Before becoming a mom, I didn’t like to think about the possibility of taking a break from rock climbing goals and pushing my limits, or staying at home to take care of a baby while my husband climbed ever-higher mountains without me. Before I became pregnant, my expectation was to continue to get outside after having a child; but, as driven as I am, and as supportive as my husband is, I also knew I would change.
My son is now 18-months-old. Certainly in the first throes of motherhood I recall a few uninvited external voices that made me nervous about how to balance motherhood and an outdoor life. While the strength and influence of such voices varies in different communities, I know I’m not alone.
A lot of women hear that if we are moms, we are going to have to sit it out when it comes to adventure. We hear how dangerous or inconvenient it is to include our kids in being outside, or that our changed bodies and new priorities will keep us otherwise occupied. Even if a woman has silenced the voice saying that she will be too busy or too out of shape after giving birth to get back on the rock, another voice might whisper that the effort of dragging kids up a mountain is too much to overcome. I even believed that I’d lose acceptance or respect in my mountaineering community if I stayed away from climbing too long.
Friends who are moms and climbers have told me their own version of a similar story. But we agree that despite the changes that come with kids, we still have a need for our outdoor life and to bring our children along with us. Those things have a stronger pull than any hang-ups those external voices could utter.
I asked a friend, Lindsey, who has an 18-month-old daughter, Olivia, what has changed in her relationship to the outdoors. “We can’t just go climbing with only the two of us (referring to her husband, John) without a third person. There are a lot fewer after-work-weekday-climbs, but we still go. And, we have amazing climbing partners [who help with Olivia] when we’re out.”
Of course getting out to climb is not always free of challenge. She says sometimes on a weekend she and her husband bring their daughter to a crag, and they might only get a couple of routes in before they have to head home for nap times or other needs. Still, together, the family has accomplished an 18 -mile backpacking trip in the Enchantments, and plenty more. Lindsey says taking Olivia with them is creating a strong sense of family and trust in each other. She hopes it will help her daughter build confidence and joy in the outdoors too. When she is out with her daughter, the goals are not as “epic” as they used to be, but she “experiences the little things more,” and says it’s always worth the effort.
Another friend, Jen, has a three-year-old, an almost two-year-old, and another one on the way. She says she gets out to run and hike but has found some challenges with backpacking and climbing. While her kids love being outside, when they were younger they were not happy in backpacks or long car rides to get to climbs. For a while she and her husband wondered if they were “doing it wrong.” But they make it work. Sticking to local, short hikes with their kids and getting out on runs by herself has been her way of connecting with her outdoor life.
For me, a poignant moment with Caleb happened just this spring. We had been stuck inside for almost two weeks with a cold. I couldn’t stand being in the house anymore so I strapped Caleb to my back and headed down a trail behind our neighborhood that leads to the Spokane River.
I could hear him babbling along as we walked, and when I glanced over my shoulder I could see him reaching out to touch flowers or gangly weeds. Then, he stopped babbling as we saw a robin fly above us and perch on a branch nearby. In almost a whisper, he uttered “bir..bir…” in what may have been his first word in which he truly knew the meaning.
These days have been quieter physically since my son was born, but I have been struck by how grateful I feel when I’m climbing, hiking, or running. I’m more aware of spontaneous beauty and the people I’m with—the things that called me outside in the first place, even if it takes more planning, even if I don’t always get as far as I could on my own. // (Meredith Jeffries)
Meredith Jeffries is a writer, climber, hiker, and mom. Most days, you can catch her around Spokane on the trail, or with her nose in a book. This is her first article for Out There.
[Feature photo: Caleb’s first ice climb in North Idaho // Matt Jeffries]
For more ideas on recreating with kids, check out Amy S. McCaffree’s column, Out There Kids.