How to Have a Life Outdoors When You Have a Family
If you are anything like me, you struggled after becoming a mother for the first time. Within moments of arriving home with my new little one, I felt paralyzed. My body was different, my mind was foggy, my house had been taken over by tiny things and suddenly there was a tiny person dependent on me for his every need. Life was different and whether I was ready or not, this was my new normal.
Saying I struggled as a new mother would be an understatement. I love my son with all I have. And to be quite honest, he was an extremely easy baby. He slept well, ate well, barely cried… He was picture perfect. But I was different. I no longer felt that I had an identity. Everything was harder. Going to the store for a simple gallon of milk now felt like a chore. I didn’t know how to cope and I didn’t have anyone that reached out to help me through. Overtime I stopped doing the things I had loved to do prior to having children. After my 2nd child I no longer recognized myself and felt as if I didn’t have any hobbies or even my own identity separate from being a mother to my 2 adorable littles.
It wasn’t long after my daughter was born that something snapped within me. I suddenly had the realization that these children are mobile. They can go wherever I want to go and do anything I want to do, it just might require a little bit more thought and preparation. I’ve recently seen a few other new and expectant mothers struggling with this on social media. It compelled me to share what I have learned since those moments of paralyzation in hopes that I can save them years of struggle.
One of the best pieces of advice I received was to have 2 different diaper bags. One of the bags should be larger and best for longer outings. While the 2nd should be smaller, easier to grab and go for those quick trips. Both bags should remain packed and ready to go at all times to save you time and sanity when all you want is to get out the door. Now that my children are older I no longer need diaper bags. However, I still utilize this tip in that I always have a “go bag” packed with activity books, markers, bug spray, sunscreen, baby wipes, bandaids, snacks, etc. This way, when I want to go hiking or fishing RIGHT NOW, I can grab the bag and we are on our way. No fussing for 30 minutes trying to get everyone ready, only to find myself exhausted and no longer interested after running around like a crazy person trying to prepare.
I didn’t have a carrier with my son, something I regret dearly. Being able to easily take them with me somewhere while still having the ability to carry all the stuff that little ones require when you head out of the house, was a sanity saver. When my daughter was born I received a Baby K’tan baby carrier and wore that thing out! Whether it was just to be hands free around the house, or to go hiking, it kept her secure and close to me while being super comfortable to wear. However, this carrier was best up to 9-12 months. After that she got quite heavy for it. I also invested in a rugged jogger stroller that had great tires for off road adventures. Another great device I received as a gift was a Burley brand bike trailer. Mine was large enough for 2 kids as well as having storage in the back. I used to tote them everywhere in that! Was perfect for day trips to the park for a picnic. Whatever kind of transportation you get to carry your kids along, doesn’t matter, just so long that you find something that works for your family and the type of adventures you like to do. I highly recommend multiple types of travel carriers/transportation so that you have options to select from! Sometimes my "carrier" is a piggyback ride up a steep hill to save their little legs!
There are 2 things that bring on hunger in my children when we are in the outdoors - perceived boredom and long adventures. There is just something about being “trapped” on a boat that makes them want to eat. I always have various types of snacks in my pack to keep them happy. Usually I like to choose things that will actually fill them up, such as fruit (cuties and apples are great to-go snacks), granola bars, trail mix, crackers, fruit strips etc. Often times I plan various snacks for different parts of a trip. For example, if we get to a certain part of a trail they get a snack, and when they reach the next part then another snack, and so on. Often times I don’t tell them what the snacks are which also keeps them excited for the next small snack.
I have a few different ways that I do activities. When we are hiking, the activities have to do with nature. I usually bring a bucket and send them on missions to find various “treasures”. I also typically task them with finding the perfect walking stick. It is fun to see what they collect and keeps there eyes too busy to realize their legs might be tired or tummies hungry. On road trips or fishing adventures in the boat - basically anytime they are confined to a small indoor space - I pack many different activity pads (small in size - usually word finds, hangman, or coloring books) as well as travel games. I created laminated road trip binders a few years ago when we went on a long drive to Chicago to see my sister that we use all the time now. I also have purchased a few different “Where’s Waldo” books. Those can keep them busy for hours, especially since the larger books also have extra “seek and find” lists of items that can be found on each page. These activity pads and games are ONLY allowed to be played while on these adventures. I don’t let them play with them at home. It keeps them new and fun whenever we pull them out. I also include special pens, markers and highlighters. My kids find those kinds of things exciting.
Lastly, the best piece of advice I can give you is to embrace that enjoying your favorite outdoor activities is definitely possible, but that it might look a bit different now. Your hikes may not travel as far and include frequent stops. Your fishing trips may be in shorter spans with swimming time in between to relieve their energy from being confined on a boat. Your hunting adventures may need to be more sitting, than spot and stalk. But what is most important is that you get them out there. If you are hiking, I encourage you to choose distinct paths in the beginning and let the kids do the navigating! As they get older, my kids actually now prefer no paths, more difficult hiking. Small adventures are best as you build up their stamina and interest. Our trips get longer and more complex with each year they get older. And I highly encourage you to to build them up slow and make these trips as fun as possible. A positive experience for them will more than likely make them more excited to head out the next time rather than whine at the thought of having to be pulled away from their ipad. Don’t burn them out too soon but foster a love for the outdoors piece by piece. If you find you still need longer adventures yourself, carve out some time where you can go alone and get in that intense hike or longer fishing trip.
As my kids get older, I am so thankful I took the baby steps in the beginning and continue to take them now. With each stage of life, it gets better and better while also becoming easier. We are now at a stage where they require less “stuff” when we head out. And with a little imagination prompting from myself they can spend hours exploring. Any time outdoors is worth the effort I put in on the back end. A little preparation will save your sanity and allow everyone to enjoy the trip!
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