Nov 16, 2022

by Emily Orton


It took me almost 17 years of parenting to learn this. 

When our family lived on a sailboat. It was a new rhythm. Every household chore took exponentially more time—grocery shopping, storing food, meals from scratch, and laundry washed by hand.

Refilling our water tanks took five hours every four days. It was the same for home schooling without the internet or a printer. 

Despite the overwhelm, I was hesitant when Erik suggested reassigning meal preparation to our three oldest kids, ages 12-16.

This shift was so I could focus my energy on preparing homeschool lessons. But the surprising change was what I learned about motherhood.


Here’s the gist of it from our memoir, Seven at Sea.

A few days after the new meal prep rotations Erik found me sitting on our bed surrounded by books, binders, and spiral notepads.

“How is lesson planning?” He asked.

“I feel guilty reading and taking notes while the kids are working.”

Lily came in for a hug and a kiss.

“You are working, “ Erik said.

“I’m the best cook onboard.”

“They’ll get better,” Erik said.

“It’s not about food. It’s about nurturing relationships. I want to take care of my family,” I said. Eli came in to show me a drawing.

“You need to be an executive,” Eriks said, not for the first time.

“Being a mom doesn’t mean you have to cook and clean. It can, but it doesn’t have to. Let the kids grow by taking on responsibilities. Take that time to do the things you want to do and that only you can do.” SJ poked her face in our overhead hatch, inviting me to watch her latest trick on the bimini. I stood up on our bed and rested my arms on the hatch, ready to be impressed.

“Where is the cumin?” Alison asked from the galley. I answered. 

Karina popped out of her hatch directly across the stern to share a well-phrased paragraph from Atlas Shrugged. I sat back down on our bed.

“I came in here to run some ideas past you,” Erik said. “But maybe now is not a good time.”

“Everybody wants a piece of me,’ I said. Peeling back a layer of domestic responsibilities brought into focus what only I do in our family. As a wife and mother, I am the emotional touchstone. The mechanism can be anything; cooking, reading aloud, laundry’ but the relationship is the goal. Every person in our family wants me to see them, listen to them, and encourage them. The main thing they wanted was my attention.


This new insight changed my approach to parenting. 

I know the success of our time together is not about the menu or the table setting. It’s time to listen and encourage.

Whether this is a new idea for you or a refreshing reminder, I hope this will serve you and your family over the holidays and any day.

Thanks for being awesome,





Family first doesn't mean Mom + Dad last.

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