They Let Her Do WHAT?

I’m completely fascinated with the recent story of Abby Sunderland’s rescue from her damaged sailboat while attempting to circumnavigate the globe. 

Here are the parts that I find most shocking:

She is 16!

She was in a sailboat, by herself, in the stormy Indian Ocean!

She was stranded for three days! 

And what about her parents?  The New York Times reports that “Mr. Sunderland praised his daughter’s skills as a sailor. He said he not only would let her try the voyage again, but would also ‘absolutely endorse that wholeheartedly.'” 

Under what circumstances would I allow one of my children to attempt such an endeavor? Over my dead body.  That’s when.

To be fair, one of my biggest weaknesses as a parent is my difficulty in letting my children take risks.  I’ll admit that I am at the extreme opposite end of the spectrum from Abby’s parents.  I don’t let Katie play in our fenced-in yard by herself.  I don’t let her eat grapes unless they are cut into four pieces.  I won’t leave the room if she’s bathing. 

They let her attempt to sail around the world.  Alone. And, I’ll repeat it, she is 16!

While I admire parents who allow their children the freedom to explore their world, I can’t comprehend the Sunderland’s decision to allow their daughter (and their son, who attempted the same journey last year at age 17) to take such a risk. 

There has to be a happy medium doesn’t there?  Remembering to find a balance is something that I work on every single day.

I participated in a parenting webinar last week offered by Tiffany from Bloggy Moms and conducted by Amy from Positive Parenting Solutions.  One of the biggest things that I walked away with was the idea that children need to know that they belong and that they are significant.  Amy inspired me to allow Katie to take on tasks that I had previously done myself, to either save time or because it hadn’t occurred to me that she could do them on her own.  She’s now setting the table, helping to empty the dishwasher, and thanks to Jen, over at Denton Sanitorium, she’s also sorting laundry.   (Jen is an inspiration, across the board.  I am constantly learning new things from her.) 

Thank you, Tiffany, Amy, and Jen!

While I applaud the Sunderlands for encouraging their children to take on challenges, I can fathom neither the magnitude nor the danger associated with their choices. 

Anyone want to share their thoughts with me?  Do you agree with the Sunderlands choice?  How much risk is too much?


  1. Jeanne

    But did you read more about them? The parents couldn't meet her when she was rescued because the mom is giving birth any moment to her eighth child. Eight. I would get in a boat and sail away, too. The dad is probably relieved that there's one less mouth and the mom is thankful for a little less laundry, if she's noticed one missing. I hope that all eight survive to adulthood, but honestly this makes *my* parenting look good which should be a caution to anyone.

  2. I am not a parent, so I really feel that I have NO room to judge until I walk in those shoes. But my parents were *way* overprotective and so when I had freedom, I overcompensated. I think had I learned some risk was acceptable, I may not have gone crazy with the first chance of freedom.

  3. I agree with you that there has to be a happy medium reached when allowing your children freedom. This was way over the top! However, I also say, "Be careful" to my 14 year old every time she takes a shower, so perhaps I'm not the best judge…

  4. jen

    Jeanne's comment on having eight children did hit a little close to home for me, as you can understand. I don't know if she knows the dynamics of large families, but workloads are usually shared, as are the joys and play. If she wants to stop on over, I could show her that we're really pretty normal.

    Having gotten that off my chest–thanks for the shout-out. I don't think doing laundry is equal to sailing around the world at sixteen, but I believe in freedom in little steps–steps that make my life easier (jk).

    Seriously though, if we don't teach them when they're younger, they'll haunt us until we die, and personally, I want my kids to leave the house one day (even though those days are sooooo hard).

  5. KLZ

    I nodded as I read your list.

    No playing in the backyard by yourself.
    No eating grapes that are not cut up.
    No bathing alone.

    Although, I expect at least one of those to change by the time he's 10. Probably the grapes ;)

  6. Nichole

    I'm already thinking that Katie's dorm room will need two beds–one for her and one for me. Sadly, I'm only sort of kidding.

    I think that college cafeterias serve food with high fructose syrup and hydrogenated oils. ::wink::

  7. Nichole

    Once I got past just how gorgeous your laundry room is, I was amazed by how well you are preparing your children for adult life.

    The list of things that I've learned from you is ridiculously long! Thanks for being such an inspiration. :)

    And that laundry room…swoon.

  8. Nichole

    "Be careful" is my motto! I must say it 627 times a day.

  9. Nichole

    That's exactly why I'm trying so hard to strike a balance. The thought of my kids going crazy the moment they are free of me freaks me out!

  10. Nichole

    The part that bothered me most was that they appear to be driven to keep the record in their family for youngest person to sail around the globe. Their son lost the record and yet another teen stole it from that new record holder.

    It leaves me wondering if competition is more important than personal safety.

