While having a baby on a boat has come very naturally to us (after all, we know no different), it doesn't necessarily mean it's a cake walk. In fact, it's a heck of a lot more challenging than raising a baby on land and anyone who has done both will tell you so. Will it work for you? I'm not sure. Some moms can't handle the stress of it all, some take it in stride. Where you might fall depends on a whole slew of variables. I mentioned before that Scott and I are very laid-back parents which I think has helped us tremendously. In addition, we have what many would consider an "easy" baby which is another huge advantage. Your parenting style, individual child(ren), boat and cruising destination will all affect how you adjust to life afloat with little ones. So, just in case you were thinking about doing this (and NOT just to up your blog stats!!) here are some things to think about:
Ten Challenges of Cruising with a Baby
- Supervision/Attention - Captain Obvious over here. But really, having a toddler on a boat means one parent must ALWAYS have their eyes on the child. We don't have a dedicated "play room" where we can leave her and we (thankfully) don't have a television to plop her in front of - which means it's all us, all the time. For those of you who have not spent 24/7 with a child who's attention span caps out at twenty minutes and who's concept of "danger" has not quite formed - this is exhausting work. Believe it or not, my #1 worry is not Isla falling overboard (of course this is a concern) but the countless other hazards a boat presents like: falling down the companionway stairs, plummeting through a hatch, hitting her head on any number of sharp, stainless steel protrusions, getting into toxic chemicals or dangerous tools...the list goes on. They need constant supervision. I only have one child and sometimes I feel like I'm herding cats. It's exhausting. Let's talk more about this when we have more than one...(sigh).
- Anchoring/Docking - It never fails that pulling into a new anchorage always seems to coincide with dinnertime or bedtime which also happens to be when our baby is her fussiest. Either that or she is fully wired and ready to play. This is no bueno because Scott is at the helm and mama is on the bow and we both need to be paying close attention to our jobs, none of which include "baby entertainment". In the past she was either tethered to the cockpit or strapped into her carseat, so she was safe - but that did not mean she was happy. Trying to anchor while a baby screams bloody murder across the anchorage is no fun. We've pulled into our fair share of anchorages at dinnertime only to have Isla announce our presence with frustrated wails that we could do little to quell because of the task at hand. Snacks seemed to help, but having Scott unwrap organic granola bars and quickly hand them to a whining Isla while steering our boat into position didn't quite work out. Now, I "wear" Isla in my Ergo baby carrier whenever we anchor or dock and she happily watches from my back while I do my job, with plenty of stimulation to keep her at bay. Everyone is happy, quiet and, better yet, safe.
- Planning excursions in between nap times - I've mentioned before that we're BIG "sleep" people. I did a lot of research on this and, to us, sleep is just as important as food and love for a developing baby so we take her snoozes very seriously and make "sacrifices" to do so. At 16 months she is taking two naps a day, at 9am and 1pm and going to bed between 6-7pm. That leaves short windows of time in which to do things like hike, snorkel or go to the store. Typically, if it's errands we need to get done - we divide and conquer. But if it's something fun like an outing or a day trip, we'll try to do it in the afternoon when we have a nice four-hour chunk of time. We'll also skip a nap here and there for special occasions because what is parenting if not a lesson in flexibility? Some might think we're crazy for all this napping, but we couldn't care less. Our baby is well behaved and content and, in our opinion, one outing with a happy child is much more pleasant than three outings with a cranky, overtired, and screaming one.
- Meeting other cruisers- Because we have a baby, we're a little more closed off than we used to be - not necessarily by choice, but by circumstance. If young cruisers are the minority, young cruisers with babies are even more so which means we're not amongst peers very often, if ever. We don't go to jam sessions, we rarely (if ever) go to pot-lucks and we tend to do things on our own schedule (see #3). Of course, many cruisers are baby boomers with grandchildren of their own whom they miss terribly so Isla gets lots of love, attention and sometimes even gifts from her "pseudo-grandparents" in marinas and anchorages. But mommy and daddy social time? That is much less than before. We don't party like we used to, we don't stay up as late as we used to and, frankly, we don't have the energy for it even if we wanted to. Isla us a VERY active child and if we do bring her out to a function or gathering, one of us is always chasing her around and making sure she's not getting into anything she shouldn't so being "social" is almost impossible because, "Oh, sorry, must run! My baby is eating a snail/climbing a tree/sticking her hand in the pasta salad...". So we lay low. Watching a movie (if I can stay awake) or kicking back with a good book is the new "normal" evening for us.
- Babysitters - or lack thereof. I know people on land who interview like Google to hire a babysitter for their kids. Multiple meetings, background checks, "test" runs...the whole shebang. Obviously this is important because you need to trust who you leave your kids with and we all know the world is full of people who are cuckoo for cocoa puffs. Considering that we live like nomads and are always moving - this type of process is just not realistic. Sure, we've had some trusted friends babysit for us here and there - but it is by no means a weekly or even monthly occurrence. When you have a baby on board be prepared to spend your evenings on the boat. A "wild night" these days is having some friends over for dinner and wine and going to bed after 9pm. I know - yawn. Our "social life" is pretty pathetic but man are we well rested! Considering we can both be a touch anti-social, we're cool with this arrangement. The upside, of course, is that we spend almost 24/7 with our baby and that right there is doing a world of good for her psyche and development.
