The Transition to Parenthood: 5 Things I Didn’t Consider

“There’s nothing that can’t be done; it just takes more planning and preparation.”

This is what one parent told me about the challenges involved in getting outdoors as a new parent. For the most part, I have found this advice to be true. With enough planning I am able to get out on small adventures (a hike, paddle, walk, cragging or camping), mostly by bringing my little bambino with me. Spending time outdoors is something I have been committed to from the get-go, both to fuel my personal passion and introduce my daughter to Mama Nature at a young age.

But there are things I just couldn’t have anticipated in becoming a new parent, or that no one told me could have an impact on my ability to take my baby on little adventures outdoors (let alone clean my kitchen, cut my toenails or get work contracts done).

Raising an Outdoorsy Baby. Photo by Paul Zizka Photography.
Raising an Outdoorsy Baby. Photo by Paul Zizka Photography.

These factors aren’t meant to be deterrents. On the contrary, I hope I can shed some light on things I didn’t take into consideration so that other new parents can be more prepared than I was. And it’s worth noting that, as I’ll mention below, no parent/child relationship is the same to any other, so some of this may not apply to you at all. It’s just my experience, so glean from it what you will.

For those of you looking for more “How To” articles on getting outdoors with your family, you’ll find that here under Resources.

5 Things I Didn’t Consider (and what I did about it)

1. My Parenting Experience is 100% Unique: This factor pretty much sums it all up, and envelops the others. I can look at what other outdoorsy parents are doing, be inspired or intimidated by the mamas who seem to “bounce back” shortly after birth, and wonder how some ever pull off heading out for a full, kid-free day in the outdoors, but there’s really no use. I did that at first, then realized that my experience is unique, and hey, I don’t want to be away from my daughter that much in these first few months anyways! I’d rather bring her with me, even if that means simplifying our outings.

2. Parenting Style is Everything: This isn’t about right and wrong ways to parent; it’s about doing what feels right for you. For a while I got caught up in what I ‘should’ be doing, and always felt like I was one step behind. But things like sleep-training and parent-directed feeding just didn’t jive with me. Now I have embraced my personal “go with the flow” style. This allows me to provide my daughter with what she needs without fixing every routine to a predictable format or place. For instance, I’ll put her on the bed to nap when we’re home, but if I’d like to go hiking, I plan my trips around her naps so that she can sleep on the go.

3. Postpartum Recovery Takes Time: Going into my own post-delivery experience, the only things I really heard people talk about were severe postpartum depression and a bit about postpartum pain relief. I didn’t have an accurate picture of just how much time it takes to truly recover. Pregnancy takes a huge toll on the body. Birthing a baby is empowering, yet very demanding. On top of it all, you must care for a newborn and get to know your post-baby body. I never considered just how much discomfort I would experience after giving birth – something that greatly varies from woman to woman. Even now, six months later, hiking is hard on my joints, and my back is a tangle of knots with the physical demands of motherhood. I still get out to play outdoors, but it’s pretty taxing on my body. Sometimes I don’t feel like it because I’m just so darn tired. I have had to learn how to be more gentle with myself and lower my expectations. Above all that, I have mourned the loss of my previous identity. Yes, there’s no denying that. I miss my old life, and while I have gained so much and would never, ever want to go back to the way things were, I need to let those feelings wash over me from time to time.

4. Help Really Does Make Things Easier: There were times in the first few months where I would have 15 minutes of free time and had to choose between showering, brushing my teeth, eating, and changing out of my pyjamas. If I waited too long to decide, my 15 minutes would be gone. Add to that laundry, getting food prepped for dinner, work contracts and trying to squeeze in a run or a yoga practice. My husband helps out as much as he can, but he is also trying to balance a demanding work schedule with family life. With no grandparents or other family close-by on a weekly basis (the kind of help you don’t have to ask for!), I have had to enlist friends to take Maya for weekly walks (they gladly help). This has been a life-saver. I can get the chores out of the way, which frees up my time to go on more involved outdoor adventures with the kiddo.

5. Babies Really Do Come with Little Personalities: If I had to describe my daughter’s personality in one word, I would have to say “spirited.” I’m also getting a bit of a taste of my own medicine, as it seems I have passed on my strong will and determination. For a long time, she hated the car seat if she was awake, making it tricky to drive to trailheads if I wanted to go on a more substantial hike. She also rejected the bottle early on (we have yet to try again), so mama is on-call every hour and a half. She is easier to reason with now that she is a bit older. But in those first few months, my thought process was this: in her little world, everything makes sense, even if there was no rhyme or reason to it! I fully embrace her little personality and just work with it. Thankfully, she loves the outdoors and just feels so at home there. That’s good news for me.

This is all just the tip of the iceberg, but at least provides a window into the factors that can affect a parent’s quest for balance, no matter what his or her passions are.

What did you overlook or fail to consider in your own transition to parenthood? What did you do about it?

Check out Mistaya’s Logbook for updates on our outdoor adventures and follow me on Instagram!

