1. Listen. Kids talk on the trail.
My three sons are in general not talkers. The parenting method of “Hey, son, let’s gather on the couch and talk about what’s going on in your life” does not work for me. They would regurgitate their muffin breakfast and run.
But when my boys get out on the trail and relax, their mouths move. Recently I heard “I want to hike the PCT when I’m done with college.” Don’t zone out. Take advantage of their flapping lips and you will may get valuable insight into what’s going on with them.
2. Hiking is not convenient. But neither is parenting.
It took an hour and a half to get to our last family hike. We drove our small Prius. My husband and I sat in the front seats and our three oversized sons crammed into the back. Our dog Brownie sat on my oldest son’s lap and shed hair. It wasn’t long before every spoken sentence began to grate on our nerves and we started to find fault in each other. I sighed and said, “Let’s not fault-find. Let’s only look for the good in each other.” I immediately thought, “I sound like Mary Poppins.” I turned on the radio as a distraction, but that added to the chaos. I pushed it off. Someone whined, “It’s too hot.”
We traveled a total of three uncomfortable hours to hike approximately four miles. It was four miles through pristine forest which ran along a small, carved basalt canyon to a three-tiered, roaring waterfall. Was it convenient? No. But it was worth it.
3. Allow your child to school you.
On a recent hike, my oldest son and I stood next to a waterfall. Water droplets sprayed over us. Small, yellow wildflowers cascaded over the top of the three-tier waterfall located in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. Just beyond the falls, moss grew within crevices of a monolithic wall of rock. We stood in silence for a time, until I broke it by asking, “Son, how do you think I would describe this in writing?”
He paused, then turned to address me, “Mom, just enjoy the moment. You will not be able to put this experience in writing.”
4. Don’t ever be an obnoxious helicopter parent.
We lived in New York when my oldest son was a toddler. I would take him to the park and watch suburban parents say things like “We don’t ever climb up the slide. We only slide down it.” Besides hitting and biting, I had no idea there were unspoken “playground rules” until I became a parent. I thought you went to the playground to have fun and play, any way you wanted.
Forget any unspoken trail rules you think their might be. When you hike, give your kids the freedom to explore. Allow them to run across fallen trees. Encourage them to splash in the stream — clothes dry. Allow them to pee in the woods. Hiking should be an adventure. So allow it to be.
5. Sibling disputes don’t magically disappear just because you happen to be on a trail.
On a recent nature walk, I snapped a phone pic of my sons punching each other. These punches were not love taps. They were full on fist swings — in public, and on the trail. In the photo, you see my husband meandering along behind my sons ignoring the whole thing. I posted the photo to Facebook. One mother said, “My boys call this ‘game’ Punchies.” Another mother said, “I love this! What memories.”
Accept the inevitable: there will be some fighting. Sure, it’s stressful as a parent, but get over it. If your kids do not fight during a family hike, write a book, because I sure as hell want to know how you did it.
6. Every hike does not need to be on Instagram.
I gram. I gram hikes. But I do not hike to gram. Put down your blasted phone. Take a photo or two, then slide it into your backpack and forget about it. Digital-detoxing fosters creativity and strengthens attention span. Give yourself and your kids time away from screens and start looking up at the nature surrounding you.
7. There will be a day when your kid will watch over you on the trail.
On a recent family hike, I wandered off in search of a better view of a waterfall. I was hiking along an unstable, cliffside trail and thought I was alone, until I heard a noise. I turned and my college-age son was following behind me in stealth mode. I smiled and continued on.
One day your kid will be old enough to watch over you. Let them. Let them, when you are puking on misery trail at Smith Rock. Let them, when they want to drive because you swerve all over the road looking at the scenery. Let them, when they follow behind you in stealth mode on a cliffside. You have spent years watching over them. Grant them the privilege of watching over you, and acknowledge that you have raised a great kid.