Saturday, July 18, 2009

Children Breaking World Records and The Parents Who Let Them Do It

Did you hear the news that on Thursday Zac Sunderland, the youngest sailor to navigate around the world solo under the age of 18, set a new Guinness Book of World Records? Last night I spent my evening reading as many articles about Zac’s adventures. His story is remarkable and his journey chocked full of life threatening events. He seemed of great character and knowledge. Although, what I found as the most remarkable part of the account was that his parents let him sail alone around this great big world. It was his parents I wanted to know more about.

Small Steps to Independence
The big event in our house yesterday was when I asked my older son to walk his younger brother to basketball practice at the recreation center which is a block away and across a street -by themselves, without their mom. They don't go very far without their mom or their dad. If they go out to ride their bike around the block, I stand in the alley and count the laps. We walk them to school, we pick them up. There really is not a time they are alone. My oldest is ten and only six years younger than the youngest boy to sail around the world.

Releasing Child Into This Great Big World
So, I think about what it took for Zac’s parents to come to the point to release their son out in the great big world, literally. He had only been away from his parents for one week before he left for his world expedition.

“As some parents ponder whether or not to let their son drive the family car a few blocks to the mall, Laurence and Marianne Sunderland gave their blessings to their 16-year-old son Zac to sail a boat around the world on his own. Bad weather, pirates, equipment failure, rigging problems, and hard work haven't prevented Zac from” traveling around the world in thirteen (13) months.

So, how do his parents feel about their son's voyage?

“Back home, in Thousand Oaks, Calif., it was Zac who had raised the idea of sailing around the world. 'Do you think I could do it?' he asked his dad, Laurence, two years ago in a lazy SoCal mumble that belied his purpose. 'Yes,' his dad said. 'You probably could.' 'Would you let me?' 'I'll have to talk to your mother. This is a pretty big thing.' Laurence told his wife, Marianne, what their son was dreaming. 'He's been training for this his entire life without knowing it,' she responded. The Sunderlands had spent enough time on the water to understand its demands. Laurence was a boat builder by trade, and Zac's first bed was a basket on a boat. The oldest of seven, he had spent entire years of his childhood cruising up and down the Mexican coast. As a home schooled teen, he refurbished dinghies and delivered yachts until he had earned his sailor's hands: blackened fingernails, rope burns and countless tiny cuts. Before long Zac had saved $6,000, enough to buy Intrepid -- a modest vessel built in 1972, small and no-frills by modern standards. For three months, the boy and his father upgraded almost every piece of it.'

Then, get this part, “From the beginning, Laurence leaned on an abiding faith in Zac and in God. He believed strong fathers made strong sons. ‘It's no different from letting teenagers go out in a car, being young and stupid,’ he says."

A Teenage Close To His Parents
What I gather from reading blogs and articles on Zac I have concluded that Zac spoke to his parents a couple of times each day. His mom updated his blog and graded his homework and tests as he was being “home schooled” from across the miles. His dad spent six (6) months of the year flying to his son’s accessible ports of call and helping with maintenance on the boat as well as providing ice cream nourishment. There were, although, times they didn’t hear from Zac when his equipment went down from flooding.

He might have been gone a year and across many miles, but Zac was probably closer to his parents than he had ever been. What I take of teenage years, the daughter or son backs away from the parents in cry that they don’t know them and they wouldn’t learn much about what happened in their teenager’s day, and yet Zac’s parents were talking to him several times and knew of all the details of his adventures. And get this; they had six other children all younger than Zac.

We Need Each Other
Another thing that struck me about Zac’s story was that although he traveled around the world solo at a young age, he couldn’t have done it without his parents, the family support, and the numerous of other people who helped him along the way.

Zac was prepared, knowledgeable, and capable, but his parents were training him and preparing him since he was young.

Parents have a big role in their kids lives, from early on. We forget during the day when our kids are whining, or fighting, or crying out, "No Fair" that they are learning and growing everyday how to respond to situations.

Would you let your sixteen year old child take a trip like this one? Would you describe yourself as over protective or under protective? For those who don't have kids, do you think parents are too over protective?
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  1. This is a fascinating story. WOW. A great read. It is so hard to guess what kind of parent I would be. Right now my only child is 2. I would love to believe that I would have the strength and the faith in God to let her go travel the world at 16. But fear is such a big part of our lives and such a big part of our society. I think I am a pretty relaxed parent and it is amazing how many times I get strangers reprimanding me for my lack of worry. I really admire parents like Zac's. I hope I can hold on to God and his strength enough throughout my children's lives to be like that.

    Thanks for this blog Sharon. I just love it.

  2. What a great story! I am inspired by Zac's parents (....and Zac)! I don't know if I could see myself allowing my 16 year old son ride solo around the world. His parents have reminded me to not focus on fear and worry. I love that they didn't stand in the way of their son's goals. I think we may hear more about Zac in the future.

  3. I dont have kids, but always wonder how parents do they let their kids go. I ask my parents this question all the time, and I never really get a straight answer. But the common theme i get is that it is less about age and more about the child's own personality and maturity. The day I realized that my aunt allowed a 9 year old (me) to baby sit her baby girl, i was astounded! I asked her, "how did you trust me, I was so young." She told me that i was mature for my age, used to being around babies, and I that they were never too far away. Its true, my mom talks about how when i was two years old, I was already trying to be a mommy to my baby brother, and how I practically raised my next baby brother when i was only in elementary school. But I think the key is that they were never too far away, and never gone for too long.
    I think some parents are over protective these days, but we also live in a different world...right? Or do we just think we do? I dont really know.
    I am proud of you sharon for letting your boys walk to the rec center by themselves. It sounds scarry, you are so brave!

  4. I went to Honduras as an AFS student when I was 17. Because there were no phones in homes there, I had to go somewhere to call my mom. I think we may have talked about 3 times the whole summer. I'm inspired by Zac's story! It motivates me as a parent to teach independence! Thanks, Sharon!