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Raising Children on a Boat

Emma is four now. Charley is two years four months. We were warned. We’ve read and been advised by other cruising families that the young years are VERY hard on the parents, especially the mom. Charley is in the throes of her terrible two’s. She’s so close to being able to express herself but just can’t find the right words and either breaks down and starts hitting or crying uncontrollably. On a boat it seems harder if not definitely louder than on land. We can’t seem to get through a meal or a day without a breakdown from one or the other, usually inspired by one or the other.

Emma is spreading her wings and experimenting with different attitudes picked up from playmates. We then spend the following two days squashing those attitudes and getting her back to the girl we know and love. She definitely needs playmates but sometimes less is more. Here in La Paz we meet children on the beach and other cruising kids who range in age, language, gender, and nationality. By and large it is a rewarding experience. Emma, at four, is still developing her personality and is an emotional child despite her wonderful language skills and the height of a six year old. I sometimes forget that she is only four and possibly push her to act beyond her years. Not being around children their age very often, I forget where her peers are mentally and emotionally. Sometimes it takes us parents taking a time-out to step back and hit the RESET button and start all over.

We have some good kids. They are healthy with good noggins on their little shoulders already. Hil is doing a great job and I can see the children blossom with a love for crafts and reading thanks to all the time they spend together.

There is a burnout zone. We rarely have a babysitter on the boat. With little free time without children we can wear thin. Today we toured a montessori school just down the street that will accept both girls from 9am to 1pm five days a week for an affordable $195 per per per child. Not only would it be good for the kids to learn Spanish and play with similar aged children, four hours away from the children (that we love very much) would be enough space for us to get some exercise (versus walking for hours at a crawl half carrying Charley), to be able to do the dishes in less than three hours, to run errands and it take less than an entire day, to be able to explore La Paz without chasing down curious children, and possibly an opportunity to actually spend time as a couple again. Spending time here in La Paz we realize it might be the base we have been seeking. We may only be able to spend 3-4 months here during the winter but on the weekends we can sail the local islands 15nm away and still enjoy the Sea of Cortez and Mexican culture.

We found out very quickly we need to spend AT LEAST an equal amount of time playing on land as we do sailing. So far we might spend a long day sailing to the next anchorage but then we end up spending at least two more days for the kids to play before we raise anchor to continue south. Our trip from San Carlos to La Paz took three weeks despite being less than 250 nm. I can promise if sailing is not fun for the kids, it won’t be fun for Mom and then it REALLY won’t be fun for Dad.

The kids are young, but we have a sit on top kayak and we’re investigating a beginner wind surfing rig. Add beach toys, snorkeling gear, and fishing gear and we should be able to happily stay in a cove for a week or more. It not about the toys, but about the kids having enough outdoor activities to keep them occupied.

Other cruising parents have stated that children over the age of seven are A LOT easier to raise on a boat. We’re not to that stage yet but I can see how it would make life easier. For the most part, right now, Hil takes care of the children and I manage the boat while underway. If there’s time she can help out on the boat but if a child is seas sick or needs attention then I am sailing solo. With the children a little older and more self sufficient it would be a lot easier dealing with sail changes, foul weather, and anchoring. We do great now, but we REALLY try to avoid weather above 20kn of wind and seas above 3′ in short choppy seas (very common in the Sea of Cortez). It just means we go REALLY slow.

BUT HEY! WE’RE ALREADY HERE! Deadlines are arbitrary.

We’re not at the schooling age yet but we can already see around the corner. Even if we put Emma into a Mexican school, public or private, we still intend to homeschool to maintain an academic standard of our choosing regardless of our current location in Mexico OR the United States.

I can tell you that two children, while being very trying at times, seems to be better in terms of raising a well balanced child over having only one child who receives 100% of your attention in your little floating microcosm. Other opinions may differ, but we have two so that’s our story and we’re sticking to it. Our children are two years and six weeks apart in age. It’s a good spread. They can still relate and play together. We’ve met other siblings two years apart at six and eight and they seem to do well together. Maybe being on a boat in a forced co-habitation would negate the age difference? I don’t know that say 7 years apart would be very helpful to the older child or the parents. For the parents you’re just starting over from scratch with all the cycles after 7 years. With Charley we can still remember Emma going through these phases and it’s still a fresh wound so to speak. As added bonus, Charley can even wear some of Emma’s hand me down clothes.

Children are a blessing. Our desire to spend time with our children was a huge deciding factor in choosing this lifestyle. It can be trying at times, but it is still a blessing that I hope we can look forward to for many more years. I’m not sure our struggles raising children would be any better or worse in a 3 bedroom apartment in a city or a 2400 square foot house in the suburbs.

I sometimes think that the children are here to teach us to be better human beings. And that I possibly am not doing as well as I could be doing. Here, on a boat, that truth is a little less disguised without the smoke and mirrors of other distractions. Luckily, children are a fountain of forgiveness and doggedly persistent. I’m hoping they give me another shot.

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1 comment to Raising Children on a Boat

  • Our kids are a week shy of two years apart. We have a 3.5 year old daughter and a 1.5 year old son, so your post is like a 6 month preview of what’s coming. We just got through a (mild) winter in New England on our 32 foot monohull and yes, it can be extremely trying. The past 10 months have been a rather demanding emotional and spiritual practice–only because living in such tight quarters acts as a catalyst for all sorts of challenges. But at the same time, I wouldn’t trade all the closeness I have with them for anything in the world
    …although a catamaran would be nice!