My Take: How an Adventurer Becomes a Parent

Holding Carys for the first time.Alvin said something sweet to me on Sunday morning (just after I made him waffles for breakfast, which tends to have this effect).  We watched American Sniper the previous evening – I guess he was utterly convinced by Sienna Miller’s captivating performance – and he said that after I went to bed he was thinking about how lucky and grateful he is to have Carys in his life (and thankful to me, too, for setting up the conditions that allow him to have Carys in his life) because he never realized before he was a parent how much he would have missed out on if we hadn’t had her.

I was browsing around on the interwebs last night – I started out by wondering how old Carys really needs to be before I have to find somewhere to build her a climbing wall, and from videos to blogs on building climbing walls to adventuring in general with kids I stumbled on Meghan Ward’s website and her post on How an Adventurer Becomes a Parent.  It got me thinking about my own journey along this path which, I think many of our friends have been surprised to learn, actually did not have an accidental beginning.

Alvin has wanted kids for as long as I can remember, but always in an abstract way – “yeah; I’d love to have a kid so I can play football with him/her,” not “yeah, I know there are going to be a lot of years of diaper changes before I can play football with a kid but I’m up for it!”.  I have never particularly enjoyed being around children and he knew when he married me that he might have to forgo this particular pleasure in life.  It all seemed so depressingly final – as Meghan says, this is one of the few decisions in life on which there really is no turning back.

Whenever we discussed it he always said he would be ready when it happened, but could we just get through ski season first?  Then six months later it would be the same thing, but could we just get through bike season first?  In the Spring of 2013 I finally confronted him and told him that if he never told me he was actually ready now then I was certainly never going to pull the trigger myself so the default outcome would be that we would never have one.  To which he responded “well I’m ready now, then.”

I pondered for a few months, and had rather fewer nightmares about babies than I’d had over the preceding years and decided that while I loved my life and didn’t really want to change it, that being afraid of what might happen if we had a kid was overall a pretty sorry reason to not do it.

So I came off birth control in August of 2013 figuring I probably had a year to play with given my now ~ahem~ advanced age and actually it turned out I had about two weeks.  Or a month, depending on how you count.  I was hiking the Haute Route in Switzerland right around that time and we never did figure out if it was the ‘goodbye’ or the ‘welcome back’ event that precipitated the life change.

Putting on rain gear for the first time. The smallest size I could find was 2T, which is still a *bit* big

Putting on rain gear for the first time. The smallest size I could find was 2T, which is still a *bit* big

And here we are, 15 months into this little experiment, and I was out hiking with a friend over the weekend who asked how being a mother has compared to my expectations and I had to say “actually it hasn’t been that bad so far.”  I know we have been exceedingly lucky that Carys is pretty easy-going and mostly sleeps through the night, which helps a great deal.  While it can be frustrating to not be able to do what I want to do when I want to do it, for the most part if we plan ahead enough we’re able to still do big adventures (like hiking from Breckenridge to Aspen, and the Tour du Mont Blanc – more about that trip in the near future).

And the thing I was worried most about – how not to fuck up the kid – has mostly become a non-issue since we discovered the RIE approach to parenting.  I don’t expect that we’ll get it all right because we won’t, but when Carys comes and sits on my lap when I call her and undoes the velcro so I can take her shoes off, or safely navigates stairs – both up and down – on a regular basis, or turns around and looks me in the eye before doing something I’ve asked her not to do, I see what a difference it makes to treat her with respect.  Some people comment that I speak to her “as if she really understands,” which isn’t exactly right – I speak to her that way because she really understands, and while she may still choose to test her boundaries it’s not because she doesn’t understand what those boundaries are.

Sometimes I do resent the missed opportunities, especially related to travel – recently I had the opportunity to take a position with my company for which I could have lived anywhere in Europe for six months.  If we didn’t have Carys I would have left a freezer full of meals for Alvin and said “See ya!”.  Now I can’t leave Carys…or bring the nanny…or figure out reasonably-priced childcare options in Europe that ascribe to respectful parenting approaches…so the opportunity passed me by.  And now I’m comfortable with long backpacking trips carrying her, she’s soon going to get to the point where she wants to walk instead.  Just as you get used to how things work they change – and not always in the way you want.  But so far it’s been better than I expected and I’m hoping the trend continues, even though I don’t know exactly how we’ll keep on adventuring through these next couple of years.

