The search in on for Abby Sunderland, the sixteen-year-old girl who was attempting to set a record as the youngest girl to transverse the globe. Sunderland lost contact with her family on Thursday, and officials fear that she may have suffered an injury or lost control of her vessel, Wild Eyes.
Amid fears of the brave teen’s demise, media officials and commenters are pointing fingers at Sunderland’s parents. Some commenters have gone so far as to accuse Abby Sunderland’s parents of manslaughter and neglect.
As a mother, I can not begin to imagine letting my own daughter sail around the world– at fifteen or at fifty. But before we insist that Sunderland’s parents are responsible for her disappearance, we need to consider a few things.
All Parents Make Choices
As parents, we all seek to do what is best for our own children. Abby has not chosen the path of least resistance. Instead, she has gravitated toward an exciting and remarkable life. Her parents made a decision to support those choices.
In a January 2010 interview, nearly half a year before Sunderland’s disappearance, her mother stated the following:
Think about your kid in the future, when they are in their late 30s or early 40s and have followed someone else’s plan their entire time on the planet. They went to school, got a degree, got married, got a house. Maybe they’re successful, but they’re not really fulfilled. In the long run, they are going to be their own person. I think you have to remember that.[…] I also think every kid is different, and every parent is different. Some are more prone to trouble than others. But Abby is a good kid, and I trust her completely.
While most parents would not make the choices that Abby Sunderland’s parents made, it is not our place to judge their decisions. They supported her in pursuing her dreams.
Abby Sunderland Was a Professional
If your sixteen-year-old woke up one morning and announced that she was going to circumnavigate the planet, you would probably lock her in her room until it was time for college. But Abby was not an ordinary sixteen-year-old. She had as much experience and expertise in sailing as master mariners twice her age. She had been preparing for the voyage her entire life.
Abby’s brother sailed around the globe a few years ago at age seventeen, and few people squirmed at the notion– partially, according to Abby Sunderland’s mother, because he was male. We have even more difficulty trusting our female teens than our teenage sons.
The Sunderland family has been sailing for generations; it is a tradition far older than Abby Sunderland herself. She routinely worked with people in their fifties and sixties, many of whom where mindblown by her intelligence and resolve. Accidents can happen to anyone; Abby Sunderland’s disappearance had nothing to do with age or inexperience.
The Sunderlands Need Support, Not Judgement
No mother, no matter how controversial her choices are, should ever face the agony of losing a child. In the unlikely event that Abby Sunderland does not survive her mishaps at sea, her parents are in dire need of support and compassion– not finger-wagging and hatred. They already, no doubt, blame themselves for the catastrophe.
Should Abby Sunderland fail to complete her voyage, we need to keep love and compassion in our hearts. No tragedy should be worsened by the ever-threatening eye of public opinion. Furthermore, we should remember that Abby Sunderland knowingly risked her life to pursue a lofty dream. She took a chance, and she may have lost. But we have no right to judge her choices or her family’s.
USA Today- Search underway for Abby Sunderland, teen trying to sail the globe
Momlogic- Exclusive interview with Abby Sunderland’s mother
Abby’s Blog- Update on Abby, June 10, 2010