While they may not have movie theaters, Sky Zone, or Target, parents + kids on the Caribbean island of Roatan have ingenious parenting hacks.
Living on Roatan, Honduras made me want to become a mother. The sandy bodied, messy haired, laughing kids (and parents!) on this Caribbean island reeked of relaxation... instead of my common aroma of fatigue and stress. While these parents kept it real, never proclaiming to have it all figured out, they did some things differently than I do up here in the States. Thinking of these subtle, yet profound, differences makes me fantasize about what it might be like to return to the slow pace, easy smiles and lush surroundings of island life...
While our family isn't in a place (yet) to ex-pat it up in Central America, we are working on adopting some of the gems of wisdom gleaned from this tropical culture.
1. Easy-Going Grooming
Because island dwellers care more about their vibe than appearance, crisp clothes, polished hair, and even whether or not you and your kid have shoes on matters little. And honestly, because of mosquitos, the worse you smell the better. Parents certainly take care of essentials (teeth, hand washing, and sunscreen), but beyond that you and your kiddo can do you without judgement.
While we can't go all the way there with our little dude (because of pesky rules like "No shirt, no shoes, no service"), we can start easing off our obsession over his tangles and whether or not he has a dried booger on his shirt, and focus more on helping him enhance that oh-so-important vibe, man.
2. Island Time
On Roatan, kids are not rushed around by parents going bats*it over getting to the dry cleaner on time (I'm lookin' at myself on this one.) Start times for activities on the island are usually flexible, which results in everyone taking their sweet time, with pretty much everything. While this takes some getting used to, especially if you've been trained to let the clock rule the day, you settle into it when you realize everyone is on island time, and not worried about whether you're 15 - 60 minutes late for a play date. They're perfectly happy to take a nap on the beach or go for a snorkel while they wait.
Remembering the serenity that blossoms from this shift in pace was the inspiration we needed to start pressing pause a few times throughout our day. These pauses have become our "do nothing time" where we tune into the moment, have some laughs, cuddles or zzzs, and give ourselves permission to not get it all done.
3. Tribe-Style Child Care
In the United States, quality childcare is freaking expensive and often hard to come by. While my family is in the rare position of having my parents close by, and have no qualms shamelessly asking them to watch our child for free, many of our friends live hundreds of miles from family and always seem to be scrambling to find a sitter. Not so on Roatan. This island fosters a tribe-mentality where framily members (friends that have morphed into family) watch each other's littles when someone needs solo time, an adult date, or has to take care of a work thang. It's not uncommon to see one adult roaming around with a herd of children.
Because the physical layout, and mindset, of many American communities doesn't facilitate the "walk down to the dive shop and see if you can hang there for awhile" style of childcare, I'm going to start paying it forward to friends who don't have semi-retired parents at their disposal, and offer to supervise small gangs of five-year-olds more often. And selfishly, I need to build up some good karma, and want my child to think I'm cool... which I'm not.
4. Scant Screens
When you have super crappy Internet, and unpredictable cell service, watching the Octonauts when you're out to eat, or playing Candy Crush while sitting on the beach, isn't an option. Instead of seeing island kids latched to screens, you’ll see them tossing french fries to roiling schools of fish, throwing sand balls at one another, or getting their diaper stuck on a palm frond. Sure, they get down with satellite TV while at home, but when they're out and about, they're forced by the limitations of living on a rock in the middle of the ocean to get creative and engage IRL.
Screens are a hot ticket in my house, and they're not going anywhere any time soon because, well, sanity. But, my child's brain could stand less time with the glow of Netflix, and more time with a mother who stops being lazy and figures out fun ways for us to play in the non-digi world. I might even take a page from my island friends and leave the screens behind when we're out of the house... maybe.
5. Kids Appreciate the Simple Stuff
Because the power is out half the time, grocery store options are mainly limited to lard, frozen fruit, and questionable deli meat, and the “movie store” is a guy on the beach selling grainy, counterfeit movies that came out five years ago, Roatan children grow up with a deep appreciation for moments when the fans and television are working, and Nana brings a bag of Skittles and a copy of Coco over from Florida.
Confession: I'm in an expensive love affair with Amazon, and my child says "just order it online" about 10 times every day. We have a problem. We have too much stuff. And we don't have enough appreciation for all that stuff.
So dear reader, I'm going to work on scaling back purchases to the essentials, and becoming more aware of the wonder that exists in everything we take for granted. I'm hoping these shifts will rewire my brain, and Hudson's, to value the magic in easily accessing organic produce, turning on lights whenever we like, and watching a movie that doesn't show a faint reflection of the weird guy taking a video of the screen.
6. Meager Fast Food
It’s hard to be tempted into unhealthy quickie meals when the only fast food Roataners have is a Wendys that's always out of pretty much everything, and a gas station fried chicken joint called Bojangles. Instead, island inhabitants are forced to eat at their house, or utilize one of the many non-chain restaurants that serves fresh fish, and other for-the-most-part healthy fare.
While my family is pretty good at bypassing the bright yellow, orange and red signs calling to us from the side of the freeway, we have a special connection with Mickey D's soft serve. Sorry swirly cone, we've got to quit you.
7. Limited Choices
On Roatan, there's usually just one parenting group, one school, one grocery store, and one place to have a baby. With the exception of dive shops, bars, and snorkel sites, you don't have many choices to juggle. This lack of choice, which can initially seem restrictive, actually makes island life take on a potent essence of simplicity (at least for me).
I used to think I wanted 50 preschool options, malls with every variety of hipster garb, and seemingly endless midwives to interview, but in reality, all the decisions make my nerves spaz out.
Reflecting on these differences also reminds me of the overarching similarities of parenting in the United States and Central America (and every other corner of the world), where parents are just trying to do right by their kids through nurturing their development, protecting them from harm and loving them fully.
As we all continue to do our best as we parent on this uncertain, ever-evolving planet, maybe we can absorb some inspiration and motivation from the laid-back, love-centric philosophy of the parents on the tiny rock of Roatan.