The Kid Question: How An Adventurer Decides to Become a Parent

How does a life of adventure without kids compare to a life of adventure with kids?

I just spent the week at the Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival, the annual gathering of adventurers, adrenaline junkies, mountain artists and authors up at The Banff Centre. Being a new parent, I entered this year’s festival with a very different outlook on what it means to lead an adventurous lifestyle. As I listened to people’s stories of epic climbs and expeditions, I was curious to know how these “real deal” adventurers felt about parenthood. Did they want to have children? Had they chosen not to? If they did have children, how were they able to balance life as a mother or father with their adventurous pursuits?

A few times this week I got a glimpse into how some of these adventurers have approached the topic of parenthood. Take, for example, these two juxtaposing approaches.

At this year’s Dirtbag Cafe, Canmore climber Nancy Hansen, who was the first woman to climb the Rockies’ 11,000ers, told the audience that ten years ago she felt she needed a new project. She told her husband either they should have a baby or she’d dedicate herself to completing the 50 Classic Climbs of North America. They chose the latter and, at 46/50, she’s well on her way.

On the flip-side, this week I had the chance to interview Canadian adventurer, writer and photographer, Bruce Kirkby, about adventure travel with kids. Bruce is widely recognized for his human powered expeditions to remote corners of the globe, (just check out his expedition list on Wiki) – a life passion he now shares with his kids. In 2011, Bruce took his wife and two boys, aged 10 months and 4 years, on an 80-day, horse-supported traverse of Republic of Georgia’s Caucasus Mountains. That ain’t no walk in the park.

I chose a life of adventure with a child. Photo Paul Zizka Photography.
I chose a life of adventure with a child. Photo Paul Zizka Photography.

There is no right or wrong approach here. Put simply, one adventurer chose a life of adventure without children; another chose a life of adventure with children. Each faced a crossroads – likely not something very cut-and-dried, but a crossroads all the same. I don’t think there is any escaping it. At one point or another, most serious adventurers – whether polar explorer, BASE jumper or climber – will consider whether or not children are worth adding to the mix (for some, even a relationship with a significant other may seem far-fetched).

Some people see children as the end of adventure, others see it as the beginning of a new kind. We can’t know what we can’t know, and we’ll never find out if the grass is greener on the other side. All we can do is commit to being 100% content with whichever choice we make – whether we’re holding tiny hands on a new trail or flaking out a rope on a big wall with no kids at home to think about. The point is, no matter which we choose, we can still be adventurous.

All that being said, as I wove these thoughts into my festival experience this year, I was affirmed in the original intent of this project. The Adventures in Parenthood Project exists to explore the transition of outdoor adventurers to parenthood. My hope is that it will provide outdoor adventurers with a glimpse into “the other side”, and hopefully a glimpse into the lives of people who chose not to have children as well. I know I had many questions about what that transition looked like prior to choosing to have Maya – and yes, it was a very intentional choice for my husband and me. Individually, we had to consider whether we wanted to complicate our lives of freedom, spontaneity and independence with a child. Individually we decided it was something we wanted.

Ultimately, we decided that the reason why we shouldn’t (life was super sweet as is) was also the reason why we should (we wanted a little person to shake things up for us). After hearing so much about how amazing it is to be parents, we wanted to be in on it, and we’re so glad we made the leap. It hasn’t always been easy, as I’ve written about many times, but we’re making it through. But I have also seen people really struggle to cope with the changes that come with parenthood. I have seen couples split up when one just couldn’t balance their life of adventure on the road with the responsibilities of family life.

I have also seen numerous mountain guides and other hardcore outdoor athletes wait until their late 30s and early 40s – until they felt they had really “lived it up” or gotten that last big trip out of their system – prior to having children. I felt the need to do that, too, but only needed to wait until the end of my 20s, after a big summer of climbing and nine weeks in Nepal. I felt it was better to introduce a kid to the mix early on before it became too difficult to make the transition.

Because having a child is no small change. It totally rocks your world. And guess what? It’s one of those rare decisions in life you truly can’t go back on.

I won’t lie; my heart raced a bit watching all that footage of adventure in far-flung places at the festival this week. It almost hurt to watch sometimes considering the stage I’m at with my daughter right now. But while she’s climbing a Pamper’s Box these days, I know there are many adventures to come. And the saying is true: you just can’t know how wonderfully life changing it is to love a child so deeply until you have one of your own.

The world is our oyster, and I can’t wait to grab that tiny hand and guide her there.

How about you? Is life too sweet as is to add kids? Are you feeling or did you feel the call of parenthood?


I’d love to hear more from outdoor adventurers who chose not to make the transition to parenthood, or who are waffling because of what that might entail. If you’re keen on sharing your perspective, please Contact Me

Read my interviews with adventurous parents.

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.

12 thoughts

  1. Great article!! We sort of stumbled into parenthood. Neither of us against it, yet happily living our adult lives. However, from the very rocky beginning our little one had, it has been one adventure after another. My kids are seven and four now and I work hard to keep them active and love the adventures we have with them now. Saying that, there has been very little in the way of big adventures for us since they came along, but that will slowly change again!! Although we are probably not as hardcore as most!!

    1. It’s so great to hear your perspective. It really is different for each person and each couple, and a lot of it depends on your kids, too! I’m glad to hear that you’re so dedicated to keeping them active – perhaps that’s the most important thing.

  2. For us the main force pulling against the idea of having a child was fear of the unknown. And what is more adventurous than embracing the unknown? 4.5 years of parenthood and 3 major expeditions later, I don’t regret it one bit. My kids have done more than most adults, and will only get more capable with time

    1. I have always been so inspired by how you have embraced adventure as a family. To think you’re only 4.5 years in and how much you’ll do with your kids as they become more and more capable!

  3. Just recently discovered this post. I love it! I always wanted to have children and knew that I wanted them to love the outdoors too. We just saw adding kids as a way of adding to the adventure. 12 years, 5 kids and we’re still out there! That said, I can completely understand why some are reluctant to add kids because it does change things and it’s not for everyone.

    1. Wow – 5, Shelley! You’re a courageous woman! I agree – children only add to the adventure. But they do change the nature of our adventures and, for many, the risks we’re willing to take outdoors as parents. I can imagine that’s a tough pill to swallow for some people.

      Thanks for reading!

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