Remembering the sandy-bodied, messy-haired, laughing kids (and mommas!) of Roatan, the Honduran island I used to live on in the Caribbean, gives me an itch to hightail it back there, or a similar beach community in Nicaragua, with my partner and toddler in tow. The livin’ was easy and parents reeked of relaxation versus fatigue and stress.
While I love parenting in the small town of Ojai, California, I can’t help but fantasize what it would be like to return to the slow pace, easy smiles, and lush surroundings of island life.
As I contemplate the decision to move my young family out of the United States, I’ve been recalling these key differences between parenting in the U.S. and Central America (some make me want to go, some make me want to stay) …
1. Grooming is super easy-going.
Because shopping options for clothing are next to nil on a tiny island (oh, and nobody cares about what anyone else is wearing), there is less pressure to dress your child (or self!) in cute clothes — heck, a swim diaper is totally appropriate for a day out on the town. It’s all about practicality — throw those tangles under a hat, brush your teeth, and call it a day.
2. Island time is much more slow-paced.
Kids aren’t rushed around by harried parents on the island. Everyone moves at a slower pace and “start times” for activities are extremely flexible. In the U.S., timing and schedules rule many of my days, often taking the pleasure of moving slowly through a moment away from my child and self.
3. Village-style childcare is a real thing.
Instead of the individualistic childcare many American families experience, often times because they have no other option, islanders are able to rely on framily (friends that have morphed into family), other parents roaming about with their kids, and the local friendly bartender (only kind of kidding) to help look after the kids. “Using a village to raise a child” isn’t just dreamt about on the island — it’s organically put into practice.
4. There are fewer screens.
Instead of seeing kids latched to a screen, you’ll see them chasing fish in the water, digging a mega-hole in the sand, or getting their diaper stuck on a palm frond. Oh, and Wi-Fi connections suck on a tiny island in the middle of the ocean, so there’s that.
5. Kids appreciate the little things.
Because the power is out about one-third of the time, grocery store options are severely limited, and the “movie store” is a guy on the beach selling DVDs of movies that came out 10 years ago, children grow up with a deep appreciation for moments when the fans and television are working, and Nana brings a bag of candy and a copy of Frozen over from Florida.
6. No one cares how your baby came out of your body.
Because birthing options are more limited (few to none midwives, and the nearest hospital with a labor and delivery unit being a 30-minute boat ride away), there’s less pressure and judgment about how you’re choosing to give birth. Everyone just wants to support you in achieving a healthy baby.
7. Boarding school is big.
For expats living on the island past their child’s elementary school days, the best options for education (if they’re not into homeschooling) are boarding schools on the mainland.
8. Fast food chains aren’t really around.
It’s much harder to be tempted into unhealthy quickie meals when the only fast food is a scantily stocked Wendy’s that’s a 20-minute drive from the main town most people live in. The most convenient “fast food” available when I was on the island was a little noodle shack that served exotic varieties of noodles loaded with veggies.
9. There are limited choices in everything.
Having fewer choices in regards to parenting groups, schools, food, clothing, birthing, and pretty much everything but great beaches to explore makes island life take on a potent essence of simplicity. I love me my malls and grocery stores loaded with all the things, but the options eventually give me sensory overload (and a sad bank account).
Reflecting on these differences also makes me recall the over-arching similarities of parenting in the United States and Central America (and every other nook and cranny 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. All of us offspring-producing humans are doing our best on this ever-evolving planet to navigate how, with-whom, and where to foster the growth of those we love the most.
As I continue to contemplate the “where” for my family, I’ll continue to live by the delicious cliché, “It’s not where you are, but who you’re with.”