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What Age Is Best?

Babies? Toddlers? Middle-agers? Teenagers?

The topic of this podcast: What age is the best age?

So you’re a little slow on the upswing and didn’t move onto a boat before kids (haha, just kidding). Or maybe you’re only leaving for one year.  I can understand that not everyone is ready at the same time. When should you head out with the kids? There are pluses and minuses to all age levels. Teen parents look at infant parents and wonder how on Earth they are coping. Infant parents look at teen parents and wonder the same. Once you get out there, you’ll find that there are many more younger kids than teens. Why is that? I don’t have personal experience with teens and so I’ve sifted through many sources (online and offline) and put all of them together for you. 

First, is there an age that’s too young?

To paraphrase Theodore Roosevelt: Nothing worth having is easy. It’s true. You had kids, was that easy? Nope. You want to live on a sailboat, is that easy? Nope. You want to go cruising with kids, is that easy? Definitely not. But is it rewarding? It totally is, without a doubt. Nothing worth having is easy. If you’re going for only a year, just know that kid won’t remember. If you’re going long-term, do it! Is there an age that’s too young? No. I can attest. There’s something so magical about living in your little cocoon with your wee one. So close. Think of the experiences they’re having from the very beginning – even before their eyes open. They’re feeling the beat of the water, hearing the movement of the wind. They’re listening to all of the music we make at all times of day – they can hear us inside, topsides, dockside. They’re listening to pots and pans, music, podcasts (ha), sanding, polishing. Imagine what an anchor chain must sound like as the windlass is pulling it up from their perspective? They’re watching us take care of not only ourselves but our home and each other – unlike the house. How do you go about caring for a baby on a boat? Just like you would anywhere else. Strap them to yourselves and carry on with life. Rather than nannies and babysitters (although, sometimes that sounds like a dream), you as a family are growing every second together. And that’s not a bad thing? Getting underway? Strap them to you in front, put your lifejacket as you normally would and go have fun and explore. Take a carseat and find a handy place to fasten it in the cockpit so they can watch. Need an extra hand? Find a place to fasten a carseat down below where they’re secure, warm, and safe. There is very little “stuff” that’s needed for an infant, and your love and your home provides it for them. Sleep? What’s that? Great experience for overnight shifts (ha). I’ve heard some people say, “but living on a boat is your choice, not theirs”. It’s absolutely true. And living in a house would be a choice you choose as well, or living in a yurt, or living on a mountainside, or living in a hurricane zone, and I can go on and on. People live in all sorts of interesting areas of the world – many I’d question, but it’s not my place because I don’t know the first thing about that style. Basically, you’re making the choices for your family, and sailing is a wonderful one – but one many don’t understand. 

