Divorced and sailboat cruising with kids

Cruise the web for cruising families. You’ll see some differences: large families of four kids or more, sailing on a large catamaran; small families with a single kid, voyaging the world on a boat not much bigger than a daysailer.

They cruise in Fiji, Australia, Mexico, the Med, northern Europe and along both coasts of the United States.

In most cases, cruising families are made up of two married or committed parents and the children they have had together. And it makes sense. Balancing a weather-dependent cruising schedule with parenting plans, custody arrangements and divorce decrees requiring travel notifications is a formidable challenge indeed.

Our family has to manage all of those factors. My kids are from my first marriage. My husband is their step-father. Our boat is in Puget Sound and my kids’ dad, J, is in Portland. We have a 50-50 parenting plan.

And we are making it work so far. Here’s how:

1. We let go of all-or-nothing thinking

Until this past summer, our cruising with the kids was limited to a school breaks and only a week or so at a time.

What does cruising look like for you? Does it look like cutting the dock lines for good, sailing across oceans and schooling your kids from the boat all the way through high school by a combination of American curriculum and real-world learning in exotic countries?

That’s what it looked like for me for a long time. And I still love that idea, but it isn’t possible for us right now.

Instead, we are a part-time cruising family.

My ex and I have a 50-50 parenting plan. For the past four years, the kids would alternate weeks between our house and their dad’s house, with a bit more time between houses in the summer. It’s been great because the kids get equal time with each parent.

When the kids have been with us, we’ve used the long weekends, spring breaks and summer time to cruise Puget Sound to spots like Whidbey Island, Port Townsend, Mystery Bay Marine State Park and anchorages near Bainbridge Island.

Being able to cruise for only a week or two at a time has been limiting, however. Not nearly enough time to sail up to the San Juan islands or Canada and really explore these beautiful areas.

So …

2. We worked with my ex to make a plan

Being able to spend two months cruising Puget Sound this past summer let us spend more time exploring places with great snorkeling like South Puget Sound.

My husband and I started working on a plan that would allow us to take the kids for longer over the summer. We worked with the kid’s dad and got to an agreement that would allow us to take the kids for about eight weeks.

With that extended length of time, we were able to explore so much, even with the Canadian border closed because of the coronavirus pandemic. We spent some time in South Puget Sound and several weeks in the San Juan Islands exploring James Island, Sucia Island and Roche Harbor.

I know it was hard for J to give up precious time during the summer months with the kids. But I think he saw the value and the opportunity the kids would have by having a longer length of time to explore the Salish Sea.

And part of the reason is, because …

3. We hosted their dad on our boat

The kiddos and their dad played a rousing game of Bananagrams.

We wanted J to feel comfortable having the kids on the boat for so long and to see what they get out of it. So we invited him to join us for a weekend to see what the fuss was all about.

About mid-way through the summer, we met him in Anacortes and hosted him on the boat for a few days while anchored near Spencer Spit State Park. He stayed on the boat one night and then took the kids ashore to go camping for the second night. That gave him some quality alone time with the kids and my husband and me some quality time with just each other.

It may seem unfathomable to some to invite an ex-spouse into the intimate space of a sailboat. I would never suggest that every pair of divorced parents should do this. But J and I work hard to put the kids first and we work hard to get along. And my husband supports those efforts. The hardest thing about being divorced is knowing that our kids are paying the biggest price for it. I think that’s why our co-parenting relationship works as well as it does.

I know our kids appreciate it. At one point that weekend, our son, T, said, “This is like a dream come true.”

4. Communication and compromise remains key

After their school day ended, the kids enjoyed a leisurely kayak ride near Illahee State Park.

Our plan was to find a smaller place in Portland to live in when the kids went back to school in the fall. We would split our time between Portland and Seattle; in Portland when the kids were with us and needed to be in school and on our boat based in Seattle when the kids were with their dad.

Coronavirus has tweaked our plans a bit. We are homeschooling both kids this year and neither are participating in any extra-curricular activities right now. So for now, the kids are splitting their time between Portland at their dad’s house and Puget Sound on the boat when they are with us. Having the kids split time between two cities will require even more cooperation, communication and compromise between my kiddos’ dad and me.

Relationships take work. Co-parenting relationships with an ex-spouse really do. Is it hard? Yes. Is it worth it? Always.

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