If you’re a working mama you’ve likely felt the tension between focusing on your career and spending time with your kids. We dream of having an adventurous outdoor lifestyle with our families, but find that we let our busy daily schedules get in the way of that. Insert here the worry and panic that our kids are developing vitamin-D-deprivation, a weak immune system, sleep issues, ADHD, and poor posture. And probably illness anxiety disorder, as well. (Har.)
The truth is, whether you work full-time or not, in our fast-paced society we all tend to fill our schedules up until we are feeling over-busy and overwhelmed. And isn’t that exactly what we try to get away from by getting outside and enjoying time with our family amidst the slowness of nature? So how do we go about fitting in family time outdoors around work (or school, or errands, or dishes, or laundry)?
Know Your Priorities
Want to be an outdoor family? Start by sitting down together and sharing your dreams and goals so everyone is on the same page. Know what things you want to accomplish as a family each day, each week, each year. For our family, our three biggest priorities we want to accomplish every evening are eating dinner together, getting outdoors together, and reading with our son. We know what time we get home from work, and we plan dinner prep so that we can eat and still have time to get outdoors before our designated start time for Trail Baby’s bedtime routine which leaves enough time to read together before laying him down. During the weekdays, any housework or other adulting gets done when it is just us adults! We are also participating in the 365 mile challenge and the 52 hike challenge this year to make sure we are getting outside every day and on the trails every week. Maybe for your family, it is planning to visit a certain number of state or national parks this year, or just committing to getting your kid outdoors every single day.
Know what is most important to you so that when time opens up and you are faced with the decision to do laundry or get your kid outside, you know right away which choice to make. Adjust your schedule to make work what you want to work. (Clean your house at this time, so that you can get outside at that time.) Is your work schedule flexible? Though I work full-time, I have arranged my weeks so that I have time off on Wednesdays and Saturdays, which gives us a big adventure day as a family on Saturdays and TWO more adventure days with our son: Wednesdays with mom and Sunday afternoons with dad. This way, Trail Baby stays stocked up on outdoor time to get him through the other days when we can only do smaller outings.
Explore Your Area
This is an important action step. Know what outdoor spaces and activities are available to you close to home so that you can take advantage of any time you have, even if it is only to squeeze in a little outdoor play between dinner and bedtime. Ask around and investigate like a new arrival. We have mapped out our favorite locations nearby that we can choose from depending on how much time we have available. We may take a short stroll on the nature trail that is a 5-minute walk from our house, or make a 10-minute drive to our city park to explore by the lake, or a 30-minute drive to hike a good trail. We know how far we have to go to reach good spots for camping, canoeing, biking, or fly-fishing on the weekends and we know what to expect at each location (about how long we will spend there, what gear we need, how much food to pack, et cetera). Additionally, as we start the descent towards shorter daylight hours, it can be good to know which areas are well-lit or can be fun to explore with a headlamp so the impending darkness doesn’t limit your time! If you know your options ahead of time, getting outdoors becomes more feasible.
Mark Your Calendar
I totally get the allure of flying by the seat of your pants and dashing out on spontaneous adventures. But if I am trying to make the most of my limited free time with my family, I have found that I must plan things in advance. Otherwise we waste our precious time playing out a rendition of the Jungle Book vultures: “What we gonna do?” “I dunno, whatcha wanna do?” and the result is that we revert to familiar areas or trails because we don’t have a plan in place.
One thing I have found beneficial is to think in terms of weeks instead of days. As a mom, if I try to fit in work, house work, meal prep, exercise, bible study, outdoor time, reading time, bath time, healthy sleep and EVERYTHING into each day it just falls apart and I feel like a failure. It’s just not a balanceable equation. So instead, I try to get each of those things accomplished at some point during the week. Perhaps you can do a concentrated meal prep two or three times a week then use that time on off days to exercise. (Or do freezer meals and prep for an entire month at once! Have you checked out Amelia’s recent post about Wildtree?) Maybe you can designate a couple hours to clean the house on the weekend and only spend 10-15 minutes picking up each day after your kids go to bed, that way you have more free time in the evenings. While we at least get outside in the yard and play each day, we may only be able to get one or two bigger outings or hikes in each week. That’s ok, because that’s what we can make work during this season of our life.