Author: Meghan J. Ward

Meghan J. Ward is an outdoor, travel and adventure writer based in Banff, Canada, and a Fellow of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society. Meghan has written several books, as well as produced content for films, anthologies, blogs and some of North America’s top outdoor, fitness and adventure publications. She has a forthcoming travel memoir (Fall 2022), to published by Rocky Mountain Books.

27 thoughts

  1. I think I was really hopeful and optimistic about the post-partum period, and pretty much had all of that come crashing down on my head. I’ve done plenty of really hard things in my life, but nothing so hard as those first six months with a new (OMG “spirited”, yes) baby. And you know it will be hard, and you know your life is going to change, but there’s still trauma in that. I don’t think that’s a sign of weakness or unpreparedness. It’s just hard. It’s hard for everybody. Anyway, I think this mama really hit the nail on the head for me…

    1. Kate, you gave me a kick in the rear to actually add the tidbit I had left out of #3. Someday I’ll write about it more thoroughly – about the process of mourning the loss of my previous identity – but for now I have at least added something to this post that I didn’t want to get into before.

      Thanks for the link to that article. I kept hearing myself say “yes!” as I read. It is so beautifully written, and something every new mama should read. It does hurt sometimes to think about what we’ve given up and how we can never go back. Parenting was not meant to be easy, but as that blog author mentions, we tend to water down just how hard it is. That was what I was trying to get at when I mentioned the kind of conversation I experienced around the postpartum. Her article really puts it as it is.

  2. I have a capital S-P-I-R-I-T-E-D child and outdoors is the only way I’ve learned to handle him. Your daughter sounds like my son when he was an infant, never could get him on the bottle…I had to be on call all the time. Took him 3 years to stay at Sunday School at church. But once we were able to figure out how to being outdoors with our son, it was a relief from him spirited-ness!

    Pregnancy is hard on the body, my youngest is turning two in two weeks and my hips and sciatica are still the first things that hurt when hiking long periods. I was more cautious with my first in the outdoors but when my daughter came around she forced me to let her “be” in the outdoors.

    1. My little one also loves the outdoors (hooray!). I think that connecting her with the Earth helps keep her, well, grounded!

      As you mention, there is something to be said for being cautious about our re-entry into outdoor activities. I know I pushed it at times. I don’t know if that was just my personal drive or feeling the need to live up to my old self, or what. I would encourage other women to be more gentle with their post-baby bodies!

  3. The one you left out is the one you’re too early to see (and I’m almost too early to see): It gets easier. I could go farther in a day with a single infant on my back than I can now (with a 2.5 yr old and 4.5 year old). But my two preschoolers are great hikers and avid outdoor explorers, and they can talk to me rather than scream their objections, have independent locomotion, don’t wear diapers, etc… On balance, I think the low point in our ability to get out was with an 8 month old and 2.5 year old. Now, it just keeps getting better. I’ve heard from other parents that they can eventually put all their own clothes on! And even help set up camp!

    1. This is something important to keep in mind. I’ll probably look back on these days as the ‘glory days!’ I have heard that things get trickier when they are too heavy to be carried but too small to walk very far. Ah, everything is a season, isn’t it? As parents we really just have to meet our little ones where they are at and appreciate each stage.

  4. I want to second Erin. My girls are 9 and 12 and they love to hike, ski, sail, etc…What you are doing now is the foundation of what is to come. Take one day at a time and enjoy it. The days are long, but the years are short. It goes by so fast!

  5. Love this! One thing to add. . . something I didn’t consider with regard to the changes that come about with kids, “changing expectations” for a “good” day. My new expectations include no tears, and good family together time, with one successful climb (insert activity here).

    1. Absolutely, Laura. I have definitely redefined my idea of a ‘successful’ hike. I no longer consider the end of the trail to be the objective. I simply want to get out there! I actually have a whole post in mind about just that. I’m normally an adamant ‘thru’ hiker, and have had to be OK with just doing portions of trails this summer!

  6. For the most part I agree with you! I had trouble coming to terms with my “new body” that felt oh so old. And as an encouragement all that back and shoulder pain? I felt more of it go away when I was done nursing. I think holding them in that position for so many hrs a day is way more awkward and taxing on our muscles/posture than we think.

    Like Ken, I also believed everyone who said my adventures needed to end. You asked how he broke away from that. Here are a few posts I’ve written on my journey:
    and the follow up to that post:

    1. Thanks for the links, Alyssa. I’d be curious to know which parts you don’t agree with. I know we all have our different experiences, but there’s a lot I can probably learn from yours! I do hope the shoulder and back pain goes away when I’m done nursing. I agree it puts a lot of strain, then again so does carrying a baby!

