Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Baby On Board: Cruising with Kids and Dangerous Parenting

By now you have heard of the unfortunate events surrounding the rescue of Rebel Heart and her crew.  It has, quite literally, exploded into a media firestorm with just about every news source, local and international, covering it.  I have absolutely zero interest in recounting the story of my online friend and fellow boat-mama, Charlotte, nor do I feel like speculating on what went right or wrong but one thing I have noticed following this story is the fact that it has morphed from a "rescue at sea" saga into a pretty ferocious debate on parenting.

I have already vehemently defended our lifestyle on this blog before, and I have also learned that arguing with ignorant, closed minds is pointless.  But what I would like to say to the many people out there who are not closed-minded but simply uninformed, is to look before you leap onto this bandwagon of judgement and hatred because there is another side to this story...

Thousands of children live very happy, healthy lives on boats with their parents. For many years before the Kaufmans, and for many years to come, families with children (yes, even babies) have embarked on journeys across the worlds oceans without incident.  We don't hear these stories of course, because they are not what make headlines...No, instead we hear of those that fail, because those are the stories the masses want to hear.  Torre DeRoche, one of my favorite bloggers and author of the fantastic memoir, Love with a Chance of Drowning, said it best in her response to media frenzy:
All the people who never had the courage to live their dreams and do something meaningful and inspired with their lives are having a field day right now. Charlotte dared to do something amazing with her family, which evokes furious jealousy in those who are committed to living out fear-ridden and inane existences. But oh how delicious it feels to those types when the dreamers fall down. "See?" they say. "The easy and mediocre choices we made were the right ones". - Torre DeRoche
As someone who spent a significant amount of time living on a boat raising a baby, I feel compelled to show that boating with a child (or children) is not, despite what the masses may believe, inherently dangerous, selfish or irresponsible.  In fact, many of us who sail with our babies are incredibly capable, self-sufficient and mindful parents.  Before we embarked with Isla, Scott and I (having cruised as a couple for almost 2 years prior) had a very good idea of what to expect from a life at sea with a little one and we took what we saw as the necessary precautions:  we bought a boat that was easy to single-hand, we made the choice to stay "coastal" and "island hop", and invested in various safety measures (from life line netting to infant antibiotics) to ensure our baby would be safe.  Both of my pregnancies were boat pregnancies and we even cruised right up until the final trimester of my twin pregnancy.  Month after ballooning month passed without incident or complication but had something gone wrong with me or our babies during that time, no doubt I would have been blasted for my selfishness and carelessness instead of celebrated for being the adventuring mama I was.  I took calculated risks by staying on our boat in the islands during that time and I had luck on my side.  It's the type of gamble all of us as make on a daily basis whether we take our kids sailing or strap them into carseats.

I don't think too many people can argue with my belief that the most important thing we as parents can give our children - particularly from the ages of zero to three - is that of our time.  There's plenty of scientific data to back this up. We, along with the Kaufmans and all the other cruising families out there, found a lifestyle that gives this to our children in spades.  Furthermore, our kids spend almost all of their waking hours out in nature, and again - there are loads of scientific articles stating what a profoundly positive effect that has on a child's development. Living on a boat with a baby is certainly not for everyone, but can be an incredibly rewarding way to raise a child and there is no one who will persuade me otherwise. I have seen first hand the results. It's incredible and beautiful and amazing. Of course, it is not without challenges and risks, but raising children - be it on land or sea - is inherently demanding and risky.  I feel very lucky to have been able to live this way, and I know every other cruiser feels equally privileged.  We adventures stand united on this front, and as my friend Behan said so eloquently"Irresponsible? Crazy? If that’s the bucket we get tossed in, well, I’m proud to be a member of the tribe that’s chosen to raise children differently."  Amen.

We all take risks every single day, whether we know it or not.  Bad things happen that are out of our control on land and at sea.  No one is immune.  We cruisers choose not to live in constant fear over what "could" happen and instead embrace life as an adventure to behold.  Fellow cruiser, freelance writer and boat mama, Diane Selkirk, wrote an excellent piece entitled Raising a Child Dangerously in an effort to restore a little balance to the reporting of the Rebel Heart saga.  Her words are powerful: "I’m not going to lie: Our lifestyle comes with risk. There are storms at sea, illnesses in remote locations, white-knuckle moments, and near misses... But to me, the potential payoff has always outweighed the risk."  The bottom line is this: we all do our best as parents with what we are given.  None of us are intentionally putting our children in harms way, though some of us might be more comfortable living outside the box than others.  But I ask you, who do you think is more at "risk": the solitary child sitting in front of the television eating fast food and playing video games all day or the child who is spending almost every waking hour with one or both parents, outside in nature, with the opportunity to live differently and see the world?

I know my answer.

Sail on, Rebel Heart, sail on.

To read more about our experience boating with a baby, please visit our page Baby on Board

If you are a Rebel Heart sympathizer and would like to help, please consider donating to the fundraising page that has been set up by friends.  Thank you.

Enjoy this short video compiled of images of hundreds of boat kids from all over the world put together by a fellow boat mom in support of Rebel Heart.  This is our tribe:


Tedums said...

It's your chosen life, you are entitled to live it, there is danger and risk everywhere, take Malaysian Flight 370 for instance! I don't see any condemnations here!

