Flourishing Families in Small Spaces

There is A LOT of talk these days about how to get through isolation. Self-care has been in the lexicon for a while, but its use has been skyrocketing. People are looking for all sorts of ways to get through this with mental health and relationships intact. Social media and publications abound with all kinds of ways to approach isolation. “Relax and enjoy this time; don’t feel like you have to do anything,” says one publication. “Don’t waste this opportunity, lose weight with this daily regimen,” Says another. “Eat healthily, and have a routine,” says another video from some Instagram person promoting her nutrition consultation business. Messages of how to get through are overwhelmingly everywhere…. 

How you get through this is going to be totally unique to you. This moment is dull, draining, relaxing, anxiety-producing, crazy busy, or depressing for some. It is mentally exhausting, physically challenging, emotionally taxing, and frustrating to no end to others. Sometimes, it is a combination of many of these on the same day. So how you get through is entirely up to you to sort out based on your experience.

I’ve worked from my home/boat and homeschooling my two girls since 2015. We’ve sailed from San Francisco to New Zealand on our 43ft boat. We’ve lived in an RV covering over 17,000 miles. Self-isolation has been a personal choice for a while now. Here is what I’ve learned about being in small spaces for long stretches with my family.

This post features some throwback photos from the last 5 years

Do One Thing Well

Until recently, I’ve found it impossible to work while parenting. I found that doing both things poorly is a lousy substitute for doing one thing well. Engineering time to work can be disguised as “family quiet-time,” adjusting your sleep schedule, or using your noise-canceling headphones.

Service is a Gift

I’ve been hearing about self-care over and over. I think it is vital, and I’m a big fan! But, let’s not forget the gifts to be given and received by the acts of service that we provide to our family. There is a reason that service is one of the founding pillars of so many widely adhered-to world religions and philosophies. Doing the dishes with a loving heart, making the meal with grace and compassion, cleaning up someone else’s mess without comment are all gifts to your family. Your attitude around service will fill your heart with love and joy, and your family will respond to it in beautiful and surprising ways. This does not mean that you must be a slave to your family. Clear, loving communication about your own needs have to be produced and heard. This takes a lot of self-control and compassion; it is not always achievable.  

So that is why: 

Failure Is Okay

Forgive yourself and your family, it’s just inevitable that you and the people around you will fail in some way. Forgive yourself and forgive your family and ask for forgiveness from those you’ve hurt. We all have to be able to have our little meltdowns within our family and still be loved and protected. Constant forgiveness is the foundation for long-lasting love.

Those are the basics, and everything else flows from that, but if you want to read more, here are more tips on living in small spaces with your family with no breaks hardly EVER.


You Are Not the Entertainment

Boredom has been the best parenting tool for my kids. If you have a good supply of books, a stock-up of art and craft supplies, duct tape, string, cardboard, and some toothpicks, then you are golden.  

 Here is what I say when my kids come to me, saying, “I’m bored.” 

“Only boring people are bored, you can’t possibly be bored! You are the least boring person I know!” For my pains, I usually get an eye roll. “I have lots of things to do if you want me to give you a job,” I say. 

 “But Mom, I want something FUN to do!” says my child.  

 “Not my job!” I say. “You know where the arts and craft supplies and games are – have fun, use your imagination.” 

If you feel it is necessary, you can add, “If you ask me again, you will have to empty the dishrack before doing anything else.” That usually gets them. They typically become creative after that.

ITS OKAY TO BE BORED, there is more and more research about the importance of boredom to our creative brain. This week my kids have created boats powered by rubber bands, baked apple tarts, made piles of origami, written stories, played instruments, read funny poetry to each other, and produced videos for YouTube. Don’t fear boredom, boredom is your friend!

Put Them to Work

Kids participating in a real way in the running the house (or boat) is valuable for so many reasons. I give my kids daily jobs. It may be a bit rough to get it started, but kids thrive on routine, and after a few days of encouragement, it just becomes part of what they do. 

Routine Routine Routine

Here is ours: 

 Everyone rolls out of bed when they feel like it. Breakfast is often a serve-yourself kind of affair. 

9am – Be dressed for the day. We have family prayer, then one of us becomes Simon, and we play a game of Simon says. This usually provides a few laughs and gets the blood flowing. If a parent is Simon, you can bet that brushing teeth and making the bed is part of the game. After this, the girls start their schooling, which has been laid out on Sunday evening as a daily checklist.

