Taking Risks Outdoors as Parents: Part 3

*This is the third post in a series on taking risks outdoors as parents. Read Part 1 and Part 2. 

Here’s the scenario I left you with in Part 2 of this series: Back in August my husband went on his first big trip since we had our daughter – an ascent of Mt. Robson, the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies. Prior to leaving he told me, “This trip could very well be about more than just climbing Mt. Robson. I’ll see how I feel about being disconnected from my wee family up there.”

I left you wondering how things went, and asked: Would he be able to separate himself from his emotions during the climb? Decide it is just too much for him right now, and give up on climbing big peaks for awhile?

Here’s the answer you’ve been waiting for: In the few weeks that followed his attempt on Mt. Robson (unfortunately his team was turned back high on the mountain due to softening snow across the bergschrund on the Kain Face), my husband climbed Quadra, Chimney, Chephren and Hungabee. Though it was still difficult to part from his family, Paul felt encouraged to keep pursuing his passions. He has always been a conservative climber when it comes to risk-taking, and while that approach can’t mitigate every hazard, I know that climbing is soul food for him and it’s important that he continues to do what he loves.

This is one of Paul's shots from his climb on Mt. Robson (those are his feet), which he called "Denied." This is his team looking at the summit after turning back on their climb. Photo by Paul Zizka Photography.
This is one of Paul’s shots from his climb on Mt. Robson (those are his feet), which he called “Denied.” This is his team looking at the summit after turning back on their climb. Photo by Paul Zizka Photography.

But that doesn’t mean things are remotely the same as before we became parents.

You can’t say things are the same when you come home to see crampons next to the pail of dirty baby clothes in the shower. 

You can’t say things are the same when you lie in your sleeping bag high on a mountain scrolling through photos of your baby. 

You can’t say things are the same when one parent is missing out on the climb and it used to be something you always did together. 

Still, Paul realized he may not do as much in the mountains as before, but he still wanted to climb. That’s an important thing to have figured out. As for me, I’m quite undecided. Part of me is curious to know how I’d feel tackling a riskier climb again, while some of it also seems quite unfathomable considering I haven’t spent more than two hours away from my daughter since she was born. But, I did have the chance to do some easy sport climbing back in August and just feeling the rock under my fingers sent shivers down my spine. A mix of fear, excitement and “ah, there’s that feeling again!” washed over me. I felt it again – even though I was also feeling totally chicken on a 5.6 (many thanks to my best friends down below shouting encouraging words my way).

Ultimately, what I’ve learned is that this whole business of taking risks as parents is a process, and that it will constantly evolve. Like many things about parenting, what seems unfathomable at first suddenly becomes totally feasible. I couldn’t imagine hiking 11km to a backcountry lodge when my daughter was a newborn, but that’s exactly what we did last week when she reached the six month mark. So, who knows where I’ll be a year from now, and what my perspective on risk-taking will look like.

But, right now it’s not that important to me. My focus is on being a great mama and spending time outdoors as a family. I think I’ll know when the mountains are beckoning me back into the vertical world.

Paul and Maya share a moment at Boulder Pass en route to Skoki Lodge. Photo by Meghan J. Ward.
Paul and Maya share a moment at Boulder Pass en route to Skoki Lodge. Photo by Meghan J. Ward.

I’m curious to hear from you: Where do you think the line is between doing what we love and being responsible as parents? Please comment below!

What do other bloggers have to say about taking risks outdoors as parents?

When the mountains throw your mortality in your face…, kidproject.org

What if we hadn’t gotten off that peak? What if someone had fallen? What if we’d never chosen to go in the first place? What we took a different gully off the summit? What if??

Shelf Road Rerun, rocksandsun.com

What a stupid sport – we risk our lives scaling little bits of rock. Climbing to the top of some pre-determined route and then being lowered off. What’s the point? Why am I doing this? Why put my life, and the lives of those I love, on the line – for this?

Should Parents Take Life Threatening Risks?, bring-the-kids.com

Must an adventure be life threatening to be worthwhile?

A Perspective on Risk Taking, cragmama.com

“Do you take less risks in climbing now that you’re a mom?” If I had a dollar for every time someone has asked me this since Cragbaby entered on the scene…well let’s face it, I wouldn’t be rich, but I would definitely be able to buy more $4 frappucinnos at Starbucks!

Should Parents Take Risks?, biggreyrocks.com

Having kids makes you think carefully about the risks you take. A bad day in the mountains won’t just affect me, it’ll affect them. Is it worth it?

My Adventurous Ways Have Changed, adventuretykes.com

Now that I’m a mom those risk taking endeavors have come to a complete halt. I think about caring for J-Man with a broken arm or heaven forbid something worse happening to me.

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.

11 thoughts

  1. In answer to your question, I think you hit the nail on the head: that line between personal draw to adventure and personal responsibility is intensely personal — but it is to people without kids too. Everyone feels and treats risk differently. I’ve essentially stopped backcountry skiing since my kids were born; my husband still goes out occasionally. Thanks for a good, simple analysis of a tricky topic.

    1. Thanks for your response, Catherine. I just went and read all your blogs (keep writing!). I find it so helpful to put these ideas out there to see what comes back. This whole project has generated a fabulous discussion and helped me to open my eyes to other possibilities and ways of looking at things.

      Risk comes with a broad spectrum and where we place ourselves on that spectrum is really up to the individual. Still, it helps to hear other people’s stories so that we have more clarity figuring out for ourselves where that line is. I also just go by instinct. Often our gut tells us what we really need to know.

  2. Meghan, this has been a great series of posts. The line is going to be different for each person but you have to make sure you are being true to yourself and not changing who you are. For me, I can’t give up cycling because it’s part of me and I get really cranky without it.

    It might be a little selfish to keep doing my own activity, but my kids are old enough now to go on rides with me. Plus, I want them to see me as an example of someone doing what they love to do so they realize they can do what they truly enjoy.

    1. Thanks, Andy. I really (really!) appreciate your feedback, and thanks so much for following the posts. It has been an interesting journey, and I know it is never over.

      There are certain, much less risky activities, that I definitely haven’t given up since I became a mom (such as hiking and…writing!). I have to recognize that plays a role in the conversation here. I’ll continue to wrestle with the idea of taking more risks as opportunities present themselves (ie. I have the time and desire to tackle bigger objectives again).

      Thanks again for reading and for your support!

  3. Thanks for this series. With three young kids, my wife and I think about these questions a lot. She’s an three-time Ironman and I’m a solo backcountry hiker. Struggling with what’s right and what’s responsible is the hardest part for us. Also hard for me is being out of touch for days at a time while on the trail. It’s reassuring to know we’re not alone!

    1. Thanks, Paul. With regards to being out of touch for days at a time…while this is totally desirable at times, I know that my husband and I prefer to be able to be in touch. Have you ever seen the Delorme InReach? It allows you to send and receive messages and can be tethered to an iPhone to send custom texts and all use as a satellite phone in an emergency. I find it reassuring to get texts from my husband no matter where he is and also to be able to send them his way as well. Worth looking into! http://www.inreachdelorme.com/

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