We talked as a family about what we want to achieve this year, and a lot of it involves ongoing skills. Red wants to get better at skiing, and his weekly race training at our local mountain is definitely helping. Smalls wants to graduate from his balance bike to his pedal bike, minus the training wheels. My husband and I haven’t set outdoor goals yet, but I know I want to hit the trails more, especially as ongoing health issues means running is out for the foreseeable future (curse you, knees!).
My husband and I have also been talking about grit, resilience, determination, and all those qualities you’d like to see in your kids, but you’re not quite sure how to get there as you watch them whine while putting on a pair of snowpants. I was talking to a client I work with as a freelance writer. He writes books and gives talks to business leaders, and is exploring the idea of resilience as a key quality required both of leaders and of companies. As he connected it to his own personal hobby of ultra-distance running, I felt myself nodding enthusiastically as he discussed that internal feeling when you know something will be hard, but you also know you can do it.
My husband and I were both hauled up mountains as kids. In Scotland, we call that hill walking, and we both have memories of it being hard, boring, wet (it was Scotland after all, so rain was expected and planned for) and something we would complain about whenever a parent suggested it. I also have memories of the companionship of being with my dad and talking about our lives, of breathing in the air and looking at the view from above with wonder and awe. Now that I’m an adult, I can also connect it to my understanding that hard things are worth doing. You don’t get that view without slogging it to the top, and you don’t get that deep connection with the world and people around you without spending the time immersed in that experience. Which means sharing the stunning and the mundane, the scary and the exhilarating.
I see that persuasion from our parents to put in that work as a child as the reason my husband and I both seek out new outdoor experiences. Why we push ourselves to ski backcountry, to try that rocky drop off on our mountain bikes, and commit to running or hiking even when the days are long with work and parenting and boring home admin tasks. To both of us, persuading our kids is worth it, even through the whining, because we want them to experience that same understanding as adults, and gain from it as we have.
This summer the boys will be 7 and 4. We think committing to Stack Rock is a perfect example of what we want to engender in them. It will be hard. We may not complete the goal. But the effort of trying will be worth it, and the accomplishment of completing it (whether that be this year or next) will provide them with an internal feeling of pride that we can’t foist on to them, no matter how much we want to give them that in an easier way.
The route there and back is around 8 miles, with over 1,000 feet of elevation. While we love to hike as a family, we generally don’t push the boys to do more than they’re comfortable with. That will have to change this year if we wish to accomplish this goal, and I think they’re ready for the discomfort of hiking longer and steeper. I know they will embrace the exhilaration of having achieved it once it’s completed.
If you’re thinking of setting an outdoor resolution for your family this year, here are my tips, based on how we’ve gone about this one. I will keep you updated over the year as we progress towards our goal.
1. It’s never too late to make a family resolution
While people typically make resolutions in January, there’s no reason why you should stick to that rule. Particularly for outdoor related goals, it makes sense that you start to envisage them as we move into spring and are considering getting outside more again. As we start to hike more and the boys bounce along the trails, red-cheeked and excited, I find this the perfect time to bring up the idea of a goal for the year, a hike to reach for and work toward.
2. Involve the kids
While the idea to hike Stack Rock came primarily from us parents, we’re keen to get the kids involved in the process. If they come up with other outdoor goals to work toward, we’ll try our best to include them in the process. The sense of accomplishment that comes with succeeding at a goal that is just barely attainable if you’ve wanted to reach that goal for some time and weren’t just dragged along for the ride. That’s not to say the kids won’t question our plans and change their mind about hiking hard things. In fact, that is exactly why they need to be involved. When they whine and moan about heading out on a hike, or reach a rough spot on the trail and want to turn back, we need there to be a seed of something inside them to remind us all that they wanted to do this too. When we push them through this discomfort and succeed, we want them to feel like they are reaching toward their goal, not ours.
3. Build up to it
If you’ve picked something outside your family’s comfort zone, you need to take baby steps, train for it, and practice getting out there. When my husband and I think of resilience and when I was discussing it with my writing client, we all understood that to mean an internal understanding that something which is hard is still possible. And the way we all learnt that was from practicing many times since we were kids. In the early stages, you can’t imagine doing the hard things, and you assume you will fail. We have to show our kids, through hitting smaller milestones, that they can push through and do the hard things. That swell of pride in your body when you’ve achieved something you didn’t think possible, however small the achievement was, is the feeling associated with resilience. After repeated experiences, you start to imagine a successful outcome. And then you push yourself, knowing it’s possible. While they are learning, we will have to push. The goal is that they can do some of this breakthrough on their own by the time we are on the hike to Stack Rock. Because that is what will give them that amazing feeling of pride in having reached the goal on their own.
4. Be prepared for setbacks
This is also something we need to help the kids with until they understand it themselves. Things will go wrong, the trail will be harder than expected, someone will hurt themselves, we’ll run out of snacks (oh, the horror!). But if we have practiced experiencing setbacks, the kids will start to see that figuring out a solution while we’re feeling uncomfortable is part of the process. Our job as parents is to help them do that, and while they are getting used to it, there’s going to be a lot of crying. Part of this resolution involves my husband and I becoming comfortable with our role as facilitators. It’s all too easy to agree to turn back and try again another time. But if we want our kids to become independent and work these things out for themselves, we’ll have to push through too!
5. Have fun!
It’s too easy to focus on the goal, on the pushing through discomfort, and miss one of the big reasons we’re setting the goal in the first place. We want to spend quality time outdoors with our kids, not just tick the box that we’ve engendered resilience in them through succeeding at a hike. We’ll have plenty of practice hikes and plenty of time spent together on the trails. As I mentioned before, one of my fondest memories of hill-walking was time spent with my dad. I hope he remembers it that way too, although my incessant chatter may result in a different memory for him! We live in a world where non-stop activities mean it’s hard to carve out space for our relationships. I want to know what my kids think about the trees they see, and why they love throwing rocks in the river, but also what they make of the new kid in school, and the fact they were a little scared of that movie we watched the other month. I want them to know about me and my husband too, and ask questions about our dreams and everyday lives. We all need a bit of space to do that, are there’s no place like the outdoors to give us that space.
Do you have an outdoor family resolution this year? And if not, are you considering making one? I’d love to hear about it and the challenges you face as you work toward it.