12pm – Lunch 

1pm – Go for a Walk

2pm – More School, and when done, unstructured playtime, or jobs

5pm – Start on Dinner

8pm – If the dinner dishes are done without them killing each other, then we can watch a family movie or play a family game.

10pm – Bed Time

10:30pm – Lights Out

Personal Space = “Don’t Talk To Me Right Now”

When living in a small space, sometimes, you have to respect people’s personal mental space. That can mean not talking to them when they have expressed a need for quiet time. This also means supporting your spouse by redirecting the kids when they want the attention of the space-needing parent. On Banyan, sometimes we just say, “I’m in my bubble right now.”


For Siblings

We’ve struggled recently with squabbles amongst the girls. It can be very, very, very annoying and cause outbursts of exasperation from all parties. Two things have helped us with this:

Put Them On The Same Team

Kids lash out at each other in big and subtle ways when in competition for attention and love. They also clash in their imperfect process of learning to meet their own needs. Putting them in positions where they have a common goal (that they equally want) is key to teaching them teamwork and self-control. Our issues usually revolved around squabbles while they do dishes. It ends up taking them FOREVER, and Cameron and I just want to jump overboard. To put them on the same team, I instituted a family movie night during self-isolation. Usually, movies are only on Friday nights. The girls LOVE films, so this is a big motivator for them. I stipulated that dishes have to be done by 8pm. They have to work as a happy team – zero fighting – if they want to watch a movie. It has changed our lives…. (Really, this is just elaborate bribing)

Discipline together

Yes, Adelaide was the one who dumped soapy water on Isa’s head in the middle of doing the dishes together. But, Isa kept sending plates back to be washed again and again, goading her with mumbled comments about what a terrible job she was doing. Who gets in trouble? They both do. “Trouble” in our house usually means a long nauseatingly loving talk with Mom. During that talk, I try to understand where they were coming from, talk about their actions, how those actions affect others. Finally, what we could have done in that situation to meet our needs while NOT killing our sibling. Makes you want to jump overboard, doesn’t it? The consequence of not adhering to my loving and nauseating sermons on self-control and personal choice is – no movie – for both of them. (This is really just an elaborate version of a threat)


On Homeschooling

The First Year Is Just Hard

I really do hate to break this to you, but I don’t know a homeschooling parent who thought the first year was a dream. It takes time to sort it all out. It usually has nothing to do with the perfect curriculum or the mechanics of homeschooling. It is mainly figuring out the relationship side, the personal boundaries, the style of communication. Teaching your own child is challenging. They want Mom and Dad’s approval and love. Correction from Mom and Dad feels embarrassing and shameful, too near discipline. It takes time as the parent-teacher to learn the right words to bring when praising and commenting on work to inspire further growth and development. 

And don’t let ANYONE tell you that what you are doing is not real homeschooling. A friend of mine told me recently that she has been informed by a long time homeschooling friends that what she is doing is not “real” homeschool. HOGWASH! If you are facilitating your child’s schooling, you are homeschooling. Homeschooling parents take drastically different approaches from unschooling to a highly structured curriculum. There is just no “real” or “right” way to homeschool. It is hard enough as it is, without thinking that you are not doing it “for real.”  

Living in small spaces is a blessing, but it is a blessing that is clothed in suffering. One of the most significant benefits I’ve experienced living in small spaces with my family is that our relationships are tight. You have to address your own failures as a parent and partner. You have to have long conversations and really get to the bottom of things. You have to forgive and be forgiven. When we left cruising, someone told me I’d either come back divorced or with a great marriage. I think there really is something to that. Small spaces are catalysts for communication and relationship building. It can be used for good or evil:). Our prayer has been that this time will be productive in building stronger family relationships all over the world. May your relationships grow deep and broad, even while your physical world is limited.  

Wishing all of you a Happy Easter!



  1. Jan says:

    Awesome post Anne … I had been thinking that you would be well equipped to cope with this time. We are also praying that this time will encourage people to consider their relationship with their Creator as well.


