How Living On A Tropical Island Totally Changed My Parenting Style

Your baby doesn't need gymnastics lessons. I promise.

woman and child on the beach Courtesy of the Author

Sweet 'N Low? Check. Pizza-flavored Pringles? Check. Just the right shade of the more than one hundred nail polish colors offered by OPI? Check.

I was stocked up and ready to return from my trip to the United States and head back to my newly adopted country, Barbados.

I've been living on a tropical island in Barbados for a year, taking in the delights of an island paradise with my husband and my one-year-old son.


Those delights, however, don't include a wide variety of artificial sweeteners at the café table. Pink, blue, and yellow packets have no place in the land of cheap, delicious, plentiful sugar. 

Real sugar. The kind served scooped out of a bowl.

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Those other items I brought with me? More "necessities" that are either hard to find or simply unavailable here in the Caribbean.

I've been getting better about letting go of the consumer preferences I've built up over years in the land of choice. But old habits are hard to shake.


Why not stick to what you love? Why not demand hundreds of colors of nail polish so you can find the very best one? Because too many choices can make us miserable, that's why.

In a psychological phenomenon dubbed the "paradox of choice," we have more choices than ever and are less satisfied than ever with the choices we ultimately make. With entire aisles devoted to pizza, cereal, and pasta sauce, we're frankly just awful at figuring out what will make us happy.

I have no pizza-flavored Pringles in Barbados but I do have mangoes when they're in season. And avocados, when they're in season.

And when they are, it's cause for celebration. My husband, my baby, and I gobble them down with delight.


The paradox of choice doesn't just apply to what we eat; it also applies to what we do. And one of the things we do best in America is keeping busy, choosing from a wide array of hobbies, activities, and outings.

In Barbados, I'm not busy. When I first moved here, any time I saw a mother with a young child, I'd ask her what she recommended I do here with my baby.

I always encountered blank looks or raised eyebrows. "Do? Like, go to the beach?"

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Well, sure, but what about the splash parks? What about strawberry picking? What about Mommy and Me music classes? What about the Baby Shakespeare stage theater series, like the one in my hometown?


What would we do? How was my baby ever going to catch up to those busy, busy Americans?

I'm not sure about catching up but I can tell you about what we do: we go to the beach. Because those other moms are right: Use what you've got. And here, what we've got is a whole lot of beach.

The first few times we took my son onto the sand, he literally screamed with delight. He sat facing the water, kicked his legs, and squealed.

Even after regular weekend trips to the ocean, his excitement has barely dimmed. Who needs a splash park? Who needs options? There's sand to play in, open fields to toddle in, and dirt to dig in.

When he (finally) was old enough that he stopped trying to eat sand, I went to the local toy store to buy him some sand toys.


What did I find? A bucket and pail set: One airplane-themed, one cupcake-themed. Two choices. No water flutes, no wind-up sharks, no boats, no aisles of toys. Just a bucket and pail.

It's enough. He gleefully fills, dumps, and repeats. He's as happy as a clam.

It doesn't take much to make a child happy. And for right now, my child is happy. We'll worry about Shakespeare later.

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Jessica Levy is a writer and ghostwriter whose work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, The Atlantic, Redbook, and Cosmopolitan. Visit her website for more.