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To the Families of Onlies

Is it possible to head off into the wild blue yonder having only one child? Many parents of single children, or “onlies” or “singletons”, have this very question – and it’s a good one to have. It shows that you clearly have your child’s best interests in mind. For a sailing family of any size, other kids can be tough to come by – but that doesn’t necessarily have to be your reality – The good news is that it completely depends on you.

There are many differences in families that raise one child versus families that have more than one child. Looking at a multi-child family, playmates are built in. Relationships with like-aged people are built in. Conflict solving and sharing issues are built in. There’s built in peer camaraderie and shared opinions about their parents’ horrible views. And just think of the chores that can possibly get done at one time! And can I reiterate once again: there’s built-in playmates. Gosh, at this point you’re probably considering jumping in the sack and fixing the mess you found yourselves in. But hesitate – please. Now’s probably not a good time anyway.

Onlies have a very strong sense of self. They are not easily swayed to give into peer pressure or feel that need to fit in. They know what they like, who they are, and have been able to explore that without scrutiny since they were born. They depend highly on the parents’ emotional support when things don’t go their way and thus mimic adults’ responses when emotional situations become unstable. Because of the adult one-on-one time, they are more socially aware of themselves and others when in a like-peer social situation. Although they still get bored, their threshold is much higher. They KNOW how to be bored like no other. They can therefore be very creative. They can follow their passions deeply and uninterrupted. A strict bedtime is made easy, giving the parents the time they need. As they get older they will understand the need for personal space – and maybe even allow you to have some! There is less mess to clean when one child helps with the cooking and subsequent disaster. There’s less noise in general, but especially when it’s time for everyone to do chores, for the simple fact that there’s less wee ones to spread the noise. You can get up and go spontaneously in just a few minutes without having to wait for Joey to put his sneakers on the right feet, Ali to find a hairband, and Alex to get a clean pair of clothes on. A family of three can be in a dinghy and headed to adventures in less than 5 minutes. Keeping track of one that’s scampering around is easier. There is a super strong bond between child and parent. And the sheer amount of things are cut exponentially – which is important when living on a boat. Like, really important. Plus, there’s no bickering. So, now things are looking up, aren’t they.

Whether you have one kid or a bevy of kids, don’t get all disgruntled and defensive with me. There are definitely exceptions to the rule on both sides, as personalities abound. I’m also assuming that the parents in all of these families are upstanding adults with their kids at the forefront of their lives. Those above (let’s say) assumptions come from research from psychology magazines and such – just to make sure I knew what I was getting into when I decided to partake on growing a family. Don’t roll your eyes at me – it’s how I work. And it also mirrors the experiences I’ve had growing up in a multi-child family, then choosing to have only one child, then cruising with said child on a boat. 

If you, too, have an only, I’m here to be your cheerleader! That you’re researching the idea, and deciding whether or not it would be healthy for your child, says to me that you’re already on your way to a successful cruising life. Just as everyday life aboard a boat looks and feels differently between family sizes, travelling and cruising look and feel differently, too. I can give parental advice – in whatever dwelling you find yourself in – for parents of onlies – things like: make sure they get space from you and can detach in a healthy and positive way, don’t get too caught up in adult projects, leaving the child out, or engage in kid-play to teach the little correct social behaviors. Put on a costume, create a dance club, make stuffed animals talk. Don’t spoil them too much, push their comfort zones, limit screen time, and let them go and explore – out of your reach. If your perfect self has a little spat with your better half, don’t air out the dirty laundry in front of two wide eyes and ears – remember to model good behavior, peeps, especially with onlies. But all of that is quite obvious. It’s not the fun stuff. 

What you really want to know is if there will be other kids out there for your child to play and bond with. Each month on the Kids4Sail location roll there are at least 250 families looking for playmates worldwide. And our community experts will agree that there’s probably around 1000 or more actively cruising families at this point. But just because it sounds like a lot, don’t assume you’ll see them. If you haven’t gotten the memo, the oceans are big and vast. Will you see or get to travel with other kid boats? The answer depends on you. This is the point where cruising with a single child differs from cruising with a larger built-in family community. 

