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Adapting to Life as an Outdoor Mama

By Petrika Peters

Advisory Board member Petrika lives in the Black Hills of South Dakota with her partner, two kids and gang of hens. It wasn’t until college that she learned the empowering gift of exploring wilderness with women. Petrika is an avid outdoor enthusiast, social justice advocate, and works at Black Hills State University as an adjunct professor in Sociology and Political Science.

Like you, I love the outdoors. From backpacking, to climbing walls big and small, to canyoneering, getting stuck in tight places or exposed on cliff-sides, to biking, skiing, trail-running, I crave outdoor adventure. Being outside and physically challenging myself is what drives my being. It allows me to breathe deep, to dream and achieve. It’s a way of life, one that brings great joy and a connection to something bigger. Soaking up sunshine on my cheeks, taking in fields of wildflowers, or snow-capped mountains, or changing fall colors? Yes please– any and everyday of the week.

My life as an outdoors person can be divided into two distinct parts: before and after motherhood. Full disclosure: I have two small kids, ages 4 and 1. My experience is limited to what being outside looks like with small children. I’ve heard it changes, I don’t know yet. I can imagine, but for today I only know this: becoming a mother fundamentally changes the person you are. I’ve never been a person categorized as “carefree,” but I can tell you, before kids, I was carefree. I spent as much time outside as possible. I chose jobs that would lead to more time outdoors. I slept outside for weeks on end through Colorado winters and summers. During the depths of a grueling graduate school experience I made commitments to sleep outside at least once a month. I married an avid outdoors person so I could spend more time outside. No matter what trail my life took, being outside was central. It’s who I am, it defines me. Or it did. Motherhood changes you.

I still love being outside, don’t get me wrong. It just looks different. It has to.

I still love being outside, don’t get me wrong. It just looks different. It has to. I’m not a woman who subscribes to “leaning in” and doing it all. Not anymore. I strive for less and I’m happy because of it. I no longer make choices based on how I can be outside, now I make choices based on what is best for my kids. Most parents do. We have to. It’s biological. Fortunately for me (and my identity) experts recommend at least 3 hours of outdoor time per day for kids. But it’s different now. It’s not (just) about me anymore. I’m not as risky. There are many outdoor adventures I turn down or no longer seek out. The consequences are too great. I’m limited in how far I can travel and for how long. I can rarely get away alone for a full day anymore. I haven’t stop craving outdoor adventure; I don’t think one does. But we evolve and shift based on our life circumstances. So, with little bitties here’s what I do to temper my passion:

1. I get my kids outside EVERY SINGLE day. Sometimes it’s nothing more than running around the house three times. That’s it. That’s all we can manage that day. We live in the North. It’s windy, it’s cold. But everyday my kids (and by consequence I) breathe fresh air. More often our outdoor adventures include park playdays, the sandbox, swing set, the local water park, short walks, etc. I’m not pushing my physical limits, I am instilling a love for the outdoors in my children.

2. I take turns. I don’t see my partner as much because we take turns getting small doses of outdoor time. Or we trade with other parents. This takes no more work or coordination than planning a multi-day backcountry trip. So we do it.

3. I hire help. This is not an option for many, I know. It’s just not, but it’s part of how I do it.

4. I put it on the calendar. It’s more likely to happen this way. As a parent I’m constantly scheduling play-dates and doctors appointment, so I schedule this too. It helps.

5. We stop to smell the roses…. A LOT. When I’m with (or without) my kids outside I lower my expectations, we hike, bike, ski fewer miles. We get in fewer pitches. This allows more time for “taking it all in” but much less for physically pushing my limits.We do it anyway. We climb, camp, backpack, ski, bike with our kids. It looks different, requires different planning, more gear and it’s exhausting, but we do it anyway. For us and for them. On the flip side:

6. I go home anytime it’s not fun. I just do. Some days it just doesn’t work. I don’t succumb to guilt, that’s just part of the deal with kids. Some days it works and many days it doesn’t. And that’s OKAY. I bow my head and try again another day.