Posts tagged " free-range parenting "


June 16th, 2010 Posted by Susan's Musings 4 comments




“…it seems everybody is eager to pounce on my story now that something bad has happened.”


We spent a fair amount of time in the car last week, which included listening to more radio news than usual. At the time, newscasters were fixated on Abby Sunderland, the 16 year old sailor quoted above. She had encountered a violent but not uncommon Indian Ocean storm. Her sloop had been dismasted and her emergency beacons had been activated, but it was still unclear exactly what else had happened.


As I listened to the broadcasters purporting to be concerned for her safety, they sounded to me more like lions in a Roman arena, lusting for blood. I had the distinct impression that they would be disappointed if she was unharmed.  They seemed enraged by her parents’ confidence (based on actual knowledge of sailing, emergency equipment and Abby’s capabilities) that she was weather beaten but okay. In ominous tones the broadcasters announced that “experts” were raising questions about Abby’s parents’ culpability for encouraging and allowing their young daughter to set out.


I don’t know Abby or her family, but I do know something about sailing, about 16 year olds, about having a dream and pursuing it. I do wonder how many of those attacking the Sunderlands are being inconsistent and possibly hypocritical.


I doubt that those pundits who are appalled at Abby’s voyage are equally outraged with the parents of child actors for placing their offspring in danger. Considering the sad litany of damaged former child stars, it would seem to be a reasonable query for child safety proponents. How many of these “experts” are in favor of 16 year old girls getting abortions with or without parental consent? What is it about this particular case –assuming that the outrage is real and not generated solely by the opportunity of being widely interviewed and quoted by the media – that is provoking such indignation?


Could it be that Abby’s adventure is so traditional? There is something wholesome about a 16 year old testing her abilities by going to sea, There is something old-fashioned about a young girl throwing her heart and soul into an adventure and then not looking to blame anyone when things go wrong. There is something traditional about a family sharing a passion for sailing and recognizing when their daughter has the necessary skills by looking at the child rather than at an age chart.


A few years ago, around midnight, my husband and I, armed with binoculars, crouched in bushes on the shore of a bay. We were attempting to visually ascertain whether our thirteen son and his even younger crew had securely anchored their boat on the first night of their summer sailing outing. We couldn’t see in the dark and I slept uneasily that night. But the three boys returned home after their voyage more confident, more mature and more capable of growing up healthily because we supported them as they tested themselves.


For that venture, our son recruited his cousin and a friend. When the friend’s father questioned whether the boys had enough expertise to head out alone, my husband quoted from a favorite childhood book of his, Swallows and Amazons.  In that British classic, four siblings seek their parents’ permission to have a sailing holiday in the English Lake District. Their father, abroad serving in the Navy, telegrams his wife these words: “Better drowned than duffers; if not duffers won’t drown.” 


We don’t actually agree with the first part of that sentence and we are fully aware that life has dangers that no amount of preparation or planning can eliminate. But it is has become a family motto for us nonetheless.  We take seriously the responsibility to equip our children with the tools they need to become independent and strong, whether in sailing or any other aspect of life. At a certain point, we need to cast off the lines and let them set sail. We will answer to God as to how well we have done our job, not to the “experts.”



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