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Finding Balance Between Family and the Outdoors

Troy Thomas

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Awhile back I read a blog post titled “Why You Should Get Out of Bed and Hike, Even if You’re an Exhausted Parent”, which was I realized only too quickly, was a click-bait title. It left a sour feeling I couldn’t shake, and I had to ask myself why – and it was a lot of thinking, days of it. And maybe I was a bit judgy, but I can live with that.

The premise of the post was that one should seize the day no matter how tired one is as a parent. The reality is the writer was talking about having been up half the night with a sick child, then going out on a hike/climb early in the morning by themselves (it was a father). Which two things I suppose set me off internally: The child was sick, and even if your partner/wife/husband says to go…can you not stay for the child? To comfort them? No hike or adventure is more important than them. The other was: if you have barely slept, you are not ready for an adventure. Being tired and sleepy is an actual issue, and one that shouldn’t be brushed off. Hitting the snooze is a good idea. Turning off the alarm clock, even better. Balance isn’t just about getting out and living what is deemed as an authentic life – it is also knowing when things must give. Instagram, can and will wait.

Being a parent isn’t easy work. When my oldest was young, it was simpler I suppose. One child is a lot different from three. As our family grew, and especially as they became school age, I found my time in the outdoors shrunk considerably, versus as it was in my 20’s through my mid 30’s. I found that the “balance” that had come easily to me in my 20’s wasn’t there anymore.

When a family is “young” and the child is a baby/toddler, the balance is easy. You don’t have a lot to work around. I myself often touted this one loudly when my oldest was young. Did not everyone have an SUV full of gear? Did not one choose to spend every weekend, every day free, in the outdoors? Did one not haul a small child behind them, as your personal mini-me? That kid went everywhere with us. Slap on the snowshoes, and keep on going. He had crampons at 4 years old. He was the Unicorn of Hikers.He was doing 10 mile days the summer he was 4.

Why did others complain of how they had little free time? I figured they just didn’t want it that badly. Yeah, I got served pretty hard on that truth. First came getting a wee bit older. But with the oldest 12 years old, the middle boy and I hiked everywhere that first year of his life and change. I kept telling myself it wasn’t going to change. I had great balance. Slap the boy on my back, and off we went. The older boy was in school, we had time to spare – and the trails called.

This little guy changed it for me. And suddenly I had two kids, very close in age. It was like herding cats to get out of the house. I’d wake up bright-eyed and ready to go, and then….reality snuck in. After wrestling them to eat, get dressed and get in the car, it was suddenly 11 am. Drive to the mountains and it was 2 pm. I was tired even before we got there. So we did a lot less “big hikes” and opted instead for local outings. I was suddenly OK with just doing the local rail to trail…to the hardware store in town, just to get outside. It’s amazing how fast one loses any caring for “balance in the outdoors” if it means one has to think deeply.

At 5 and 7, they have active lives. The `7-year-old is a social butterfly with a full dance card. That brings in another thing that trips up life: each kid is different personality wise. The middle kid is happy to hike, but he loooooves having a friend along – and being in a truck with that many kids makes one wish to beat your head into the steering wheel after an hour, and a stop for ice cream, and 4 potty breaks, and a million questions/fart jokes.

Notice though….I don’t much hike without them anymore. It’s rare I take a solo hike (no kids) because I choose to value the time I have with my kids. It goes fast (my oldest turns 20 next week). Too fast. And I do want them to experience adventures. That is my balance. And honestly, I don’t miss the “big adventures” like I used to. Sometimes it crawls up, but the desire to go and do 6 day trip on the PCT is a fond memory to me.

Sometimes we find adventures staying in hotels, cabins and old historical homes. OK, let’s not lie…that has become way more often. It’s just simpler, and we have a ton of fun. Alistaire has health issues, so backpacking isn’t something he can do without a ton of planning.

And that was my balance. It took me a few years to find it. And what works for me, might not be your thing. But I do know that for me, sneaking out in the dark while my children sleep doesn’t happen much anymore. I am just too tired. Snooze button? Nope. How about no alarm and once we wake up we go find an adventure we can all do.

The story Finding Balance Between Family and the Outdoors first appeared in The Blog of Trail Cooling by Sarah