Friday, August 12, 2011

Successful Adventures [with kids]

I used to think I knew a thing or two about adventure.

Europe beckoned with just a backpack full of supplies and my passport.

A solo road trip half way across Canada with a van seat that folded into a bed.

Plane rides to California for a tiny paycheck and a fantastic suntan in return.

Then I had children and the word "adventure" took on a whole new meaning.

I had so many occasions when my highest hopes for a good outing turned into a tearful, messy, cranky disaster.

Whether it is a trip to Disneyland, a simple errand to the mall, or picking blackberries on the back forty,

is it possible to have a successful adventure with children?

After a successful adventure recently, I pondered what worked.

Why did this trip get 5 stars while others rated "WORST EVER"?

1. Realistic expectations. This doesn't mean "low" expectations, just that we as parents know our children. I imagine realistically the potential outing/adventure, not the glossy catalog version where birds always chirp, sun always shines, children never get dirty, and heaven forbid they never throw fits!  

What are the worst possible scenarios and the best possible? Somewhere in between is where life will probably land. I give my best guess to the children's reactions and plan accordingly. For example, my toddler doesn't do the library very well. Hoping to spend a few hours there calmly looking at books is completely unrealistic. In a few years, yes, but for now our library trips are short.

2. Wise planning. How many times have I had a horrible experience just to think back and realize it was all my fault? We left too late, I didn't have enough supplies, a toddler missed a nap, everyone's hungry.... Good planning covers a lot of "what ifs." Times, locations, protein-filled snacks, changes of clothes, Costco size box of diaper wipes, the list goes on. Spontaneous adventures are still completely doable, the planning just has to go faster.

This might be the time to tell the story about last year's hiking adventure where both me and my child's father forgot Mandy's shoes. She had to be carried 3 miles. Poor planning.

3. Communication. I talk a lot to my kids about the upcoming outing. I try not to tell them too far in advance if it something that could fall through or is weather dependent. But just before and as we are going on our adventure, I talk about what it will be like, how I expect them to behave, consequences if they misbehave, and things to look forward to during the day. Toddler or school age, they are all in on the conversation. I learned this parenting tool from a book called Raising Your Spirited Child. I was trying to deal with my firstborn's horrible tantrums every time we transitioned from one activity to the next. The author pointed out that children freak out at the unknown. Spelling out what is going on and what is expected of them helps calm.

I try not to use bribes. Do they ever work very well anyway? If you promise something like ice cream if everyone is good today, what happens when one acts good, but the others do not? Or best yet, the bribes for things you really don't want to take away... "If you don't start acting better, we aren't going to Enchanted Forest." Ya, right. It's better to communicate expectations and reward appropriately. Never underestimate the power of praise!

4. A good attitude. If mama 'aint happy, 'aint nobody happy. My mood has a powerful impact on my family, especially on an adventure. My children LOVE going on outings with me. You should hear their excitement when I announce we are going to Gilbert House, OMSI, a day at the beach, or simply picking blackberries at the barn. All that fun quickly fades when I start acting grouchy, snapping at them, and getting irritated over little things. When I start acting like everything is an emergency.

I heard a quote that went something like this, "Children should know joy today, anticipate joy tomorrow, and remember joy from yesterday." As a parent, it is fully in my hands how my children view life. Is it negative or positive? 

Do I sweat the small stuff and get angry or count blessings and praise God for His goodness?

We had a good adventure picking blackberries. I kept it short and didn't try to do too much (I was tempted).

I had to carry Rem back home because he was tired and cranky.

I thought about this post that was already written in my mind.... this was poor planning, I thought and longed for a stroller or backpack.

We all live and learn, don't we!

How I wish there was some kind of graduate program to earn degrees in parenting.

"Yes, I'm working on my Masters in Adventures with Children. Yes, it is challenging, but I get lot of practice"

It was blackberry ice cream when we got home 

(4 cups ice, 1 cups milk, 1/2 cup sugar, vanilla, and berries in the blender for a minute).

When I think back on all the adventures I've had with my kids, the successful ones required realistic expectations, good planning, lots of communication, and fantastic attitudes (this isn't an emergency!).

What are your greatest memories of adventures with kids?

I love reading your comments.



Anonymous said...

I just love this post, Alysun ! Your heart for your children and adventure is beautiful.

I'm going to give that blackberry ice cream recipe a go when Phil comes home ... looks fantastic!

Take care... mel

Sara said...

Great post, Alysun. I love reading your blog. I often "write" blogs like this in my head, but never get around to getting them onto the computer. I'm a slow writer, and it's all I can do to keep up with pictures and anecdotes of the kids (my main reason for blogging since I'm horrible at scrapbooking and the like). But anyway, you do a great job at both kinds of blogging.

I've totally been there with the wondering why or why not an adventure went a certain way. One of our most recent adventures that went very well was our trip to the county fair. We got there later than intended, our parking situation was a flop, Ben didn't want to sit in the stroller after about the first 10 minutes, we all were sweating hot, my nephew and niece who are prone to pouting were with us, and my mom (who I butt heads with occasionally) was with us as well. But somehow we all had a wonderful time and we just kept staying and staying...for 7 hours in all and without naps! I think it was mostly my attitude this time, taking the problems in stride and being flexible. It also helped that baby Jake napped and nursed well, even in the strange setting.