Scenario 1: You want to travel to all of the far reaches of the world and only spend time on deserted islands hunting for shells and sharks. That might be a plan after retirement, because, in most cases your singleton will truly be single. Again, it might be the parents’ dream, but it sure won’t be dreamy for your side-kick. You will see very few people (which might sound great for you) and probably zero kids. It’s a common story to hear families cruising for 6 months and bumping into exactly zero kid boats. Their cruising comes to an end because they feel bad for their kid or kids, who have become lonely, yearning for previous lifestyles.

Or, you could compromise…

You can still cruise beautiful areas of the world, but pay special attention to where family boats generally congregate. I can then guarantee that you will see kid boats. Lots of them. And from an introvert’s perspective, sometimes too many of them! As a kid boat with an “Only” child, you will have to adjust your adventurous ways and instead hunt for kid boats, mixing in a little solitude on the side. On Kids4Sail we have the monthly location roll for exactly that purpose. Kids4Sail was built on the foundation of a family with an only. It takes a little more prep, a little more time to research and find other kid boats, a little more flexibility to scratch well made plans and follow the tribe, a little more patience playing and entertaining an only. Definitely less time to yourselves. But, plan ahead, find the pockets of kid boats, and go there. You don’t have to stay for months at a time. Go, build relationships, maybe find some buddy boats to travel with, head back to the hub to check back in when loneliness settles in. 

Where are these areas, you might ask?? From year to year it might change slightly but here’s a little list. You can pretty much count on George Town, Bahamas, Marathon, FL or La Paz, Mexico for the winter. La Paz even has a Kids Club! For hurricane season: Grenada, Rio Dulce, Guatemala, La Paz again, New Zealand, northern US East Coast or Pacific Northwest for hurricane season. Many of us get together for the Annapolis Boat Show in the Chesapeake early October. And then there are surprises! For example, Maine was a big hub this year for quite a few kid boats – mainly because of Covid and having so many travel restrictions. Then you’ll find pockets of kid boats in the Med, depending on the year, although the Mediterranean and Asian countries can be hit or miss.. Some years, the Med and Asia can have kid boats, others not. There doesn’t seem to be a rhyme or reason to it, but they definitely have to work harder than the rest to find friends. Although steeped in history, don’t plan a year in the Med and bank on finding kid boats, it might not happen. Your best bet is to stay there for the winter and find a marina where a few kids might be located, and even that’s not guaranteed. It’s not an uncommon story to hear kid boats stop cruising because of exactly this reason. A hop across the Atlantic might have turned the whole experience around. All-in-all, keep an ear to the ground for kid boats and watch for hurricanes and cyclones and weather patterns. You’ll notice that the average migration takes all this into account. 

If you want to get a bit more advanced, group into ages – this is mainly for the teens. Although boat kids are notorious for engaging with humans of all types and ages: Let’s face it, teens aren’t going to love hanging with 6 year olds for a few weeks – unless they’re getting paid, of course. Their social requirements are definitely different from the littles’. But if you have a teen, you absolutely can enter this lifestyle. It feels like in the past few years there have been more teenagers out there, but that could just be hopeful thinking. Just keep your eyes open and ask around! For example, there were many teens in Mexico in 2019. If I was out there with a teen, I’d high-tail it to Mexico and then see where the wind takes me. The world is your playground. You can play by yourself or you can find a tribe. It’s totally your choice.

Other things to keep in mind: there are locals everywhere you go, besides the deserted island here or there. Where there are locals, there are kids. And where there are kids, there are friends. Don’t hesitate to head to the local playground and start up some friendships. Volunteer at animal shelters, or food banks, or church groups to start up family friendships. Take a fun class and meet some kids that way. Classes are a great way to teach patience and waiting turns and listening to others.

Don’t be shy, get yourself into the action! And try not to be worried about the need to travel, travel, travel. Take some time to smell the roses a bit, relax. Those few weeks could very well be your best weeks of the year! Many cruisers stay in one place for weeks, months, and sometimes years at a time. Some families cruise for 6 months and then fly home for 6 months to connect back with family and friends. Be flexible. Cruise for as long as you’re all happy with it and don’t feel like you need to be a hero, there are so many plans of action it’ll make your head spin. Take it all in stride and reevaluate each year. It’s all a part of the journey of your family, and certainly no two families are the same.

So if you have a single child and are worried about socialization, find the kids. They’re there. I promise.