Javan said...

Totally agree, I feel nothing but sympathy for this family that lost their home and I'm sure are going to have a battle to get back to living life their way. Most importantly, they are all OK, things can be replaced.

under30undersail said...

Well said, thank you!

Normandie Fischer said...

Lovely post. You're giving your children so many advantages that will help them become creative, independent adults and better citizens of the world. Sail on!

Corey said...

so very well said

Unknown said...

Great article!!

Mark and Cindy - s/v Cream Puff said...

I too have followed the blog for a couple of years and do not hold it against anyone who wishes to follow their dreams. I will never condemn anyone for a chosen lifestyle. Unfortunately the life style we, and others, have chosen comes into question when something of this magnitude happens. The decision to sail RTW with young children aboard has now become a fiercely debated topic. Now doubt this will continue for some time.

I wish to express my deepest gratitude to all the members of the rescue teams. It makes me proud to be an American tax payer when I witness men jumping out of a plane into the ocean to go, without question or regard of their own safety, to the aid of a young child.

As fellow sailors we are all obligated to help a vessel in distress. I would never question having to go to the aid of another vessel. I am certain Eric and Charlotte would have sailed miles to assist another sailor. Unfortunately, it was them needing the support. I am gratified they had the necessary equipment aboard to communicate their dire needs.

When an event like this happens and everybody comes out unscathed, all the people involved did everything right.
All the best,

Anonymous said...

I posted a link to your article and the quote on Rebel Hearts FB page... thank you.... far to many dare NOT to dream... Cruisers live their dreams everyday.
'bella, SV Maja

Anonymous said...

Mark of Cream Puff expressed such wonderful sentiments, beautifully written; I'd like to second every single thing he said. But I would like to add that I heartily wish we who follow the beat of a different drummer would be as vociferous as those who support and advocate the fearful armchair life that leads to the empowerment of the Nanny-State which endangers our lifestyle. I was boating as a tiny child on many different craft and here I am alive and well many years later. I support and encourage everyone who can to teach and expose their children to adventure, despite the risks. There is no way to avoid risk in life; the question is will you and your children have a life well-lived or one wasted in fear and stagnation. Christina, SV St. Nick

Anonymous said...

This is just slightly off-topic, but I'm appalled at the foul language and name-calling some people feel free to spew when they're making posts on the internet regarding people and situations about which they know absolutely nothing.

I love reading family sailing blogs. It's not necessarily a life style that I want but, gosh, what adventures these kids have. We need more people who are curious about the world and open to its diversity. I have grown children and nearly grown grandchildren and I know how fast their childhoods fly by. What a joy it must be for these families to spend every day exploring the world together.
Jenny A.

Lisa Hanneman said...

Very well said. As usual. Why is it so hard to believe that parents try to do their best with and ALWAYS put the good and safety of their children first? No matter where or how they live?

As I've said, had this been a busier "news week" we would hear very little about this family. But, there wasn't enough drama for all these people to react to and to fill the endless minutes now devoted to news.

Louise said...

Hi Brittany,

I completely agree with your point of view. I think cruising is one of many wonderful ways to spend your childhood.

However, I have to object to the Torre deRoche quote. To say that it's an 'easy and mediocre' choice not to 'live your dreams' is doing a discredit to all of the people who live seemingly normal lives, yet deal with all sorts of complications and challenges, even if they are less explicitly obvious than the challenges of being at sea.

I think the point I'm trying to make is, people shouldn't judge other peoples' choices. That's it.

I'm so glad your friends came out of their situation unscathed.

Best wishes,


Anonymous said...

Just adding to your comment it has been a "family services concern" since we moved aboard. I was 8... I'm now 41. They are still ignorant. They just don't speak our language of parenting.

x said...

Great article. I have enjoyed your blog. We are also cruising with kids. I have linked to this on our blog (CloseQuarters.us). Thanks!

Greg Close
S/V Daystar

Michelle Elvy said...

Great to come here and find your insights. I agree wholeheartedly, of course.

-Michelle on Momo

Unknown said...

Thank you for speaking out against the banal criticisms about the deRoche family. The world and our lives on and around it involves a constant balance between risk and opportunity. While it is far easier to criticize others for things one cannot admit about oneself, it is much more proper to respect others' choices in life. Anyway, enjoy your comments and journey!

Fair Winds and Following Seas!

- Doug
s/v Harmony

Anonymous said...

Dubbing anyone who sails, but doesn't find sailing with small children to be charming, interesting, safe or adventurous, as showing cowardice to "live their dreams" seems to be itself a very banal, "straw man" argument. For all anyone knows, those people are living their dreams just as much as the author who critiques *them*.

Those of us with cruising experience who do not applaud the Rebel Heart are not "jealous haters." Reasonable minds can differ, and if you can't see the other side of this, you're not really committed to or happy with your own choices. What's the expression" He who knows only his side of a matter knows little?

If everyone could be open minded and not dismiss their intellectual opponents as small-minded drones mired in mediocrity vs egomaniacal, selfish, unsafe parents, there'd be a lot less stupid in the world.

Clubtray Sailing said...

Great article. I have enjoyed your blog. We are also cruising with kids. I have linked to this on our blog

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