    Anita, Cameron, Isa & Adelaide! You are an example of a Great Familia with valuable information on this time when people around the globe don’t not how to L♡VE OR GIVE L♡VE! God give us our life’s to enjoy, value, pray, forgive and give to others with humility and compassion! God give Us more that we deserve every single day! Dios nos da mas de lo que merecemos cada dia!
    I’m planning my retirement to enjoy life at my young age. To be retired at age 50th, and God and life give this opportunity to enjoy my two Mundos (worlds ) Mexico and USA! I always enjoy living far away from people to enjoy my self in my weekends when I work and this is not Insulation? Is enjoy your life. Enjoy your time with yourself. People in this time don’t not how to enjoy life and live with a little money, not much clothes. We don’t need to much to live happy and healthy. Cook every day is a joy for me! I’m in Napa with my Daughters Maggie & Lily and her husband Angel my Grandson Alan who give Us life to joy! I do gardening, cleaning, painting the house, cooking and my daughters cooking for me and Ismael to. I always enjoy my Familia and I need more hours in a day because time flies. I want to said something to people around the world! Amig@s Love your self, give love to others! God never give Us nothing that we don’t support! Dios NO now da nada que NO podamos soportar!
    Familia Vawter my admiration and Respect to You Siempre! Los quiero mucho Biggest Xoxos to You hasta Nueva Zelanda!

    • Cameron Vawter says:

      Thank you Toya! In our almost ten years of working together you taught me so much about unconditional giving and love, especially through your food. Un beso y abrazos ala familia! Isa is getting into making Jello and we often think about your amazing Jello dessert you organized for our going away party. There was a lot of love and teamwork baked into every tasty morsel at that event.

  3. Marianne McGriff says:

    Good morning, Cameron, Anne, Adelaide and Isa
    Thank you for blessing my morning with such a wonderful post…LOVE, LOVE, LOVE your insights and wisdom…our hearts ache for those suffering from this terrible disease, but the silver lining is the quiet and simplicity of our lives right now. Carver and I’ve taken up playing cards Easter Blessings to all

    • Anne Vawter says:

      Happy Easter Marianne! I’m so glad you and Carver are finding the silver lining. Much love to you and we look forward to celebrating together in the future! Much Love!

  4. Douglas Vawter says:

    Happy Easter to you on the far side!! Thanks Annie for sharing from your experiences and painting pictures for us “land lubbers”! We are all learning about isolation and restricted spaces and your thoughts, comments and learnings are very helpful and enlightning! Loved the pictures that exhibited your comments in true colors. Enjoy a peaceful day reflecting on all the grace and many blessings we have been given. Lots of love to all from Indiana!

  5. Sharon says:

    Wise words from a wise woman! Thank you – such an encouragement!
    Overall, as a family we are loving the new slower pace of life. Less hustle&bustle. More creativity.
    I definitely find myself needing to “be in my bubble”….. learning how to navigate that has been vital.

    Happy Easter!!!!!!!!

    We love you and miss you and think of you daily!

    • Anne Vawter says:

      We miss you as well Sharon! In fact, I think A and M are texting at this exact moment as I type this:). I’m so glad you guys are enjoying this time. It comes with challenges and blessings! Happy Easter to you as well! Hugs.

  6. Libbey McKendry says:

    Thank you Anne for this very insightful, heartfelt, creative piece. I remember as a parent feeling that a child’s boredom (that space in between being busy or entertained) was an important part of life to experience. It can be a great motivator and as I remember I handled it in much the same way as you described. I’m so proud of you and your family and I love the great pictures that go along so well with your thoughts.
    Love you,

    • Anne Vawter says:

      Hi Mom,
      Well, where do you think I learned it all!! If anyone accuses me of having a thimble of wisdom, it is only because I managed to catch a bit that you poured out on us. You are the source!!! You taught us all so much with your thoughtful approach which was delivered with so much grace. Love you, Mom!

  7. Taylor Miller says:

    Hi! We met very briefly on the beach at Bahia des Tortugas on the 2015 Ha Ha, and I’ve been a fan of your family and your blogs ever since. I so admire your life choices and your wise and steady approach to the undertaking. I was tempted to try to post on Facebook your latest post on living in a confined space since I found it so compelling for these times, but I decided that was probably better for you to decide upon. (I’ve posted a few things from my grandkids and have learned that it can be fraught with peril!) But I do think a lot of people would benefit from your perspectives. How about a blog on what is going on in New Zealand as to the virus and how you deal with any constraints they’ve imposed? Is it easier or harder to cope when you’re isolated on your boat? What comes after New Zealand? All the best, Taylor Miller (Catalina 36; Sausalito)

    • Anne Vawter says:

      Hi Taylor,

      Please feel free to share any of our posts you wish! This blog is public, but not “searchable” by google, so that keeps things a bit more intimate, and geared toward friends sharing it with friends. Each post I do automatically gets posted on our Vawters On The Water Facebook page and you are welcome to share from there as well, or just copy the URL.