  7. Don’t give up yet on the bottle with Maya. I had a baby in late May and he, too, rejected the bottle – more than once. We were flooded out of our home when he was between 4-6 weeks of age, so we missed that crucial period when “experts” say you should introduce the bottle. A few weeks ago, I mentioned to our post-partum doula that we had not had any luck with bottle feeding and had given up. She told us not to give up and recommended that we purchase a particular bottle (the Playtex Vent Air). She then came over and worked with my husband on bottle feeding, while I went to get my hair cut and made myself scarce. While I was gone, she showed my husband how to hold the bottle and our son to feed him, how far in to push the bottle and which part of his upper palate to simulate with the bottle nipple in order to trigger his sucking reflex. Our little guy ended up gobbling up 3 ounces of milk, which was unprecedented, and my husband felt a huge sense of accomplishment at being able to feed our son. Our baby is almost 4 months and the last time we tried to bottle feed him (unsuccessfully) was at 2 months. I am thrilled that my husband can now feed him and free me up to go for a long bike ride or a visit to the gym. Also, I wanted to add that I’ve really enjoyed your posts on hiking and camping with a baby. Your camping posts inspired us to take our little guy for a camping trip to Mount Fernie Provincial Park last month. It was car camping, rather than back country camping, but it was still camping!

    1. Vas, thanks so much for your encouragement! In the past few weeks we have started to re-introduce the bottle. Maya likes to bite down on it rather than suck, but at least she’s taking to it, and eventually she’ll figure it out! We have also started solids this past week, so that will open up some more possibilities for my husband to feed her. Now to figure out nap time…

      I’m glad you have enjoyed the hiking and camping posts, and it’s music to my ears that it inspired you to take your little guy out camping. Our first time with Maya was car camping, too. We are about to head on our first backcountry trip next week. Should be interesting!

      Keep in touch!

  8. I totally get you on #1 and #3. I have a hard time not comparing myself to others. I see or read things (facebook, blogs, whatever) showing women who are still super athletic and doing big things after having a baby, and I know I shouldn’t, but I think “How do they DO that?” I try not to beat myself up for being “out of shape” but it is hard. My normal not-a-lot-of-time workout is running, and running is fairly miserable these days. For one, I get annoyed at being whooped after a 20 minute run, and two, the bouncing and jarring is just no good on my joints and my bladder! 🙂 One part of me longs to get out on hikes with him but the other part is just as content hanging out at home with him.

    But for better or worse, I think overall I’m surprised that I’m still doing the things I’m doing. I had heard so much of “Everything is going to be different” and “You’ll never get to do anything again” that so far I’m pleasantly surprised at what I can still do.

    I like the idea of getting friends to help out with walks. I don’t have any family here and I can see how an hour or two of “free” time would help my efficiency in doing the stuff I don’t really like doing. I guess that is one of the things I didn’t really forsee: how much multitasking goes into it. Even dishes and laundry seems to take longer because I don’t ever focus 100% on what I’m doing anymore–unless that focus is on my baby, then it can easily be 100%!

    And I do miss some of things I used to do, like blogging or taking photos, or being more social. I expected it, but now I feel a little guilty doing anything “fun”–anything that isn’t baby or work related seems soooo luxurious. But that is not a good healthy attitude either. I figure I’ll slowly get better at balancing things…

    1. Thanks for your input, Dani! It’s all a process, isn’t it? Things change rather quickly as the baby develops and becomes more independent. I know we’ve made some progress here with finding more balance in our household. We just had to be patient.

  9. Have you considered skipping the bottle and going straight to a (sippy) cup? Both our kids started drinking pumped breast milk from a sippy cup at about 8 months old, starting once/day and then gradually blending in milk until they’d drink a small cup or two of milk each day by age 1 (not sure what the current school of thought is re: when it’s OK to introduce milk). Starting with a cup rather than a bottle means one less transition down the road. And starting with pumped milk – a familiar taste – seemed to help them accept an alternate way of drinking.

    Except for short walks we pretty much gave up on outdoor adventures for a few years after our first son was born, until our youngest was 3 1/2 years old. I really admire your determination and success in continuing to pursue your outdoor passions with such a little one.

    1. Thanks GeoKs – all great suggestions! Our little one is now 16 months (this is an old post!) and didn’t really take to ANY bottle or sippy cup until about 9-10 months. We eventually found a bottle/sippy cup from Comotomo and that was the chosen one so we stick with it when we’re on the go. The next step is getting her to drink from a cup without spilling but she’s still keen on drinking from a cup.

  10. These are wonderful words to read as a new mom, a week into my first daughter’s life. Add to this her current NICU stay and there’s a different level of complexity to this new mom thing. Staying calm, going easy on myself (and my husband), asking for help, and taking each moment, challenge and victory at a time are vital. Thank you for your wonderful, insightful writing.

    1. Thanks for writing, Michelle. I’m sorry to hear you are going through some extra challenges. I’m glad you find these words helpful. It reassures me to keep sharing, too.

  11. This article is just what I needed to read today- a wet winter’s day when I know it’s snowing up the hill, perfect for a snowshoe but also perfect for me to rest with a two month old napping on my lap.
    I absolutely adore my daughter but there was something about jumping up and going on an adventure, when now it takes much more planning with half the distance. I’m so excited to teach her about the world around her, and year by year our distance will grow… But for now I must rest, which is hard to do.

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