Elena and Ryan are cruising the Mediterranean aboard Kittiwake, a Heavenly Twins 26ft catamaran. They cruise on a budget, sailing slow, anchoring out a lot, and making a living along the way. They also run the YouTube channel Sailing Kittiwake.
In this post, Elena talks about dealing with a less than enthusiastic family when it comes to cruising.
Big thanks to Elena for letting me share this article as part of the Cruising Stories series — a look at the real-life ups and downs of the cruising lifestyle. Follow her sailing channel Sailing Kittiwake on YouTube, her blog, and her Instagram.
Deciding to leave everything behind and go cruising long-term is a huge decision. No matter where you’ll go and on what boat, your life will change considerably. There are many choices to make, much preparation and learning to do. And then there’s the big bang – telling your family about it…
If you’re about to tell your relatives and you’re reading this article, then it means your gut feeling tells you the news won’t go down well. Usually that gut feeling is right. Sorry. At least it was for me and for some of my cruising friends. We told our families that we wanted to set off into the sunset and they didn’t take it well.
In my case, it was my parents who reacted very negatively to the news. They didn’t like the idea of us quitting our jobs, becoming nomadic, living on a sinkable platform, and more. It took time for them to understand my decision and to come to terms with it. It has been one of the biggest challenges of the cruising lifestyle for me. More than the first storm, more than the small living space, more than learning how to reef the mainsail. So I figured I’d gather some tips for cruisers on how to deal with a less than enthusiastic family.
While you might be nervous about telling your loved ones about your new life plan (I was!), it pays off to start telling them early in the process. Give them at least six months to digest the news before you leave, preferably longer.
This is so that, if they have a very strong reaction, you both have time to cool down and think it all through. It’s also less scary for them when you speak of leaving in the future, rather than… now!
Think of their personalities
You know your family better than anyone. Consider their personalities and think about how best they receive big news. Do they have a big freak out right away, then calm down? Do they stay sad or angry for a long time? Do they pretend it’s OK at first, only to surprise you with an overreaction later on? Anticipate their response and think about the best way to tell them.
For example, I knew my parents would be rather dramatic (we’re Italians) about this whole thing for a long time. I also know they deal better with smaller chunks of information and accepting each bit gradually, rather than receiving a big announcement. So I started releasing information slowly – first I said we wanted to learn how to sail, then that we wanted to buy a boat for the holidays, then that we wanted to go cruising for a while. They still reacted negatively; however, had they not had time to digest the fact that I was learning to sail and that I owned a boat first, their response would have been much more… intense.
A reminder of how important it is that you adapt your tactic to your family’s personalities. What I did might be a terrible tactic for relatives who might feel cheated if they think you withheld information from them. Do think your approach through carefully.
Have an answer for every question
While it’s important that you tell your family early on, it’s also paramount that you get informed before breaking the news. The most common reaction families have when they learn their offspring go cruising is fear – fear that you’ll die, fear that your boat will sink, fear that you’re throwing away your career, fear that you’ll leave them alone in old age, etc.
Think of all the questions your family may ask when you tell them about your plan and think of a good, thought out answer for all of them. This will make you look confident and it will reassure them immensely. Imagine if they asked: “But what if the boat breaks?” and you just answered: “We’ll figure it out.” They’d probably have nightmares every night.
My parents were worried about our safety, sailing abilities, careers, finances, and more. I didn’t tell them until I had figured all these things out thoroughly.
It’s not them, it’s you
It’s important that you explain to your family that you’re not leaving them, that you’re not going cruising to spite them or because you disapprove of their way of living. Describe the reasons why you’ve made this choice and why you think it’s right for you. Explain how it will make your life better. Tell them you love them, but you must go.
Sometimes all families need to hear is that you’ll still be in touch and you’ll go visit them.
Be patient and strong
No matter how well prepared you are and how gently you take your family through the process, things can get sour. You may have heated discussions or stop speaking to each other for some time. It happens when someone takes big unconventional decisions. Sometimes, it’s part of the process.
Be patient – keep answering questions and telling them you love them. Try to be understanding and stay strong. They don’t realize they’re hurting you – they think you’re hurting them. Try to focus on something else. Eventually, they will accept your decision. They may not like your way of life, but they’ll acknowledge it makes you happy. And who knows, maybe one day, they’ll even support you.
Most importantly, remember your family is reacting in this way because they love you.
Jane Timmons says
Elena, thanks for your thoughtful approach to this necessary part of going cruising. My family was not pleased. We’ve been out 6 months and most have come around, I think, due to our blog. Being from the Midwest, the idea of full-time living on a BOAT was new and frightening to them. By way of the blog and lots of pictures, they’re learning, just like we are!
That’s wonderful to hear Jane. It also makes me feel less alone as a cruiser with a less than enthusiastic family. I remember when my parents found out we had no fridge – they were outraged. Haha! We’re all in it together 🙂