Before I had kids, I identified myself as an adventure-lover. A bit of a daredevil, maybe even. I defined myself by my work as a scuba instructor, my daily breakneck-speed bike commutes, my hurricane surfing adventures, the number of triathlons I’d competed in, and the injuries I’d counted up while playing tackle football.
When I was pregnant with my daughter, I was convinced that nothing – not pregnancy or motherhood, to be sure – was going to hold me back. I think I was the only pregnant triathlete at most of my local races, and I kept on belly-riding waves on my surfboard well into my third trimester.
Maintaining my sense of adventure wasn’t something I was going to take lightly: it was deeply wrapped up in my sense of self. And anyone who’s a parent knows that there’s nothing that shakes your sense of self like bringing a tiny human into the world. They have a way of causing you to dramatically shift your priorities, to say the least.
And so it was for me. I did my best to keep up with my former self in my first year as a mother: I figured out how to worm my way out of my triathlon suit so I could breastfeed, and I dragged the entire family to the beach so I could catch a few crappy waves. I even started training for a half-Ironman, getting up at 5a.m. on the weekends to pump a bottle of milk and then head to my local pool for a 4km swim.
Slowly but surely, adventure was taking on a new meaning. In the beginning, adventure meant accommodating and working around the needs of both my daughter and my husband (who inevitably was left tending to the former while I gallavanted around on my bike or my board). As time passed and she wanted to be included in the activities we did (rather than just dragged along!), I found that our activities together shifted. Sometimes just getting to our local Farmer’s Market and back without a tantrum or a diaper explosion felt like an adventure.
I’ve always been a proponent of the idea that there’s a season for everything when you’re a parent. Slowly but surely, I began to sacrifice some of the adventures that I personally loved to make way for those that could be enjoyed by the whole family. They didn’t get my blood pumping with adrenaline, necessarily, but always with oxytocin, that love hormone that surges when you see your little ones exploring new things and having fun.
During this time, it sometimes feels easier to say no to adventure. I know I’ve spoken to many mamas who can relate. The diaper bags, the snacks, the screaming in the car…the list of reasons not to get out and explore can feel endless some days. Sometimes even impossible.
My only advice to parents who want to lead adventurous lives with their children is this:
Practice the art of the possible and let go of the outcome.
This means getting okay with packing the car with all your camping gear only to have a kid start puking all over you and cancelling the trip.
It means camping in the back yard.
It means assuming that it will totally work out if you take turns scuba diving while the other parent plays in the tide pools with the kids.
It’s attempting the 5km hike with your reluctant preschooler, running ahead along the trail to strategically place treats and treasures to keep her motivated.
It’s about trying to get out there. Trying to have adventures. Failing sometimes, but always trying.
It can be frustrating, especially to your former non-parent self, who just wants to go, to hike at a normal speed, to not worry about having the critical mass of Cheerios that can make the difference between happiness and an epic meltdown.
But I can assure you, frustrating though it might seem, it’s these experiences – even the failures – that grow your child’s love of adventure. It’s these experiences that shape your future as an adventuresome family, and that shape a childhood that is pure magic.