For those big adventure days, by marking them on the calendar we can plan ahead and look into exploring new places or trying out some different activities. (This is, of course, absolutely necessary if we want to take a multi-day trip and need time off work.) Our spontaneous adventures are almost always hiking because it takes little to no preparation beforehand, but if we want to camp or canoe, for example, we need to have a little advance warning to get things together. Which leads to our fourth tip:
Prep Your Gear
Don’t wait until you’re itching to head out the door before getting your gear together! This can be a huge barrier to getting outdoors, especially when you have to wrangle littles and all their gear as well. Waiting until the last minute can severely cut down the amount of time you have left to actually get out!
Start by creating a “base camp” bin or tote full of outdoor essentials that you can leave in your car at all times. This will help you both to get out on those spontaneous outings when you only have a little time available, and reduce the amount of gear-gathering you have to do before big adventures. These essentials may include water, non-perishable snacks, spare clothes and shoes (include swim clothes and towels in the summer or extra layers in the winter), sun protection, first-aid kit, bug spray, bear spray, flashlight, diapers, waste baggies, and you can even leave your kid-carrier in the car when you’re not using it! Be sure to replenish anything you use after your adventures so it is ready to go for next time.
It also helps to store gear by categories at home. We have a camp storage tote that includes all non-perishable items that we need for a short camping trip, which means we only have to worry about food prep and packing our clothes/toiletries when we are getting ready. You might have a pre-packed beach bag or keep all your biking gear stored together. In wintertime, it is immensely helpful to keep your kiddo’s (and your own) coat, hat, gloves, boots, et cetera in one bin so that you can quickly get them outfitted for the cold without having to track everything down each time you want to head outside.
Finally, reduce day-of prep time by pulling together your gear the night before (or a couple days in advance, whenever you have the chance). Make sure your essentials are stocked in the car, collect specific gear that you need for that day, and pack your action bag that you will actually carry with you while you are out. For instance, if we planned a bike ride for Saturday morning, then we add water, snacks, spare toddler clothes, and our camera to our daypack on top of the first-aid kit, bug spray, sunscreen, wipes, and flashlight that remain in there at all times. We can grab the bike bin with helmets, tire pump, child bike seat, and tools and put it in the car and load up the bikes (check tires to make sure they are all ready to ride). We prepare lunches to have in the car and even set out our clothes and shoes so that we can just get up, get dressed and ready, and head out the door.
Find Your Tribe
Find a community of like-minded parents who share your passions and goals and get connected. Be bold! Step up and introduce yourself at your neighborhood park, pause and have a conversation when you meet a family on the trail or at the crag, join your local Hike It Baby group, find out what family-focused events your local Parks and Rec is putting on. Find those people who are going to encourage you and keep you motivated to get outdoors with your family. Getting outdoors is even better, for both you and your kiddos, when you do it with friends! Use social media as a way to expand your base, meet even more adventure parents, and to give and receive support and inspiration.
I cannot emphasize this tip enough. Parenting is a wild journey of such highs and lows that no one should have to take alone. Share with each other, learn from each other, and lean on each other. We have all heard it said that “you make time for the things that are truly important to you.” While I certainly believe that, it doesn’t mean it is easy to carve and whittle at our busyness until we find a way to make it all work. Having the support of an outdoor parenting community may make all the difference for you when starting to get your family outdoors and in helping you to stick with it.
Meet Team Member Emily Christensen: Emily is a full-time working mama and wife raised in the Ouachita Mountains and currently navigating life in northern Missouri as she finishes up her PhD in chemistry. Over the years, adventure has become a part of her lifestyle, leading her and her husband Rocky into outdoor activities like hiking, scuba diving, camping, kayaking, fly fishing, and now parenting—their biggest adventure yet! Now Emily is applying her adventurous spirit into getting her family outside no matter the season to instill that same love of nature and exploration in their two-year-old son, and connecting with other families to inspire them to do the same. Find them on Instagram @hiking.home
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