Raising Kids Dangerously

by Gigi Ross on March 12, 2014

raising kids unconventionally

Do you raise your kids the mainstream way – a house, a yard, a pet, a school routine? While we all might have small differences in the way we parent, the general environment we do it in is fairly the same for most of us. Not so for Behan, who lives on a sailboat with her family. It isn’t conventional, but it works for them. Here’s a bit on how she does it – and the fears she’s battled. This is for every parent who’s dreamed of living a different kind of life with their kids.

I live on a sailboat with my husband and three children. We’ve sailed for thousands of miles, across the Pacific Ocean, in good weather and bad. This is crazy.

Nomadic sailing is absolutely nothing like the well molded life I was supposed to be leading and did a pretty good job of faking through a well nurtured childhood, college, grad school, marriage, high tech career, three kids, moving to the burbs for the schools, joining the right social/athletic club, juggling a dual career household with hefty carpooling demands, “who travels this week?” spouse discussions, weekends of quality time with PowerPoint, and…what’s the third kid’s name again? Somewhere along the way, life spun into a wheel of insanity that my husband and I needed to get off.

So we did. We sold our stuff. We moved on a boat. We took our kids out of school. We left the country. We’ve been sailing nomads for nearly six years now, and it IS crazy. It is terrifying. It is glorious.

Certainly, we have fears: traveler’s hubris isn’t for us. There was that wild summer as a young, single backpacker, but I had not yet gained the mortality bestowed upon becoming a parent. We would never willingly place our children at risk.

Will our children be socialized? Will they get into college? Will they be able to relate to their peers? Will they resent us for not having had the chance to play on a baseball team, take ballet lessons, or learn to play the flute? Don’t they need to be fixed in a community to have stability so they can become, you know, NORMAL adults? Will we be safe from bad weather / storms / pirates / ocean garbage gyres / Fukushima waste / inattentive cargo ships? WILL THEY HATE US LATER?

As we actively pursued our dream of living afloat, these questions came from friends, and family, and echoed around in our own heads. We were asked how we could possibly place our children at risk. With these came the unspoken accusation: how dare we! The underlying indictment: we’ve judged their life choices, and found them wanting.

There is no judgment. It is dangerous simply to be a parent, to put your whole self into wanting a better future the instant that first slimy, wriggly little body is laid on your chest. However you navigate that future, it is fraught with danger, whether it’s driving down the highway to the grocery store, sending a child to their first day of school, finding the best way to parent with love and direction.

Addressing our fears led us down an unusual path, but however you choose to live, every parent faces anxieties. We took a crazy chance, and found a family life that is fulfilling beyond anything we imagined. It’s why we’re forging ahead instead of making a nice little round trip on a sabbatical jaunt that was supposed to return put a tanned, rested, bonded, re-energized family back in our beautiful home community after a couple of years.

I was not programmed to be different. If anything, my life until we left was a careful series of practical steps designed to fulfill the American Dream. I will still lie awake some nights wondering if we are doing the right thing by stepping so far off track, but have found life is too sweet to filter through worries instead of joys.

{Photo Credit}: Behan Gifford

Behan Gifford fell for sailing, the sailmaker, and the sailing life- not necessarily in that order. When she’s not homeschooling her children and keeping the boat afloat, she shares their nomadic life on www.sv-totem.com as well as via TwitterFacebook, and Pinterest.


Maddie March 13, 2014 at 1:49 pm

Thank you for sharing this. We recently (as in last month) moved onto a 50′ boat to raise our two toddlers. It’s quite the adventure but that’s why we are doing it. Love seeing other families living this way.

A Pleasant House March 17, 2014 at 10:55 am

I see this lifestyle choice as totally reasonable. After all, crafting a traditional life doesn’t seem to be working that well in the world either. Good luck and Bravo!

Devon March 20, 2014 at 9:06 am

I’m terrified I won’t be able to sleep the entire first month (or more!) of our soon-to-be nomadic journey around the Pacific. I have to keep telling myself the risks are different, but not necessarily significantly more, than we face at home. At the same time, I’m looking forward to it and also trying not to talk myself out of it! But, the cold feet haven’t won yet… And news like this from fellow nomadic moms helps them warm up a bit!

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