I am a single mother of two nature-loving children. They will play outside all day if the weather is right. They are enthralled by bugs, plants, wildlife, and the incredible variety of sticks to be found outdoors. But their interest waned when I mentioned a hike. This was a source of frustration on many counts. I perceived an enjoyable and memorable afternoon, while they anticipated one of pain and agony. Almost immediately upon hitting the trail, I began hearing whining about how long it was, legs being tired or hurting, their sudden starvation, and incessant questions about when we could turn back. What a paradox: I would be standing in a forest surrounded by peace and things I love best, filled with disgust and anger. Sometimes I wanted to start banging on a tree with a large stick. I recall saying more than once, “No, you are not allowed to ruin the forest. This is obscene!”
I’ve discovered a better coping mechanism than resentment and reciprocal meltdowns, and simply put, it’s: Adjust your expectations.
When I hike alone (which is not as often as I want, sadly), I can do pretty much just as I please.
While hiking with my kids, I have learned the following, for my sanity, and as a compromise to them:
1. Be flexible. Energy levels and moods are changeable. A kid might be up for 3 miles one day and be exhausted by a half mile the next. Go into each “hike”, or short jaunt, as it may be, with the assumption that you are just getting out. Doing what you can. It’s all for the sake of enjoyment and togetherness. Don’t put it into a time or distance-bound box.
2. Be compassionate. Don’t assume that every time your kids whine it’s to drive you nuts and ruin the atmosphere. They are small, they are weaker, and what doesn’t bother you at all could be completely overwhelming to them. Pay attention to the manner of their whining, the specificity, and how it fits into the pattern you see from the past as you build a ledger of hikes with them. You will get better at knowing when to distract them with a snack, how to prep them psychologically for the hike (we’re searching for blackberries, look for these signposts, if you whine, I’ll make you carry the backpack…and so on). If you have a little who is pooped or needs to stop, consider taking breaks often or carrying them for a small bit. Plan ahead for their comfort and assistance.
3. Start small. Don’t let the fact that your first (to 200th) hikes with your littles consist of little more than a trip to the mailbox. You are building your way up to a legacy of memories and love of the outdoors. Even when you experience setbacks, whether real or perceived, this is true. Pick the easy trail, the trailhead with something interesting right at the beginning (in case that’s all you get to), or the one that is nearer to your home.
4. Remember why. If you end up fuming and foaming at the mouth over a hike gone “wrong”, then you forgot why you’re on a hike in the first place. The point is to let nature take over and teach your kids about beauty, mindfulness, wonder, self-reliance, and companionship. Pull back into that when you feel an urge to micro-manage the hike or your goals. Did you spend time together with a freely offered part of our good earth? Then you’ve done well, despite or regardless of the particulars.
Nature’s calling. Go take your little ones out into it.
Hope From the Trail
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