raising little ones in the great outdoors

Are You the Parent You Imagined?

For the record, Fitz and I aren’t parents. Yet, even before planning to be a parent, I have an ideal image of the parent that I will strive to be. As our friends embark on parenthood, I continually refine my image with the do’s and the try really hard to avoid thats. We’ve all seen the wide-eyed Dad watching his toddler pummel the grocery store floor in a fit of sugar-crash-induced rage and thought “When I’m a parent, it’s not going to be like that.” But I also realize that colicky babies, night after night of interrupted sleep, and a necessity of “go” mode may shape my parental form more than my imagined archetype.

Some of our expectant friends swore that nothing would change. They would still sleep beneath open skies and join friendly gatherings just as often. They would be an easy-going parent. Fantasies of the mellow baby, snot-free toddlers, and polite and intelligent pre-schoolers abound. We dream of how we will take parenthood by the horns and show it who’s boss. However, the moment that a parent’s first child pops into this world, all bets are off.

As Fitz and I were sitting around the table the other night, we wondered whether you are the parent that you imagined? If you weren’t, did you find a catalyst for change? Where did you make compromises? Is that ideal nothing more than an ideal? Please, leave a comment. Let us know your thoughts.

–Becca Cahall

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9 Responses to “Are You the Parent You Imagined?”

  1. Kevin Szoke says:

    A client of mine said to me one child won`t change your lifestyle, have a second and you can throw everything your used to out the window. Harsh but not that far from the truth.

    When our son was born it was awesome, I could go out and buy a bunch of kids outdoor gear(kid carriers, baby joggers, bike trailers etc) and not get any grief from the wife.

    10 months of colicky baby sleeping between us,and all the toys(gear) were still parked in the garage. I`d seen happy /horny teenagers in the park and think “dude wear a condom”. Friends stopped calling us cause we were “too negative”.

    At 11 months baby started sleeping, winter had arrived, out came the kid carrier and I figured he could handle 30 minutes of crosscountry skiing. What I realized I could ski with junior, give mom a break, check out the ice climbs that were visible from the trail and be back climbing with my buddies the next day , having had scored brownie points with the wife the previous day, sweet! I had become the parent I wanted to be.

    Baby number 2, the cycling season numbered 2 days, 3 months apart and with ski season/ ice season coming up, I`m relying on my sage client being wrong and an army of babysitters, to “getter done” and to teach a 3 year old to ski.

  2. Joel says:

    Isn’t the big point of having kids the desire for a change in lifestyle? It sounds like more and more the focus is on the parent and not on the kids. True, when our first child was born time for climbing , skiing, biking, etc. was reduced, but instead I had something more valuable and rewarding to partake in: spending time with my child. In my opinion the whole problem with parenting and being the parent you anticipated has to do with expectation. Again, it’s not about the parent it’s about the child and doing things on the child’s premises. Now that our oldest is two and a half he’s a great hiker, loves “bouldering”, collecting pine cones, and just being outside. That means that I also get to spend more time outside. Maybe not at the same tempo as before, but without a doubt it’s much more rewarding to share adventures with a child and watch them grow. Last weekend, our son, again only two, begged to “sleep in a tent” so after dinner I packed the tent, sleeping bags, toothbrushes, and a bit av granola for breakfast and headed out into the woods to sleep in a tent. Maybe in a couple more years my kids will lead me up El Cap, but that’s not the point. Right now it’s all about observing them and letting them grow on their own. So back to the original question, I’d say I am the parent I’d hoped I’d be. Am I perfect, far from, but without a doubt I wouldn’t trade being a father for more time on the rock, snow, or trail for anything.

  3. Arran Mitchell says:

    What an insightful question and I must say I fully agree with Joel.
    I often think that one of the most over looked truths of parenthood is that you have no idea of the kind of personality your child will have. We have two boys ages 5 and 3, they have never had colic and dutifully go to sleep without much fuss. By three in the morning however they are both often in bed with us. It’s a small price to pay. One thing they have in common is they will do almost anything to be outside, it’s like having a pair of sheep dogs. They don’t care what we are doing as long as it is outside. They don’t care about new tents or Patagonia clothing, (we do by the way), they just want to be running, jumping, cycling, swimming, gathering twigs almost anything as long as its outside. My point you might ask…it’s simple. We decided to show them from the age of 6 months that the effort of getting outside was far less than the reward and that this will become meaningful to them and want to be with us as they get older…outside.

  4. Steve says:

    That’s a tough question because it’s really a moving target. There are times I feel like I’m not the parent I want to be right now. Other times I feel like I’m doing a pretty good job. Kids are constantly growing and changing and each kid is different from his/her siblings. So just when you think you have it figured out you have to go and figure it out all over again. I suppose the best thing to do is to have some general goals and standards and then be appropriately flexible in their application.

    When I was growing up I swear we were the last family in Idaho to get a VCR. My mom hated TV and movies. I swore I wouldn’t deprive my children like that. But now we don’t have cable or satellite, the kids don’t watch TV during the school week, and I swear we were the last family in Idaho to get a video game system. The downside is that our kids are so happy making up things to do together that it’s hard to threaten them if they don’t get chores done.
    The other thing is that I think for many of us “success” means something totally different after having kids. I’m much more focused on experiences now than other symbols of success. The time spent in wild (and not so wild) places with my family means much more than the bank account or the vehicle sitting in the driveway. And I think we’re fairly successful when our sons say they’d rather spend the fall climbing than playing soccer.

  5. Brendan Kehde says:

    Are You the Parent You Imagined? Catalysts, compromises, ideals?