And then we get to crawlers. Things get mobile and intense. They want to move but don’t yet have the reasoning skills. If you’ve had the kids from day 1 on board then they have come to respect the water, the rights and wrongs – even just a little. They know people don’t walk on water, they know it’s wet, they know we don’t actually live in it, well, not entirely. They’ve been swimming with you, playing in it. They can feel the intensity of the weather and the moods of the parents – it’s important that they do. They know coming into dock or anchoring is a time when parents are unavailable. They haven’t grasped that they shouldn’t necessarily throw a fit at those perfect times, but I think they can feel the anticipation and act out anyhow. It’s a great time to teach expectations and respect – for water, weather, and people. And I think at this point in their lives is crucial to becoming a boat kid. Again, it’s been ingrained. It’s just what they do. Is it easy? It’s probably one of the most difficult times in your life. You’re on. You’re always on as parents at this stage. You’re running around trying to hold life together. There are bumps, scratches, splashes when their favorite lovie gets thrown overboard. I can remember those days. I once lost a set of diamond earrings because Lucie said that she saw the crabs and thought they’d like earrings, too! Makes perfect sense! They’re intrigued about life, finding out what is what. They’re learning your language, and boat language. I remember going to my friends’ houses to visit and freaking out a little because all the furniture moved! Everything had sharp corners, outlets are at their level, if they fall down the stairs there is no splash – more like a thump. I couldn’t hear what the kids were up to because they were in the other room, the closets were messy as the kids had thrown the clothes everywhere, if Lucie got a little wobbly, she couldn’t just quickly grab onto something. There was no cockpit to contain the non-climbers – instead they have gates like a farm. There’s bees in the grass, ticks in the leaves, cars in the driveway, yelling to not go close to the road, don’t talk to strangers, stand right next to me. When venturing on land, life was intense! Then I’d get back home and once I fastened the cover over the companionway stairs so she couldn’t climb out – I was free! No moving chairs and tables! All corners are already round! All cabinets and drawers are already kid-proof! No outlets at ankle level! It’s like a contained jungle gym – all at her disposal. There are no cars outside, the cruising community is built of people I’d trust with my babes. And the big question: what if they fall in? If you’re underway, they have their lifejackets on. No biggie. If you’re at anchor and they topple overboard, it’s just water. You are never more than 40-ish feet away and can come to their rescue. They’ll be wet and a bit upset – but the equivalent to that is falling down a flight of stairs. I’ll take the water, thank you very much! We did have netting up for flying toys and toddlers, which did save her lovies every so often. She was a pro in knowing her limits at the lifelines, how far to lean. She’d look right at me while doing it with her little smirk. Testing – always testing. But that’s how they learn. And, no, we don’t hole them up for weeks on end in a boat (unless crossing an ocean), we go to parks, walk miles for groceries, sight-see on our bikes and find other cruising families to make little friends and travel with.

The good news is that they’re not toddlers forever. The Middle-ages are probably the easiest. They have reasoning skills. They can make choices, or at least know which ones they SHOULD be making. When you hear a splash, you can just look over the side and let them know that whatever it was they were doing, it wasn’t the best decision. Now they need a towel. They haven’t developed that teen attitude yet, there’s glimpses of it, but I can safely say their brains are still intact. They become little helpers, absorbing knowledge. The hard part isn’t so much living on a boat, it’s other stuff. Personality stuff. Teaching them to be a good people-type of stuff. They’re becoming their little selves. Boat life allows for the time to do that. You’re learning about one another. The kids are eager to help, hold the tools, climb the mast, catch fish, cook and bake, and explore. Boat life really gives them the freedom to enjoy what it means to be a kid. It’s fantastic to watch, knowing full well that you’ve set up an environment for them to thrive in. Phones are second thoughts, mainly used to talk to friends. School can be structured or not, depending on lots of things. Friendships on the water look so different. Kids are accepting of age, language, nationality. Nothing much gets in the way when other kids are spotted. The only time you really hear the word bullying is from stories that parents are telling and why they left that life behind. On land, a day looks a bit different: wake up, breakfast, scramble to get to school (or daycare), go to work for many hours, then after school activities, dinner, homework, bed. There’s not much time with your kid, getting to actually know your kid. The respect between everyone gets lost in the shuffle. You lose details, you lose the moments. You might not even realize it because it’s all you’ve ever known. But just think of how little you spend with your kids.

This is a very popular age to cruise with kids. They are also old enough to create great memories. They grow like weeds, but bathing suits and flip-flops are quite flexible when it comes to sizing. 

And then you blink and you’ve got teens. Teens are a different kind of animal. It seems that growing a teen aboard, from littles, is an easier experience. It’s their way of life, not many questions asked. Some families have stopped cruising for bits at a time for school experiences here and there, and then onwards they go. Many just homeschool all the way through. Teens value independence, they need the space to make their own decisions. They’re becoming adults. They’ll make bad decisions, they’ll make great decisions. Some parents think those skills should be learned in a school, some don’t. But what about the Prom? It was your experience, not all kids will care if it’s theirs. I think the real question isn’t about boat kids becoming teens, but more about land teens becoming boat teens. It’s quite a transition, but in the research I’ve done there are ways to make the transition easier. 

