You had this beautiful baby 15 years ago. He was the apple of your eye. As he grew up you taught him to walk and swim and ride a bike. As soon as he was big enough you shared your passion for sailing with him by taking him for rides on your boat. When he was ready you taught him how to sail. The two of you enjoyed many years sailing together and life was perfect.
Then all of a sudden the kid is as tall as you, he's sprouting a beard and he's into video games, playing the guitar and... girls. Sailing is taking a back seat in his life. Your own IQ (at least in his eyes) has dropped to around 70 and if he does deign to go for a sail with his old man he thinks he knows a damn more about sailing than you and isn't shy about letting you know. You love your son and want to spend time with him sharing the joy of sailing. But when you sail together there's no joy in it any more for either of you. What happened?
Sorry to break the news but this is perfectly normal. Your son is growing up. At this stage he is becoming more independent, wants to experiment and try out new things, needs to start making his own choices in life. It can be a stressful time for teenagers and their parents, and the sad news for us sailors is that sailing together can exacerbate the situation. You and your adolescent are thrown together in a small space, dealing with stressful situations. Whether you're racing or dealing with a sudden squall while cruising, sailing demands quick decisions with the skipper calling the shots. Sometimes there's no time for dealing with arguments from an adolescent testing your tolerance.
Look at from his perspective. He wants to make his own decisions, be in control. (Why do you think kids of this age enjoy video games so much?) He craves excitement and challenge. Tootling round the bay for the umpteenth time with Mum and Dad just doesn't turn him on any more.
So you need to rethink what your real objectives for your offspring are. Is the most important thing in the world that he spend every Sunday afternoon for the next three years being your spinnaker trimmer? Or do you want him to grow into a well-adjusted adult capable of taking responsibility, making sound decisions, dealing with challenges.. and maybe, just maybe, having an appreciation for the rewards of sailing? If it's the latter -- and of course it is -- you need to start letting go, giving your son more freedom, more space.
Before any of you feminists complain that I am only talking about boys here, let me explain. Teenage girls were a mystery to me when I was a teenage boy. I never had a daughter so teenage girls are still a mystery to me. Some of what I discuss in this series of posts on teenagers and sailing may apply to girls. Some may not. I haven't a clue.
I mentioned in my first post on this topic that I felt that the main reason that my own sons kept sailing through those teenage years was through luck rather than any particular skill at parenting on my part. The first stroke of luck was that I started off my racing career in a single-hander, the Laser, and when we moved to the USA in 1989 we ended up living close to a sailing club that was also dominated by single-handers, the Sunfish. My kids learned to sail in England in Optimists and so, in our new home, it was natural for them to graduate to Sunfish and Lasers too.
Without thinking about it we had headed off one of the major issues that affects parents who sail with their teenagers. Yes, we went to the same sailing club, sometimes to regattas and clinics together. But we weren't actually sailing in the same boat together. So there was no opportunity to argue about how dumb Dad was for choosing the wrong side of the beat; and no chance that the teenager would become annoyed because Dad was telling him that he was pinching all the time. Sure we had our tensions and arguments. But the very nature of our sailing meant that, for the most part they didn't directly affect our enjoyment of sailing.
The other beauty of sailing single-handers was that it meant the kids had the freedom to sail, or not to sail. The Sunfish fleet I mentioned actually meets on the lake across the road from our house. So if Dad wanted to get up early on Sunday morning and go out sailing at 9 o'clock and one son wanted to lie in bed and show up at noon, that was perfectly practical. If Dad was going to a regatta and one or both sons wanted to sail in it too,we could do that. But if a son had more important (to him) stuff to do that day, that was OK too; he wasn't depriving Dad of a crew by skipping sailing.
If you're not a single-handed sailor this solution may not be practical. At the club where I taught sailing for several years they had a different way of handling the problem. I headed up a junior sailing instruction program in Optimists and Lasers which kids attended until they were about 15. Afterwards if kids wanted to continue sailing their only option really was to crew on one of the club's one design classes - Thistles, Stars, E-Scows. Some kids crewed for their parents; many crewed for someone else - an uncle, a grandfather, a friend. It hadn't really occurred to me before I wrote this post but I see now that this probably was a way that had evolved to deal with the tensions of parents and kids sailing on the same boat.
So that's a couple of ideas on how to put some distance between yourself and your teenage kids but still be able to enjoy sailing together -- well sort of "together". I'm sure there are other ways.
Carol Anne at Five O'Clock Somewhere wrote a very perceptive post a few weeks ago about Man Shadows, the virtual wind shadows that many sailing women feel from the men in their lives. Parents cast shadows too. Make sure you give your teenager some clear air.
The next post in this series on how (not) to motivate your kid to sail is about the pressures of competition.