Discovering rain in the back garden

Discovering rain in the back garden

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  • Reply
    Meghan J. Ward
    October 6, 2015 at 9:55 am

    I really enjoyed reading ‘your take’, and it’s comforting to know there are other women out there who aren’t born mothers. 🙂 This sacrifice piece when it comes to our sense of adventure is REAL. I’m so glad that I have my daughter in my life – MORE than glad. It’s the best thing my husband and I have ever done together and we’ve done a lot together! But every once in a while I need to grieve the opportunities that slip by or the trips that didn’t work out.

    We’re definitely in that ‘wanting to walk/can’t walk far enough’ phase. I heard that age 2-3 is the trickiest for getting outdoors, so I try to keep that in mind. Like all aspects of parenting, every stage comes and goes so quickly!

    Thanks for the link to RIE Parenting. It closely resembles my own approach (without trying) with the exception of the time-outs. Our little one needs time-outs to think and reflect on her behaviour. More and more we’re trying to do them less as punishments and more as an option she can take to cool it. She can get rather out of control, and giving her a safe space to ‘get over it’ has worked well for us.

    All the best on your journey!

    • Reply
      October 6, 2015 at 10:26 am

      Thanks for your comment, Meghan – I’m glad you enjoyed the post.

      Just wanted to suggest a book for you – Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Kohn, which really shifted how I think about discipline. His basic premise is that kids experience time-outs “as a version of love withdrawal – at least, when the children are sent away against their will. There’s nothing wrong with giving a child the option of going to her room, or to another inviting place, when she’s angry or upset. If she has chosen to take some time alone, and if all the particulars (when to leave, where to go, what to do, when to return) are within her control, and then it’s not experienced as banishment or punishment, and it can often be helpful.” Crucially, *sending the child away* from you and your love sends a message of conditional love, which is not what we want. And we acknowledge that when the child is sent to time out s/he probably doesn’t spent the time thoughtfully reflecting on his/her actions but instead thinks about how mean their parents are, how unfair the punishment is, and how they’re going to avoid it next time. Instead, Kohn recommends removing the child from the situation, but not from you. Even if the child is so agitated that s/he refuses the option to take some time by him/herself, Kohn says the last resort is to make a suggestion like “Let’s go snuggle in the den.” So even in the worst cases where you have to impose your will on him/her, you do it in a way that “your love, your attention, your presence are not withheld.”

      Sounds like you are already heading in this direction anyway, but I found Kohn’s book useful enough that I wanted to pass it along. Of course, Carys is young enough that most of this is still theoretical for me but I’m hoping it works!

      • Reply
        Meghan J. Ward
        October 6, 2015 at 11:07 am

        All great words, and yes perhaps great in theory at times, too! Everything changed when we reached the ‘tremendous’ twos. Our little one isn’t a snuggly type (98% of the time). When she gets out of control/angry/frustrated, she kicks, bites, and scratches, and doesn’t respond well to touch. When she’s in this space, she won’t listen to reason. For us, in these moments, “gentle” firmness has been key. I think that all the love and nurturing we pour into her is overwhelmingly substantial and when she needs some time alone, she knows it’s not out of abandonment. The language is always, “are you ready to listen”? and I have found her to react very positively to this. OF COURSE, if I can manage a way that doesn’t involve removing myself from the situation or giving her to a time out, I will. I don’t say this to defend my position, but just to acknowledge that children all respond very differently. We often need to remove her from us rather than the situation because ‘we’ are the situation. It gets very tricky. 🙂

      • Reply
        October 6, 2015 at 11:33 am

        That does sound really tough, and I think the parent “being the situation” is not one that Kohn addresses well – at least in that book. I guess I would fall back on RIE principles of making sure the child is safe (no damage to self, others, or property), letting them work through the feelings in whatever way they need to, and addressing it with them afterward when they’ve calmed down – which seems to be much like what you’re doing.

        It’s no secret that this coming couple of years are the ones I’m dreading the most – when they’re old enough to tell you/demand what they want, but too young to be able to reason…

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