  • Make sure they keep up communication with their friends back home. Facetime, Skype, texting, chats, instagram are all very popular. That connection to friends is very important to them – much like bring your teen cruising is to you. 
  • Budget money and time to visit back home to touch base with friends and family and see what it is that they might be missing. Hearing all the crazy teen stories, a lot of the time, wears old on a boat teen.
  • Ease into the decision to cruise. Go to classes and have them take the classes as well. Get them out sailing in beautiful waters to experience a taste of what it is going to be. Give them time to mull it all over, don’t just yank them away to a life on the sea. 
  • Definitely maximize time with other teen cruising families. Stick together. Teens are social by nature and when you have happy teens, you’ll have a happy boat life. There are few teen boats so hang tight.
  • Address the teen attitude when it comes. Talk about it or give them space. Having one bad mood bring down the whole family is not an option when you’re sharing a 40-ish foot boat. Everyone goes through bad moods, but there’s a line when respect is broken. Keep in mind everyone’s different. Here’s to hoping we can avoid this!
  • They have a more of a need for personal space. Littles can cozy up in the V-birth, teens aren’t going to appreciate that. 
  • Schooling: there’s so many ways to do it! There are many styles and forms, from distance learning, to school-in-a-box, to unstructured completely. There is no right or wrong way, just any way that’s comfortable with your family. There are many who stop cruising because they feel the teen needs to go to school for some reason. Like they would be “missing out”. The whole point to cruising is to get away from the grind, detach from the feeling of always “missing out”.
  • Be flexible. Life happens. Plans change. Just go with it. 
  • A Family Afloat just wrote a great article, check the show notes for the link!

You can totally do this as a teen boat. You don’t need to worry about them falling overboard as much, with the right experience they could probably help with watches. They are able to carry groceries and do boat work. (not that they want to, but this is sounding really nice!) Why not give your teens the environment to grow at their own pace, experience their own choices – without the pressures of school and everybody else? Your cruising might look different to address the needs of teens – socially and emotionally. It’s probably healthier than the stresses of school, hands down, at least that’s my experience as a high school teacher. There are a couple of teen boats right now that are hanging out together in Mexico, they stay put for an uncertain amount of time and allow the kids to bond. In fact, if you do decide to take your teens cruising, the other teen boats would be really appreciative!

My husband and I lived on a boat before kids – purposefully. We wanted a boat kid. They come with certain awesome traits. Lucie lived on board from birth. It’s ingrained, it’s who she is. She’s different, beats to her own drum, is confident and self-aware. She’s responsible and independent. She knows what she likes. She’ll converse with just about anyone who’ll play along. And before you say, yeah, yeah, so does mine. Only true boat parents who know the difference can say they understand. Boat kids have that special little something. That little characteristic that there’s no words for – at least in the English language. I can understand how other parents would want that for their kids, too.

So, as you can see, people take their kids cruising at all ages. There are advantages and disadvantages to all ages of kids. Cruising with babies and crawlers is tough on the parents, yet rewarding for the kids – even though they don’t remember. Cruising with the middle-ages is probably easiest, but does  that constitute as better? Starting as teens is challenging for both sides but could be the most rewarding of all! No matter what ages your families sport, just know that the experience will be one worth remembering. The answer to the question you were seeking: there is no perfect age. The perfect age is NOW. 

It’s challenging. It’s life changing. And nothing worth having is easy.

SHOW NOTES:

Sailing Totem (Behan and Jamie Gifford): Raised and are raising 3 (now 2) teens aboard. They have been traveling around the world for 10 years. She recently wrote an article about cruising with teens in Cruising World. Keep an eye out for that!

A Life Afloat (Josie and Christian Lauducci): They have three kids aboard, with one daughter being 16. They have been traveling since 2015 and wrote a blog post specifically addressing teens.
https://afamilyafloat.com/2019/03/10/raising-a-boat-teen/

MV Noeta is currently carrying 2 teens with them.

Sailing Zatara has their famous vlog on YouTube. They are sailing with 4 kids, 2-3 are teens at this point.

These are just a few, there are many others!!

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