Monday, January 7, 2013

The Nomadic Family's Dilemma
By Michael

Eleanor uses Frances's finger puppets to
practice French dialogue.
You want to rile a homeschooling parent? Mention the s-word. No, not that one,* I’m talking about socialization.
It always comes in the form of a question, almost always from someone who is benevolently curious about our out-of-school kids. And what they’re keen to know is how we overcome the liability of not having access to an entire school of other 6- and 9-year-old playmates to entertain our kids and teach them how to get along with others.

For years we rejected the assumptions buried in the question, and in answering, we sought to educate the inquisitors. After all, the girls had Windy and me, each other, neighborhood friends, and a lot of time spent with a core group of other homeschooled kids their age and those kids’ parents. With the parents facilitating, our kids reaped the benefits of social interactions that were overwhelmingly positive. There were squabbles from which lessons could be learned, but no cliques or bullying. Socially, it was ideal.
But we are no longer simply a homeschooling family, we are a cruising homeschooling family. And while we aren’t the only family afloat, cruising families are small in number and spread across oceans, literally. Friendships with other cruising kids end sooner than everyone wishes as kid boats coalesce and then ultimately scatter.

Before we went cruising, I wrote about this. About how most people are quick to congratulate parents on their decision/good fortune to be able to give their kids this life. And I think the positives are overwhelming, particularly over the short term. Yet, as Wendy Mitman Clarke (Osprey) wrote in Cruising World years ago, “A darker side of this life may also be a deep understanding of loss at too tender an age and a fear of commitment that comes with never knowing what will happen next and of always saying goodbye without knowing if and when you might meet again.”
We’re lucky that 6-year-old Frances and 9-year-old Eleanor are the best of friends. But Eleanor’s world is growing fast. She is devouring books and can’t recognize Frances as a peer on some levels. She wonders whether she will meet a 9- or 10-year-old-friend she clicks with, let alone stay in the same place long enough to bond with them.

In Victoria’s vibrant homeschooling community, social opportunities abound. But what happens when it’s time to depart again? What’s down the road? We don’t know. But we do know that the average duration of a family cruise is relatively short compared to how long we hope to continue, and we know our daughters are growing, changing rapidly and so are their social needs. What about socialization?

* Eleanor asked the other day, “What is the s-word and the f-word?” Windy and I raised our eyebrows and Eleanor continued, “Is the s-word STUPID?”
“No, not stupid. Tell you what, they’re both words you hear all the time, you just haven’t noticed them. Now that you’re interested, you will probably hear them soon.” Eleanor begged us to just tell her. “No, but when you hear it, let us know and we’ll tell you if you’re right.”

That night, we all watched a Storytellers concert DVD with Sarah Mclachlan performing and I’ll be damned if she didn’t drop both the s- and f-bomb talking between songs. Windy and I started cracking up each time. “Did you miss it? She just said the s-word.” Eleanor’s eyes grew wide and she was in a panic, begging us to rewind. “No, just keep your ears open,” we told her.
The next day, Windy showed the girls something on YouTube and Eleanor noticed the s-word in a comment along the side. “Is that it? Shit?” she asked. Later I found SHIT scrolled across the top of the girls’ drawings (“I’m trying to remember it.”) and Frances keeps chanting it because she can tell that we still can’t stifle our bemusement when we ask her to stop.

The two are best friends, but is that enough?


  1. Excellent post, Michael. There's no ideal way to raise kids. Good kids can come from bad "homes" and vice versa. Frankly, I think the fact that you're thinking so intently about their needs and their socialization is really the best they could hope for.

  2. This is how your family lives now. You don't have much access to peers. Is this permanent? Are you committed to cruise for "N" years? Are you taking it one year at a time? What seems OK now may change next year, just like with landlubber kids.

    As a parent with kids similar in age, I can't tell you if that's good or bad to be limited in your size of peer group. My 5th grader is just now making friends and being generally social at school. My 2nd grader is intensely committed to being friends with all the girls in 2nd grade.
    Eleanor seems to be on target with the developmental milestone of learning curse words :-)
    Good Luck!

    1. N years. The N is dependent on our ability to afford it and our desire to keep going. Our ability to afford it is hinged on my ability to earn money and the returns we get from our trading/investments (the latter very negative in the past couple months). We are still learning upon what our desire to keep going is hinged--but so far everyone is positive on the lifestyle and looking forward to the coming year. Michael

    2. Also, if something emerged where one of your girls needed interventions that can only be obtain from land-based providers on a weekly basis, I know you would quickly find a way to get that for her!
      So, your N years are given the status quo and cash ;-) I have confidence in your ability to adjust "the plan" as needed.

  3. For what it's worth, the only anti-social, misbehaving malcontent children I know are dirt dwellers with many 'friends'. But then so are my wife and I and a few folks think we are well adjusted.

    I think the number of friends one sees regularly and the chosen lifestyle has less to do with developing ones social skills than do the values we instill in our children. Sadly, the fact that you are giving any thought at all to your children's development means you (and they) are WAY ahead of the curve. It sounds to me like you are doing a fine job.

    1. I totally agree with NatGeoWannaBe. There is no guarantee that any landbased friend will be there tomorrow, either. Their lives are just as subject to change and crises as are your family's, though perhaps from other causes. It is the values you instill that make them able to interact with other children or adults, not who they knew or for the length of the contact. Nikki

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