  11. Sunshine

    I was that careful with my first. And she fell down stairs in our backyard at about 18 months (5 steps onto the deck) and I was right there. We were both crying, I was done playing outside, then she was crying because we were inside and not out!
    She was also a climber (up the play structures for the big kids!), but I let her try and I was right behind her.
    Now, with my 2nd, I give him whole grapes and baby carrots to chew on in his high chair. He is a good eater, I am right with him, and with the carrots, it was easier than hearing him scream.
    Yes, I know they are choking hazards. :-)
    And he follows his big sister, everywhere! But I am right behind. I don't let them out of my sight, but that is more because I am worried about other people than themselves.

  12. thenextmartha

    I read that she's had a "lifetime" of experience. I'm sorry, not at that age. What about life experience? I think I would let my kid in college possibly do this but not younger.

  13. Jeanne

    Sorry, Jen, it wasn't a personal attack, honestly! Mostly I was kidding, although as an introvert by nature who doesn't like chaos, I am not cut out for that. I have friends with large families and many of them have wonderful dynamics going on. But they are not the ones who have let other children take off across the world and especially when not in a place where they would be physically able to help should something happen. Since I don't think that a mild mannered shy child suddenly decided to sail around the world, and since it sounds like she is not unique in her temperament within the house, I'm still thinking I would have fled.

  14. Alex

    I don't think that I would let me children sail around the world.
    But then I think that my son is very athletic and what if an international soccer coach said he had a special talent? !ould I let him leave us at 14 or 15 years old to train in some other state or even country? Maybe. It would be hard to say no. There is such a small window for the development of certain talents.
    Although I don't think training for soccer is as dangerous as sailing the world alone. But maybe she had this special talent?
    I don't know. And now I'm babbling.

  15. I am incredibly over protective. I follow them around the playground and don't let them out of my sight. They're 4 and I still do so many of the things you mentioned. I'm trying at giving them more freedom & the ability to decide and do things on their own, but I'm still always there. I cannot fathom letting them take such huge risks!

  16. jen

    No need to apologize. I'm easy.
    Don't tell anyone, though.

  17. kris

    At 16? Nope.

    But think how close that is to 18. And then I will just be waving from the dock. Sigh.

    Seriously . . . sigh.

  18. I'm a really relaxed person… but common sense is something I value too. Knowing the dangers of an ocean, tides, weather systems and survival tactics seems like a lot for a child at 16. My children are 6 and 8… the oldest can cut grass with a push mower while I navigate the lawn tractor. They each set and clear dishes, load and unload the washer. They shower themselves, ride their bikes to and from school on their own, and can nearly start their own dirtbikes. I let them throw dirty laundry down the stairs, and they don't have to fold pyjamas, underwear or socks. They make birthday cards for their friends, use the phone for playdate arrangements and calls to family. The dangers in our small rural town are not the same as in a city, but they still are aware of stranger-danger and road safety. Little by little, the areas of responsibility need to grow larger to give our little people the resources and confidence to accomplish tasks and build the character traits that will help them be men and women of integrity, honest, hard working and responsible. We are far from perfect, but we continue working on our game plan with the goal in mind.

  19. bad mummy

    We have a mini trampoline in the living room and The Mook is allowed to jump on her bed, the couch, what-have-you. Those are manageable. We have a trampoline instead of a coffee table, so it's unlikely she's going to hit any hard corners if she bounces wrong.

    But we also live on the 19th floor and have a balcony, which comes with a set of rules: she's not allowed to be on the balcony alone; I won't pick her up when we're out there; and feet must be on floor out there (ie – no climbing up on the chairs). Other than that, the only thing I get testy about is making sure she keeps her shoes on at certain playground (fear of her coming into contact with needles). And I keep her out of the kitchen when the stove is on because it's just too small of a space. She's quite aware of the risk of being burned by touching the stove. Knowledge is power and all that.

    I guess my go-to rule is about whether I can deal with anything that happens and how I might feel explaining myself to the doctor at the ER. And when things do go wrong (she's got legs full of bruises and scabs), it's a matter of discussing. Was that safe? How can you do that but be safer? I'd rather The Mook be able to stop and question (or reflect and question) whether her actions are safe. I used to work with youth and a line I used a lot was: "They call it risk management, not risk elimination." I was sending youth overseas to volunteer in developing countries. So while I can't eliminate the risk of malaria, I can make sure they are armed with knowledge and tools: anti-malarial medication, bug spray, basic understanding of malaria. I had a hard time understanding the kids who would step off the plane in South/Central America or Africa and immediately head to the beach and sit in the sun for hours and then wonder why they ended up puking from sun stroke. And, sure, scratch your bug bites, but make sure your fingernails are clean while you do it.

    I especially liked this blog post that I came across recently: I like the idea of questioning whether the benefits outweigh any potential danger.

    As for this kid…all we can hope for is that she's aware of how to manage the risk associated with the undertaking.

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