      You have inspired me! Your comment and Scotts have encouraged another post which I’ll likely publish in a few days about how things are going here, how NZ is handling things and the practical aspects of how it all affects us. Thanks so much for following along on our adventure Taylor and we wish you a lovely summer on your Catalina!

      • Taylor Miller says:

        Thanks for your response Anne. I missed it last week. Have a great day/night? there. If I wanted to check out your harbor via Google Earth where would I look? Taylor

  8. Scott Gerber says:

    What a Fabulous post on “lessons in Life”! As we strive to survive in self containment on Long Island NY, your words are inspirational, enlightening, true and transport me to a better place! Our sailboat is still tied up on her dock following a mild winter in wet storage. Why? All marinas are closed due to the virus and no move date to allow us to be back our mooring is in sight! Our cruises for the Spring and Summer are on Hold. So if you can Please keep your posts flowing, they will serve as great therapy that will get us to the other side of our Mountain Virus! Stay healthy, support each other, enjoy your experiences and know how much we care and think of You!! Best Scott ⛵️

    • Anne Vawter says:

      Hi Scott, Oh man… New York has been so hard hit. I hope you are staying safe!! Thank you so much for your kind comments and for your inspiration for another post! I spent some time last night getting the first draught done. You should see it in a few days! I hope that this all blows over soon and that you can take advantage of the summer with some lovely sails. We hope to get to that area in a few more years… Going by our current rate of speed, it may be a decade before we get there though! Take care and keep the post ideas coming! Cheers,A

  9. Erin Bernhardt says:

    Dear Annie, Cameron, Ade, and Isa – Happy Easter! Fantastic post. great advice and encouragement. Our family breaks and restores daily… you can imagine with the expressive personalities we all have. 🙂 The girls are painting a tree fort, fishing with AJ in the pond in the back, creating dances and tik-toks on the trampoline, and helping each other with their homework. I’m working from home and we have morning runs and ab workouts with Anna. 🙂 It’s been a gift and intervention to slow down and not travel as much. It’s not always easy, but love the daily gifts we’re getting during this time! So much love and reality that strengthens our relationships. God Speed. Hope to find the right place to visit you once we can travel again. If you get back to the states; let us know. we’re only 4 hours from Indy now! Love you! Erin, AJ, Anna, Morgan

    • Anne Vawter says:

      Dearest Erin,
      How great to get your update and hear how your family is getting through. We break and restore daily as well and Tik-Tok has been a source of a few good afternoon belly laugh breaks. We look forward to seeing you in the future! Who knows where and when, but I have no doubt that we will. Love and Blessings!!!

  10. Eric Berghorn says:

    Thanks Anne: I truly appreciate the “Forgiveness” within the family reminder. I have major challenges overcoming this particular issue lately which need attention before any healing can begin… I may soon borrow from this and reach out to a family member with whom I’ve become estranged. “The sooner the better, and not let it fester !” The thoughtful ideas you present are not just for those who find themselves in confined spaces !

    • Anne Vawter says:

      Hi Eric, Thank you so much for your comments. Forgiveness is hard! I love your saying about the Sooner the Better! That is a good one and very true. I know they say we “give” forgiveness to others, but the real benefactor of forgiveness is the giver. Carrying around the weight of unforgiven hurts can be a hard load to bear. No matter the actions of others, forgiveness heals our own hearts. I wish you all the best in your journey!

      • Eric Berghorn says:

        Thanks Anne:

        I took your universal good advice and reached out to my family member. In a rather long-winded e-mail, despite my vulnerability, I expressed my gratitude amongst other things. I needed express my feelings and wish for good tidings during this difficult period. I have in my heart “Forgiven” and would like to move forward to heal the relationship. So perhaps I wasn’t strong enough yet or ready to speak by phone after our last years disagreements (or face to face… ) The person does not live close by. Fear of rejection ? Yes. Probably. So far I’ve heard nothing back and may not, probably because the hurt I’ve caused him in a very complicated situation. I’ve genuinely tried to extend the olive branch…to not allow it not to fester ! When seeking Forgiveness it is not a given one might attain it… Only wishful thinking Thanks Again !

        • Anne Vawter says:

          Hi Eric, I hope you’ve found reconciliation with your friend. It is a very vulnerable place you put yourself in, and it required lots of courage and humility. You lived up to your responsibility. What your friend does belongs to their own journey, but know you have done a good and hard thing. I congratulate you!

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