How can you enjoy outings with your kids in an easier, simpler way? Here are six tips I’ve found that make exploring with kids simple, fun, and low-stress:
#1 Reign in your expectations
Not every trip to the zoo will be a leisurely, photo-op-filled animal encounter, and sometimes it’s just as fun to roll up your pants legs and wade in the lake as it is to enjoy a full-on swim. When admission fees are involved, I find that – especially with small kids – it takes the pressure off to purchase a yearly membership to just one or two favorite attractions rather than trying to cram in a dozen different experiences in a single summer. With a yearly membership to a children’s museum, for example, you can just stop by for an hour on a boring, rainy day without feeling you have to “get your money’s worth.” Do that once a week, and you’ll experience the whole museum several times over without having to cram it all into one high-pressure day.
#2 Embrace short excursions
If you think about it, the majority of “must-pack” items are only necessary if you’re spending serious time away from home. Sunscreen needs to be re-applied about every two hours; slather it on before you leave the house and make sure you’re back home or in the car within a couple of hours, and you probably don’t need to lug a big bottle along. Or try to plan outings after dusk or earlier in the morning when sun and heat aren’t as likely to be a problem. Either way, the shorter the trip the less you need to pack and prepare. Don’t let the fantasy of an all-day outing get between you and the reality of a short, easy trip.
#3 Use your car, stroller, or bicycle trailer as a base station
Consider leaving a few necessities – say, a couple of diapers and a travel container of wipes – in your transportation of choice at all times. Our (ratty, dirty, beat-up) umbrella stroller always has a diaper in the basket at the bottom just in case; and after forgetting to replenish my diaper stash in my purse a few key times, I’ve taken to leaving a canvas bag in the car packed with the basic essentials.
#4 Team up with a friend and split the packing
No need for two moms to carry wipes, snacks, sunscreen, insect repellent and water. Plan your outings with a friend when possible (the adult company and extra set of hands and eyes makes it well worth the effort) and split the packing down the middle.
#5 Distinguish between need and comfort.
I liked whatNihara had to say in her comment: “By planning for their every possible need, we may be accidentally teaching our children that they should face no discomforts in life (e.g., they should never be hungry, wet or tired).” Yes! Think back to when you were a kid. When you were out with your parents and got thirsty, what did you do? I bet you found a drinking fountain or waited until you got home. And something tells me your mom didn’t feel the need to pack trail mix, Goldfish crackers and containers of Cheerios for every trip to the park, did she?
I’m not suggesting we withhold liquids and food from hungry and thirsty children, butit really is OK to head out on a mild day for a short time without a full 40-ounce Kleen Kanteen and a sack brimming with snacks. When moms fall into the trap of trying to plan for every possible discomfort our kids could ever face, it becomes really hard to pack light…which makes it that much harder to get out the door in the first place, let alone enjoy ourselves once we’re out. Kids learn to expect what they’re used to, which is why, when I decided to stop routinely buying bottled water, it took my boys a while to stop begging for water during every short car ride. But after a while they realized I wasn’t going to pull over and pick up some Aquafina to help them survive a half-hour in the car, so they learned to get a bigger drink before we left or wait ’til we got there.
#6 Adopt a spirit of adventure.
You just don’t know how that hike is going to go. You might end up knee-deep in mud. The trail might be longer, windy-er, and a lot steeper than you’d have anticipated…and life will go on. In fact, sometimes it’s the trips where you wind up filthy and in way over your head that wind up the nicest memories. I like to ask myself what’s the worst that could happen if…if the baby poops while I’m on the trail (which she might), if we get to tired and have to turn around, (a definite possibility,) if the kids track sand all over the house (which they definitely will.) Most of the time those worst-case scenarios are almost comforting to imagine, because you realize they really aren’t so bad after all.
What are your favorite strategies for keeping outings simple and low-stress?
As a mom of five and blogger, author and writer, Meagan Francis spends the bulk of her time trying to balance kissing boo-boos with meeting deadlines (sometimes doing both simultaneously). But while life with kids is often chaotic and frustrating, Meagan believes a mother’s life can be rewarding and fun—and that all moms deserve a little more happiness. Her book The Happiest Mom: Ten Secrets To Enjoying Motherhood, will be published in partnership with Parenting magazine in April of 2011.