I've seen it a few times on social media: An outdoorsy couple posts their exciting news, "We're having a baby!" followed by, "We can't wait to take our little one on outdoor adventures!" I applaud those parents, because anyone that makes plans to introduce their kids to the outdoors at a young age is already doing something right in my book. I do have to add that taking kids hunting, fishing, or camping is not exactly as it may appear online. While it is encouraging for new parents to see others hunting with a baby or a family camping in a remote location on their Instagram feed, there is much, MUCH more to it than that. Being an outdoorsy mom to two kids, I'm happy to share a few things that I've learned about being an outdoorsy parent. Here are three things all outdoorspeople should know before having kids.
1. Adapt It to Them
The big thing here is that you'll need to learn how to adapt your outdoor experiences to fit your child's needs. Whether you realize it or not, kids change you. When I first became a mom, my life view shifted. My kids became my entire world. I'm not saying that parents shouldn't take time for themselves to enjoy the outdoors, but when you're including your kids, it comes at the cost of adapting your outdoor experiences. And it's a price I'm willing to pay, every single time.
Adapting outdoor experiences for kids may look different for different people. Maybe you're hunting in a blind rather than a treestand to eliminate fall risks. Perhaps you're packing extra snacks, toys, books, a play pen, or other gear you never thought you'd bring in the field or on the water. Maybe you're even ending an outdoor excursion earlier than you'd hoped if they've had enough. The pace of your hikes will be slower and shorter with little legs. Camping trips may be centered more around swimming than fishing. The list goes on, because in a child's eyes, time spent outdoors might be more about collecting pine cones than hiking to a scenic overlook, or catching a cute little sunfish rather than targeting a monster walleye.
2. Prepare Like You Never Have Before
Let me just start by saying, it takes WAY longer to prepare kids to go on outdoor adventures than it does to go alone. For example, my husband and I took our baby and toddler ice fishing this winter. Just to name a few things, we packed a lunch, a playpen to keep our baby contained, several foam squares to place on the ice to keep the kids dry, toys, and all of our fishing gear. I'll admit, this took hours of preparation while wrangling little ones at the same time.
Planning around nap times is also a key component to successful outdoor experiences. Can your child nap anywhere? If you're hunting, would they nap in a blind or would you need to call it quits? Is there somewhere to nap in the shade on the boat? For our ice fishing day, our son was able to safely and peacefully nap in the playpen we put on the ice. We were sure to use the foam squares and a warm sleep sack so he would be comfortable. Each child is different and has different needs based on their age and development. As the parent, you'll need to think through your child's needs and how you can prepare for it on your adventures.
Also, if you want to go hunting without your kids to really attempt to really meet the objectives you're preserving, what does that look like? Do you have a partner you could trade off duties with? Do you have a reliable family member to babysit? While it is great to take your kids on every single hunting or fishing adventure, it can also be nice to have a little hunting or fishing time to yourself. Can you make that happen? You might need to adapt some more if not.
3. Change Your Outdoor Goals
You may not want to hear that, but it's true. Remember the story I shared about going ice fishing with my kids? Well, the amount of actual fishing that happened that day was about one whole hour. We arrived, set up, made macaroni on our jet boiler for lunch and then put the baby down for a nap. My two-year-old decided she wanted to go sledding, so my husband took her while I stayed in the shanty and fished quietly while our son napped. And you know what? The day was a complete success.
Before having kids I would have thought it was insane to put in that much work for an hour of fishing without catching anything. But that day, I was proud that we made it out and the kids were happy. My goal wasn't to hit some personal best fishing record. My goal was to include my kids on an ice fishing outing and make some memories along the way. And that's exactly what we did.