âBut what about socialization?â People unfamiliar but curious about cruising lifestyle often ask this about our children. Weâve done a few presentations about our travels during our first month back in the USA, and can almost guarantee the question of our kidsâ socialization will come up in the Q&A afterwards.
Tucked into comfortable chairs on a friendâs porch last week, we compared notes on our two familiesâ cruising experiences. The Reys have alternated cruising their classic Huckins, Cortado, with travels to Europeâbuilding worldschooling experiences for their kids while staying close to Tonyâs work. A dozen yards away, our collective tribe of six kids aged 11 to 17 laughed over a Harry Potter trivia game before abandoning the porch to play basketball in the driveway. Listening to them shoot hoops by headlights in the fading light, these kids easily interacted across a wide age range, werenât phased by gender, and were not reticent to engage adults (or other kids more than a couple of years apart in age). Itâs one example, but itâs typical, and seems to me theyâre pretty well socialized.
The only problem with cruising kids and socialization is that the myth they will be inadequately socialized persists.
By flickering candlelight, we muddled over the subject of socialization. Lynne & Tonyâs response is one of my favorites, too. They like to return a different question: âHow did you like junior high school? What about high school?â for most of us, those werenât overwhelmingly positive social experiences, except maybe with rose-tinted hindsight. Why not just skip over a whole pile of angst while raising and educating kids who are self-confident and secure?
I like to flip this question another way, too. Why is it presumed better socialization to put a couple of dozen kids the same age into a classroom with a single adult? Does a narrow band of peer-dominated socialization provide optimal social growth? I donât think so, and research agrees.
The question generally comes from unaware curiosity. I suspect we are imagined off in the middle of nowhere, alone in our travels, interacting overwhelmingly just within our family unit. Itâs sometimes true, but itâs the exception. Most of our time is spent âsomewhere,â among the company of other cruising families on an extended field trip. Our kids have to work out conflicts, and appreciate the value of friendships. They more frequently face the social challenge to make new friends. They readily engage others across age and gender, and their communication benefits from routinely socializing with adults. Everyday life informs them about the âreal world.â
It does take work to place yourself in the company of other kid boats. On a Facebook forum for cruising families recently, one parent wondered why, after months in the popular cruising grounds of the Bahamas, they did not encounter a single cruising family. As newbie cruisers, this family didnât realize you canât expect it to happen organically: it takes some effort, some advance research and contacts. And then, you have to be flexible in your plans. (How to do this another story, and a section of Voyaging with Kids is devoted to the topic.)
Being solo is fine for a whileâmonths, even. But it can be tough over time, especially for singleton kids. Itâs changed our routing plans many times, in big and small ways. Weâve seen the need for their child to be among a larger peer group push families to stop cruising altogether. Iâm sure the fact our kids have each other as peers and playmates has made our stretches away from other cruisers easier.
In fact, there are a lot of other cruising families âout there,â and our kids get to hang out with other kids most of the time. I expect it to be harder the next few years, because older boat kids are less common: the sweet spot seems to be from around 6 to 12. (Iâm still amazed that we managed to be around a more than a dozen of tween and teen cruisers during our Indian Ocean crossing year!)Â It will take effort to find and connect with other kids, unless we make the tradeoff to go our own way.
This paints a rosy picture. Socialization is more multidimensional, and about individual personalities as well as environment. But our kids are growing as social beings in a very different way than their peers at home. We have to be open with them about these differences, so they donât expect seamless interactions now, or transitions later. They are largely outsiders to mainstream culture. They donât know the names of the latest celebrity newsmakers, musical hits, or fashion trends. But for the most part, itâs because they donât care: theyâre not in a bubble, and they can find these things online, and choose whatâs important to them to follow.
Itâs intimidating to make the leap to raise children differently, and weâve gone WAY off the path of the norm. Back on Lynne & Tonyâs porch, I think about hearing the âwhat about socialization?â question, and how it makes my mama bear hackles come up, ready to defend my cubs. I have to remember, itâs not negative judgmentâjust a lack of understanding. Our differently socialized kids are doing fine, thank you.