    Before my daughter was born I might have said or envisioned a lot of things, but frankly, I did not know. Knowing comes from going through the transition to being a parent. Depending on how you look at it, and how you score it, I would generalize that people know < 50% of what they are in for with parenting. So they imagine < 50% of the parent they might turn out to be. I probably understood about 30%.

    I think that the bigger story behind your question is that the transition to being a parent is big. And for the dedicated outdoors person it involves some critical rearranging and adding to the foundation of their lifestyle. There are a lot of choices to make. When schedules start changing with the trying-to-get-pregnant game or morning sickness. The catalyst for the transition has arrived.

    Today, with my seven-year-old daughter, I have defined that my biggest job as a parent is to provide her with the opportunities to learn how to be a happy, healthy, and responsible adult. This means that I spend my parenting time crafting experiences where she learns how to create that reality for herself.

    The outdoors provides a great theatre to learn about consequences and develop response-abilities with tremendous highs and lows that aren't artificially engineered. I am learning to adapt my previous personal outdoor skill set to my role as a parent-to use the outdoors to parent-to be an outdoor parent. Some of my current outdoor experiences are still for me as a person, and some are pure parenting, and some are a beautiful enmeshing of the two.

    I certainly have experienced a lot of aches and inconsistencies over the past seven years, as I have had to choose how to spend my time and what kind of experiences I was creating with it. There are many compromises. From the times when things got out of balance, or balanced perfectly, in my own life, or in those around me, come some great stories which establish waypoints from which to navigate the future. But really I think the ideal is to focus on the moment at hand and not imagine too much about the future. I'd bet I still only know about 30% about that.

  6. Kevin says:

    Wow, a very thought provoking topic.

    I expect your friends that insisted nothing would change have or will eat their words.
    Having children changes a lot, and I hasten to add -this is not a bad thing.

    I try to approach most big changes with high hopes and low expectations.

    Being a parent is a big responsibility, an amazing learning opportunity, the most humanizing experience I can imagine and often (but not always) a lot of fun.

    Becoming a dad has changed the way and place I work, where and how I live, ways I spend my time, energy and money, my hopes and dreams what and when I eat and even think. It even changes the way (and frequency) I look at the night sky.

    Being a hypocrit is not a bad thing either when one can say, ‘I have learned a few things since I said that.’

    In terms of keeping some level of outdoor orientation (way easier with just one kid!!! – read tag each other out, cheaper, easier babysitters) I’d stress the importance of a peer group of parents who have or are also making the sacrifices and rising to the challenges of doing the same. The friends we think of as peers are very important. This article comes to mind tangentially:


    In my current neighbourhood, my wife feels pompous using our ‘extravangant?’ double chariot stroller/ski/bike trailer and we get stares. This is not so when we visit friends living in our old stomping grounds where outdoor pursuits are more normal and where people prioritize getting out over however our neighbours spend time, energy and money. Even before kids, I often wondered how people spend their time and money if not travelling, biking, skiing and climbing.

    The good news is that by ‘going for it’ anyways (sometimes against the odds) one runs into other families doing same and new friendships form and evolve. So yes, even your friend circle changes somewhat. also not a bad thing- not saying that you kiss other friends goodbye, but if you really think expeditioning or long alpine climbing trips will not change at all then I suggest give your head a shake. Some adults without kids understand that better than others.

    I got a good wake up call years ago before I had kids from a friend with a little girl he wanted to bring to a party I threw when he said ‘Can I bring my daughter, since I can’t imagine going to a party where she is not welcome?’ Let’s just say the very little girl is very socialized as a result of his maturity- not mine. The same friend used to roll his eyes when I would counter stories of his daughter with stories of my dog as the only way I could relate to parenthood. I tried and have learned good beta from him.

    I am so pleased, that my wife and I have ‘picked up’ other active families and started a new community in addition to maintaining most of our previous friends since having kids. We’ve got a posse now of families with spookily similar demographics (different topic) and we meet regularly to take turns mountain biking giving dads a chance to ride one week and moms the next while kids and the other parents spill over each other in a sometimes chaotic mess at one home or another. It is awesome- not only to share the riding and keep momentuum going but also sharing the stories, strategies, decisions and challenges of raising kids with friends who can relate.

    The possee seems to keep growing and will now likely morph as ski season approaches. Numerous toddlers will doubtlessly venture into their second and third ski seasons.
    Can you imagine appreciating ‘hand me down’ ski gear yet? Karma at its best : )

    Getting out together WITH my wife/best friend has changed in frequency, but by using babysitters occasionally even that still happens

    Am I the parent I imagined being?
    Well, as we promised ourselves -we let our kids eat dirt, but rocks are choking hazard.

    I likely underestimated the amount that having kids has changed my life.
    Do I still get out? absolutely- and both with and without the kids time in the hills is appreciated more than ever.

    Has nothing changed?
    Nothing has not changed : )

    vinmeister at canoemail.com

  7. Steve Bohrer says:

    Kevin, can we join your posse?

    • Kevin says:

      of course Steve!
      check us out if you are ever in Everett or Bothell, WA area : )

      you do what you gotta do to keep the momentuum going and (as before kids)learn from and with peers and, dare I say, learn with and from your own kids. I’m already refering to references to answer my 2 year olds questions accurately (‘what beetle is this?’)

      Keep up the great thoughts -Becca and Fitz! I like the walk to school article too- one of the reasons we moved from a car centre’d universe to a retro community with -gasp- sidewalks. ; )

      Parenthood is a different kind of adventure but I think outdoors adventures may prepare one to be able to ‘roll’ with unanticipated challenges (and first aid training never hurts ..ha ha)

  8. Thanks for the great responses everyone. It’s days like this where I am really glad I started this site. It’s small right now — but growing — but I will tell you what. You all elevate the conversation online. Seriously. The quality or responses the thought that goes into everyone’s comments is just incredible.


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