by Steve Bohrer
Let’s just get this out of the way — getting outdoors with a family is HARD. You, the adult, will shoulder a Sherpa-sized load of extra gear, food and massive tents. The pace is glacial. Packing and unpacking take as long as the trip itself. A simple rain shower can turn into an epic, and odds are you’ll need to clean one or more disgusting bodily substances off your gear when you get home. So why? Why would a person willingly subject himself to that kind of “fun” in the outdoors? Maybe video games and youth sports aren’t so bad after all.
The fact is that now, more than ever, kids need the outdoors. Global warming captures national headlines, and my second grader has read about deforestation. Adults and children are more aware of the threats to the environment than ever before, yet we spend less time immersed in the natural world. Our children are growing up in an increasingly virtual world where unstructured physical activity outside the home is becoming the exception. Even when we are outside, many of us, adults and children alike, are tuned out to the world around us, absorbed by the ubiquitous iPods or cell phones that our society has dictated we must embrace. Our attention spans have collapsed; we’ve lost the ability to think.
At the same time, the need for strong families has never been greater. So many of our society’s problems could be alleviated by strong, involved parents who make family a real priority. Having a strong family requires a strong commitment. Children can spot hypocrisy a mile away. Kids really want to talk to their parents. They want help dealing with their concerns. They want someone to listen to them. By default, a slower pace fosters togetherness. A lack of cell phone coverage encourages conversations.
For many parents, too much indoor time wasn’t an issue when we were growing up. My brothers and I spent most of our time outside. My brother was probably 10 years old the summer he vowed to sleep out every night until school started again, and he did it. My dad was in the Navy, so we moved around a bit, but we eventually settled in rural eastern Idaho. We didn’t do family backpacking trips, but my parents allowed us an incredible amount of freedom to explore and play outside. Even though that kind of childhood is becoming a thing of the past, we can choose to do something about it.
The good news is that nowadays we have more information available to help us. Parenting is the topic of innumerable books, magazines, TV shows, blogs, and podcasts. More specific to the outdoors, gear manufacturers have discovered the market and are producing high quality gear in children’s sizes. Guide services and outfitters specialize in family trips, customizing adventures to the various ages of the participants. It’s all a bit overwhelming, and can lead, I think, to an information-induced paralysis. With so much information and so many resources out there, it’s easy to be intimidated and feel that if we can’t do something perfectly now, we should study and learn and plan and buy until we can.
Fortunately, there is a solution. Just take your family and go for a walk in a local park, but explore the overgrown areas off the path. Take a hike with your kids, and don’t worry that you don’t have official hydration packs for everybody. Work up to bigger trips and don’t be afraid to make mistakes.
Is all the effort and sacrifice worth it?
Picture yourself atop a granite pinnacle. The sun is low in the cloudless eastern sky. It shines warm on your face. A slight breeze ruffles your hair (if you have any) and brings the scent of sagebrush and mahogany up to your belay anchor. As your partner grunts and scrapes up the widening 5.7 crack you gaze out over the smaller rocks and over toward your campsite. You hear the clanking of climbing gear and soon see your partner’s helmet, then her face. Your daughter grins as she scrambles the last few feet to the anchor, relief and pride in her eyes.
It’s winter and you’re sliding up to the ski lift. It’s been a great day, blue skies and fresh powder. You get on the lift and make small talk with the skier next to you. You talk about the day, how great the snow is, what runs you’ve done, what runs you still want to do. Then you talk about other goals, adventures you’ve had, memories of time spent in the mountains. Maybe you talk about life in general, what you hope to get out of it. Finally you near the top (it’s a slow lift), and you remind your son to lift his ski tips.
You sit in a tent, rain pattering on the fly. Instead of a couple of smelly dudes, you’re surrounded by your smelly family. You’ve gotten out the Uno cards, or a book for Mom to read. Before long, the rain stops and you all walk out to watch the most incredible sunset together. Of course, you have to call the kids over and remind them to admire that sunset. Once the kids can’t see to play anymore, you get a campfire started and gather around its warmth. You imagine a day, 20 or more years in the future, when one of these kids will invite you to go camping with him and his kids. Then you’ll tell the story of this trip and many others, and your grandchildren will think you’re the coolest grandparent in the whole world.
We’re an ordinary family with the same responsibilities and dreams that most families have. I certainly don’t consider myself an expert in either the outdoors or as a parent. Most of what I know I’ve learned via trial by fire. I’ve read family stories in outdoor publications and thought, “That’s great, but I don’t know how our family could ever do that.” What I hope to convey through The Outdoor Parent is the joy of living an outdoor life with a family. There’s no competition here, every family can decide what they can do in their season of life, whether that’s a week-long backpacking trip or an afternoon poking around the edges of a park. No one should feel that their family’s outdoor experiences are being judged against anyone else’s. True happiness in life comes from being content with what we have and what we’re able to do.
As I said earlier, doing things outdoors with a family isn’t easy, and we all need the support of other like-minded parents. I hope that The Outdoor Parent will provide encouragement, advice, and humor. I hope you’ll share your thoughts and experiences, ask some questions, or just let us know what you think of the site. Now turn off the computer and go outside with your kids! Just don’t forget to check back here occasionally.
You must be logged in to post a comment.