Lowering Expectations and Setting New Goals as an Outdoor Family

You can look at it as comical, a “learning experience”, or just downright frustrating. No matter who you look at it, it seems we’ve reached one of the toughest stages as an outdoor family: getting out in winter conditions with a 22-month-old. If Maya’s favourite phrases these days are any indication (I do it. I walk. I don’t want to. No.), we’ve gotten about as far as the curb in front of our house and the “adventure” is already over.

Somehow skating on the Bow River turned into pulling dad on the sled. Photo Meghan J. Ward.
Somehow skating on the Bow River turned into pulling dad on the sled. Photo Meghan J. Ward.

I reached out to other outdoorsy parents for advice, but nothing particularly helped the situation. Duct tape won’t solve the mitten issue because she doesn’t want them on in the first place. She won’t sleep outside. And it’s not even a matter of ‘building character’ at this point. This kid just doesn’t want to be constrained in a Chariot (goodbye walking), strapped in a pulk (goodbye skiing), or sitting on a sled (goodbye skating). It’s just not worth the kicking and screaming. I won’t enjoy myself if everything is a battle.

Alyssa from KidProject.org reminded me to take the long view and that the hardest years when it comes to the outdoors is ages 2-3.

The good news is: this stage will end at some point. The bad news is: this stage has not yet ended. I am longing for some care-free outdoor time with my little girl that also lets me be active, get a sweat on, and enjoy some scenery. But I am learning to accept that I’ll just have to wait a bit longer before those family adventures make a return.

Ice skating turned ice walk. Oh well. Photo Meghan J. Ward.
Ice skating turned ice walk. Oh well. Photo Meghan J. Ward.

This morning I set a small, simple goal for us: to spend time outdoors. That was it. No plans, no skating, no sled, no destination, no time allotment, no agenda. And, you know? It worked. She happily rode in the LittleLife backpack (yay – victory!), and we made our way to the ice playground at Banff Central Park. We had the place to ourselves at 9 a.m., and spent an hour exploring, playing, climbing and sliding. I let Maya lead, and froze my buns off sliding again and again down that icy ramp. I laughed a lot, enjoyed my little girl’s company and, for the first time in awhile, felt entirely care-free.

Playing in the ice tunnel at Banff's Central Park. Photo Meghan J. Ward.
Playing in the ice tunnel at Banff’s Central Park. Photo Meghan J. Ward.

If you’re in the same stage as us, my only words of advice are to just surrender to it. I used to think it was a matter of will and determination – that it’s up to the parents to make it happen. But now a lot depends on what Maya wants to do, too. My daughter’s strong sense of independence and drive will serve her well in the future. For now, I need to work with it, empower her, and give her the feeling that she’s accomplishing something on her own.

I miss the days when I could pull Maya behind me, which makes me thankful for all the ski trips and skating we did when that was possible. Maybe someday I’ll miss this stage, too – when my kid toddles around awkwardly in a lumpy snowsuit, when she gets snow down her cuffs and bursts into tears, when any wind is too cold for her…

OK, maybe I won’t. 🙂

Read more about it:

When Adventure (As We Know It) Isn’t Working by Amelia, Tales of a Mountain Mama

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.

24 thoughts

  1. Yes… children are moving targets. Just when we find a comfortable rhythm as parents, they switch things up on us!

    Now in the teen/tween years, I face different challenges keeping the outdoors in their lives but hopefully all of our time together outside laid the groundwork for it to be a priority to them after we get through this stage of resisting it…

    1. Moving targets…a good description! I anticipate there will be new challenges with each stage. I suppose some of the ones I’m facing now are so frustrating because even the most straightforward of things become complicated!

  2. I feel your pain! My issue is a bit different; I have four children who are 7, 5, 4, and 1. Trying to find something that works for all of them is tough. Often we end up at a local playground as well as it offers something for all of them. One day we will be more adventurous again.

    I’d love to know more about an ice playground in Banff- as I’ve never heard of it.

    1. Wow – you have got my every admiration, Christina – four kids under 7! And I’m struggling with one. 🙂

      The ice playground is installed during Snow Days, a winter festival in Banff. It’s just a little park with a tunnel, slide and some other features. Nothing major! Lake Louise, on the other hand, has some incredible displays during the Ice Magic International Ice Carving Festival!

  3. I had a wonderful time nordic skiing with my five month old today. She is so mellow in the front pack now, but I know other things are ahead. Good job empowering your little girl. Who knows, maybe if she gets to pick the activity sometimes, she will warm back up to being pulled.

    1. It’s true. I shouldn’t impose too much – I need her to just enjoy being outside even if it’s cold and wet. She needs to feel comfortable in that environment! And my idea of sitting on a sled whipping around on a rink seems fun enough, but maybe not to her. Oh, to have those ‘mellow’ days back! This is the core of parenthood… 🙂

  4. It sounds fun to me too! From what I remember from childhood, I loved it when my dad pulled me in a sled. And I think I was jealous of my little sisters when they got to ride in the bike trailer and I was too big. A friend with teenagers told me that she used to have a special toy box that she only brought out for bike trailer rides. But the control issue is a big deal at two, from what I hear, and it sounds like she just wants the chance to explore on her own for a while. 🙂

  5. Beautifully written. My guys are so much older, now.. it’s almost hard to remember the realities of this age group. Each stage of parenting, just like each stage of childhood, has many trials and triumphs for us to learn from. 🙂

    1. That’s what I’ve gathered – that it’s hard to even remember what these stages are like. I’m already having a hard time relating to parents with a newborn! Parenting really is the ultimate adventure. 🙂

  6. Great story. Looking back from a little ahead of you, I’d say that the “enjoying scenery together” gets easier, but the “getting exercise at the same time” only gets worse. 3 and 4 and 5 year olds are much much better at moving around by themselves in the snow. They can ski, hike, snowshoe, skate…But much heavier. Unwilling to be pulled. SLOW. I can still pull mine in the bike to get somewhere, but when we’re exploring the outdoors, I wear more clothing and deal with the poky speed. Better to make an exercise routine for yourself without her and get in the habit now — I really haven’t found another way. (unless it’s walking at kid speed with a gigantic pack on)

    1. Thanks, Erin! So my suspicions have been confirmed – thank you! I will work harder at establishing an outdoor activity routine for myself – I guess gone are the days of having it all (ie. hiking with a kid in the snuggly!) I appreciate your wisdom!

  7. Reblogged this on Adventure with Alex and commented:
    Another great post from AdventurousParents.com. While I won’t have much time this winter to post new content to Adventure With Alex I will reblog great posts like this one from time to time to keep AwA from gathering too much dust!

  8. Oh my goodness YES! We are in the same phase…actually, I hate to break it to you, but we’re finding it a bit more acute at age 3. I agree: surrender is key, and “adventure” almost always includes getting out the door, and not always very much more than that. It’s a tough time, for sure. The one wonderful thing I’ve been consciously trying to do for the last year or so is to talk about “going on adventures” with ridiculous enthusiasm, and following up by taking A on “a-ventures!” that she finds truly fun. At the very least, she has a keen sense of what it is to value adventure, and that it always brings with it a bit of the unexpected and a ton of fun.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.