There is a belief, widely held and oft-repeated in many forms, in many cases almost by rote. I call it The Myth of the Cruising Kid. In short, it is the assumption that the cruising lifestyle is an antidote to pediatric ills, a magic pill that is sure to turn out a master race of former cruising kids.
My introduction to this myth came as soon as we tossed our kids aboard Del Viento and sailed into the unknown. Thereafter, in nearly every port since, we’ve been met with heaps of assurance that the cruising life will benefit our kids beyond measure.
“It’s so great you’re doing this,” cruisers tell us, nodding and smiling at Eleanor and Frances, “getting them out here, away from the shopping malls and the video games. They are going to thrive.” Then they often add wistfully, “If I had it to do all over again…”
Others may offer, “All the cruising kids I’ve meet are so mature, they look you in eye and they talk to you like little grown-ups,” they say smiling down at our two non-eye-contacting mutes.
These are really nice things to hear, and I strongly agree that this life is a good one for our kids, for our family. But though these messengers are well-intentioned, I don’t think this cruising life setting automatically produces successful, independent, happy kids. And that is really the sentiment we hear from people.
Cruising kids enjoy an inherent, increased exposure to nature and to other cultures and ways of life. And this exposure is what’s often cited in support of The Myth of the Cruising Kid. But I believe that the nice cruising kids I meet are not the way they are because of the cruising-specific elements in their lives. Rather, I think the magic sauce that these kids drink liberally is available, land or sea. I think it’s the role they’re able to play as crewmembers—important, productive members of a household—and the increased time they spend with parents and siblings. These things give kids an important sense of connectedness.
And while it’s generally easier for cruising parents to offer this role and this togetherness, we know shore-based families that also successfully make this a priority, even given their busy shore-based lives. We know many non-cruising kids that shine, kids being raised on land in settings very unlike our cruising world. On average, these kids are no less congenial, sensitive, approachable, informed, or interesting than the dozens of cruising kids we’ve met.
Too, there are obvious problems with The Myth of the Cruising Kid. First, for at least 90 percent of cruising kids, this life is temporary, often fleeting—very few kids are actually raised aboard from start to finish, making them a bona fide product of this life. Second, kids are individuals and they respond individually to the cruising life, some adversely. As ashore, we’ve met cruising kids who’ve not yet learned to be kind.
So what accounts for this perception?
I think part of the answer may be the context of the exposure people have with kids in the cruising life. Did they ever before get stuck sitting next to a 10-year-old at a beach-side pot-luck and then ask questions about their life? Back home, they’d not have paid any attention to the blonde-haired kid helping pick out produce in the grocery store simply because that kid is obviously a foreigner like them. Perhaps some of them had little direct interaction with kids in their pre-cruising life.
Again, I think the cruising life can be rich, especially for families. But kids are kids just as people are people, none as much a product of their environment as of the loving relationships that surround them.
What do you think?
In our twenties, we traded our boat for a house and our freedom for careers. In our thirties, we slumbered through the American dream. In our forties, we woke and traded our house for a boat and our careers for freedom. And here we are. Follow along at http://www.logofdelviento.blogspot.com/