- Playmates - kids love other kids. It's like they are genetically programmed to find each other. Isla, in particular, LOVES other kids. It doesn't matter if they are big or little, if they speak English or Elvish, if she sees, hears or smells them, she makes a bee-line for them, gives them a big smile and a full-body hug. Not all kids are into her affection, unfortunately, but it doesn't seem to bother her. Finding playmates her age is challenging and we don't have the luxury (or ease?) of mommy groups, kid gyms and play dates since we're always on the go and things like that just don't exist down here. Isla has made a boat load of friends on this trip but, unfortunately, they come and they go. Her current best friends are a French-speaking brother/sister duo aged six and eight. They are adorable and have become Isla's little fan club. As a result, Isla now says "bon jour" with insane perfection and after we say "bye bye" she says "or awa" which is her version of "au revior". I don't feel like she's missing out on a thing, but that doesn't mean you won't with your child.
- Sailing and Trip planning - Sailing in and of itself is challenging with a baby (see #1). Underway they need to be changed, fed, entertained and kept safe. This is no small feat. This means that, usually, our boat is singlehanded (by Scott) while one of us (me) is on full-time baby duty. Luckily, we had a hunch about this and intentionally bought a boat that is very easy to single-hand so this is not a big deal for us. But, we also have a car seat that can be attached both above deck and below should conditions require all four of our hands. Because of the single-hand factor, we like to plan our travel days so that we raise anchor after she wakes up at 6am and arrive at our destination by her bedtime at 6pm. This time schedule is not always easy to adhere to and, well, the ocean and weather don't always cooperate. But here in the Caribbean, it works because islands are pretty close together. Furthermore, overnight passages can be a beast with a baby, at least this one was, so on any passage longer than 24-48 hours we'd suggest trying to get an extra crew member to help out.
- Staying on top of chores - I am a bonafide neat freak and our boat is (almost) always clean and tidy. I wish I could be the kind of person who's all "Oh, this mess? It's just 'lived in'" but I am not. If it's out of place, I must put it back. If it needs straightening, I must straighten. I'm obsessive like a Jack Russell in this way. I clean up her toys about five times a day and I am happy to report that our boat does NOT look like it has been taken over by Toys-R-Us. Other chores however? Like replacing hoses, checking the rigging, re-bedding hardware, polishing the steel and scrubbing the waterline - the ones that are IMPORTANT to the upkeep of a boat? Those go by the wayside. With a baby on board time and energy for big boat chores is significantly less - and they take a lot longer to finish. Not to mention that usually these chores are done by one parent while the other is on "baby" duty, therefore cutting efficiency in half. We're probably going to be hiring out more work than ever this hurricane season just to help us get things done.
- Entertaining - out here we don't have things like "mommy groups", music classes, child-proofed playgrounds, and "adventurous eating clubs" to take our babies to. Heck, I don't even think any of these islands have zoos. Before I had kids I wondered what the heck all that fuss was about but now I get it: it's something to DO. Being a stay-at-home parent is a lot of work and keeping a toddler entertained all day long takes a lot of effort on a boat, especially when it's 110° degrees outside or pouring rain and conditions make being outside thoroughly unpleasant. So we must be very creative; we go to the beach on nice days, if there is a mall well head to the mall on extremely hot and/or rainy days, we ride busses and take lots of walks . We make do with the simple things and Isla is equally (if not more) happy collecting hermit crabs on the beach than she'd be at a baby gym. Furthermore, we don't have "play rooms" or basements on our boats where our kids can have the run of the mill, and boat babies probably have 1/10th of the toys and goodies land babies have so again, creativity must thrive. I personally feel that our child is better off with less, but it can make playtime more challenging.
- Rough Weather - we have seen very little rough weather thus far but we've dipped our toe in the water to know that it's not nice. When it's really rough there are very few places that are more uncomfortable than a sailboat. The boat is being tossed about like a toy, waves are drenching the cockpit, and wind is howling through the rigging - usually underway, Isla and I stay in the cockpit but conditions like this make it an unsafe place to be so Isla and I remain down below, usually laying together all snuggled up. For hours at a time. This sucks. Isla gets seasick from time to time and cleaning up baby vomit while riding a bucking bronco and still trying to care for a sick and miserable munchkin is awful...in fact, it's borderline impossible. It's happened exactly once and while I'm sure it's not the last time, I'm in no hurry to experience it again. Wearing baby puke for three hours was not a good look for me.
Do you have a baby on board? What do you find to be the most challenging aspect? Share in the comments so we can all learn and be better prepared!