Why the kids need to see you enjoy the outdoors – without them.

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My husband and I don’t go out on dates much – we don’t have any family in town, and a night of babysitting can add up. If we are going to spend money on a sitter, we’d much rather use it during the day. Yesterday we got two hours of glorious mountain biking in, and it was just what we needed to recharge. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that you need that time as a couple. I also think it’s really important for the kids to see you taking time to do things together, and that includes activities that sometimes you do as a family. I love that the boys see us still enjoying biking as adults, and watch us still learning things about it. We’re not just taking them along on bike rides – these are things we enjoy in our own right, both with and without them.

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One of the things I love to do after riding without him is talk to Red about the difficult parts. I’ve mentioned before that he can get anxious, and one of the ways this manifests is in perfectionism. He’s a clever kid, and schoolwork comes easily to him. Which means that when he has to work at something, he struggles with that concept. Kids often listen to their parents teaching or helping them with activities, and it’s all too easy for the kids to assume that their parents know everything (or at least a lot) and that they’ve mastered it all. But obviously that’s not true, and I want Red to see that we’re still learning hard things too. And that some activities, like biking and skiing, are ones that you will continuously be improving at. Unlike reading, or learning your multiplication tables, this is not a one-and-done event, where you learn and then you know. I really want to help foster a growth mindset, especially for a bright kid like Red who follows instructions easily and masters new skills without much work. When we come home from a biking or skiing trip without him, I tell him about a hard section,  or where I was scared. Sometimes I tell him about a new skill I learned, how I worked to overcome the fear and do the hard thing anyway, and how good I felt when I mastered it.

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Getting outside is not just a chore – hopefully, it’s something you enjoy, whether you have your kids there or not. Your enthusiasm about it, especially if you go out and have fun kid-free sometimes, will be obvious, and modeling that love of the outdoors is one of the biggest things that will encourage your kids to enjoy it too.

Reminding your kids that you have to experience the hard bits is important, but so is feeling the discomfort and difficulty of learning something new, being scared of trying a new skill, or pushing through the tiredness or fear. These are all emotions I believe it’s vital that we experience now and again to help empathize with our kids. Doing hard things is, well, hard! Their little bodies tire quickly on the trails, they get hangry, they look at the big hill approaching and worry that they won’t make it to the top. Sometimes it’s useful for us to feel that way too so we can understand some of what they’re going through. We’re unlikely to feel it at the same time as them, as that hill that looks so big to them, is a little mound to us, that scary new skill to learn is something we mastered as a kid. To really push ourselves to feel those same feelings as they do, we need to go try something new, and preferably do it when they aren’t watching!

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It’s been a good six months since I’ve been out on my bike in the foothills in Boise. In that time, due to medical issues, I’ve done almost no exercise. Normally I keep a base level of fitness by running twice a week, but that hasn’t happened this year at all. And I could definitely feel it in my legs. After the first couple of ascents, I just wanted to give up. ‘This is too hard for me today,’ I thought.  But then I remembered what Red and I had been talking about just the day before, that when things get tough, we can moan about it, or we can readjust our mindset (and sometimes we do both!).  So I took my own advice, looked up at the beautiful skies above, and pushed as hard as I could to get to the top. As I glanced back at what I had achieved, before pushing on up another hill, I genuinely felt proud of myself. And as result, my mindset changed, and I pushed on for the rest of the ride. There were sections where I chose to dial it back and be safe, knowing my legs were wobbly and the descent was going to get technical. But I did so knowing I wasn’t giving up but tactically making the right decision. If I had opted out of those early climbs, I doubt I could have been so sure that I was making the right choice at the end, rather than the easy one. I came home with a new understanding of what Red goes through, not just a half-remembered haze that learning new skills is tough. I hope I have more empathy for him as a result, and also know how to cheer him on and encourage him to do the hard things. Because in our family, we all do hard things.

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