improper fractions into a unicorn of pre-adolescent comprehension!
Besides being neighbours, we tackled taking a train ride to the beach in Viareggio and spending the weekend together. 5 children between the two of us and I have never laughed more! Two other single married moms even joined us on the second day which we took as a great complement! I mean, we are kinda a big deal. (I am just kidding!) 10 children to 4 moms and everyone survived to have a blast.
Joanna: I hit the neighbour jackpot! Michele is a sarcastic, witty character whom I feel like I have known my entire life, not just 4 short weeks. I think my four year old would agree, we have an awesome neighbour! We regularly keep our doors open and float between each other’s apartments. Sometimes after the kids have gone to sleep we are able to chat and enjoy adult conversations, sans kids. This is something I especially appreciate while being here alone.
In your experience, is it safe travelling solo with children?
Michele: Life can be challenging with your children whether you are sitting at home or hang-gliding through the Azores. My children and I have worked hard to be a tight unit. We like to think of travelling like a project we are doing together, as a team.
We have rules like when I say stop or go they respond immediately. They have a say in what gets packed and who is carrying what. I have them read signs, look for names of cities or bathrooms and everybody gets a little new toy for the time spent travelling. We live in a world we share with other people, animals and plants. Anything could hurt us but for every danger, there are loads of blessings that can help us and it is important to keep our eyes open for both!
Joanna: In a nutshell, yes. I frequently travel with my children, without my husband so safety is my number one concern. Before committing to the Tuscany cohort, I expressed this concern to Boundless several times and they assured me over and over that safety is one of the top reasons they vet their locations.
With or without a travelling partner, it is always good to make your children aware of potential dangers before and during travel. But this is a lesson we try to teach them regardless of where they may be - constantly be aware of your surroundings and try to stay within eyesight of a guardian. Basically, it is always a good idea to make your kids aware of potential dangers, and especially when they are only with one parent looking after them.
“The Boundless community does not care if there is one parent in the home or seven! The world is a gift we have given to our children and, whether we have the support of a partner or not, we are a community.”
Some of the solo-parents contacting us fear that they will feel “left out” or on the outside of the community without the support of a partner. What would you say to them?
Michele: With our other neighbours, we leave our doors open in the evenings so the kids can have run of the building. The group of us walk the kids to school in the mornings, picking up Boundless families on the way. The building decided to have a potluck every week to bond and to cook and to laugh together. (We invite the whole Boundless Crew to come every week too!) The Boundless community does not care if there is one parent in the home or seven! The world is a gift we have given to our children and, whether we have the support of a partner or not, we are a community.
It is important to know that Boundless has many (MANY!) different ways to participate as well. The kids have two kinds of after-Education Centre activities. There are activities run by Boundless that the kids do at the centre and escorted by the staff. Both boys do a painting class and the oldest does a guitar class (both amazing!) There are also activities within the community via local providers that Boundless has partnered with. This allows Boundless families to join thereby giving the kids a chance to make Italian friends. My kids do swimming lessons (which are some of the best I’ve ever seen and they have a fabulous time!) I even have a great Italian mom friend who practises Italian with me!) and the youngest joins a “football” team. The coaches go out of their way to make him feel welcome.
The adults have activities too. I take a Boundless Italian class (with Joanna) twice a week. There are so many opportunities to do other activities too! I got to go to a cooking class, a spa and a spontaneous card game while the kids were in school or at the Education Centre for a kids’ movie night one Friday. One activity I wasn’t going to be back in time for but another family picked up the boys for me so I could go. I got to help another mom who was single parenting for a week get to go on a wine tour by picking up her kids. Trips to Lucca, Pisa, and Florence with several families makes sure that everybody has a great time.
Boundless offers loads of help babysitting, car rentals and options to help life here be as welcoming as possible. We even have 2 bicycles to use which makes grocery shopping a lot more fun! Never…never…have I felt left out. Parenting is a team sport. Let the Boundless community be your support partner!
Joanna: I feared this myself. I feared being the “third wheel” amongst other families. I have to be honest, since being here I have never felt that way. I was also surprised at how often other moms are solo parenting while their spouse/partner has to leave for business. The family dynamics are all over the board as far as which parent is working, when they’re working, how much they’re working, etc.
A few weeks ago, there were a couple of families who were participating in a truffle hunt. I thought for sure they'd rather me not come since I was a solo parent and they might feel the pressure of helping to watch after my kids. They assured me this was not the case and insisted we come along. It was a wonderful experience even while being a solo parent and we all watched after one another’s kids. After all, it takes a village, or a cohort!
“They have fallen in love with learning, this different country and their brother. They have learned more deeply who they are as people and how this precious life can be savoured. Most of all, they got to really know their mother.”
If you could give one piece of advice to a solo-travelling-parent concerned about taking the plunge into slow-travel with their child(ren), what would it be?
Joanna: JUST DO IT! There are so many things to be worried about and it will never be the perfect time and then you may wind up missing the opportunity all together. And while you have to do what is most comfortable for you, there is most likely an answer to any concerns parents may have. I have found that not only are my children out of their comfort zone but so am I. We have all taken the opportunity to be a bit vulnerable and learn together. My kids are watching me stumble through a foreign language and learn my way around our new temporary home. We are doing it together and that is something we will all remember. And I have always said, no matter where you are, your children will probably misbehave or perhaps throw a tantrum, so why not throw your tantrum in front of the Colosseum or on a breathtaking Tuscan hillside?! Without hesitation, I am so glad I took the chance on experiencing Boundless Life despite being a solo parent!
Michele: I am a night nurse. I noticed that, at my jobs, I was funny, silly and happy, trying to keep my patients and my co-workers in high spirits. But at home, I was exhausted, crabby and frenzied. I realised one day that that funny person that helps everyone else laugh and survive in terrible situations, is someone my beloved children have never met. World schooling and solo travelling with my darling boys has been the single greatest gift I have given my children. They have met new people, new cultures and new challenges. They have fallen in love with learning, this different country and their brother. They have learned more deeply who they are as people and how this precious life can be savoured. Most of all, they got to really know their mother. (I can’t even type that without crying.)
HUGE thanks to Michele and Joanna for taking the time to talk to us and share their experience so openly and beautifully. A lot of tears were shed by the Crew reading this as it truly reflects what the Boundless Life is all about. Enjoy Tuscany, Michele and Joana. We are so happy to have you along for this wonderful ride.