Empowering My Daughter to Connect with the Outdoors
by Charissa Hipp, Girls Who Hike Maryland Ambassador
My daughter is 2 1/2-years-old and is an absolute bundle of energy. Just the other evening I was driving down the road when she suddenly exclaimed, “Mommy, I wanna go hike!” It was calling for rain and possible storms to start at any moment so I had to tell her no, but I was beaming because it was the first time she asked to go hiking.
Seventeen years ago on Mother’s Day I found out I was going to be a mom. My first son was born the next year followed by another son two years later. I was a boy momma for a long time - more than 13 years, and I relished that title. Becoming a parent changes you, there’s no doubt about that!
Two-and-a-half years ago my second husband and I had a daughter. As a parent of two tweens, I had a lot more experience and a lot more perspective when she entered the world. I also had a much stronger sense of what I wanted for her in life, based on my parenting experience over the previous 13 plus years.
Technology has advanced dramatically since my sons were both born in the early 2000’s. Smart phones, tablets and social media channels have become part of our everyday lives. And though that same way of life enables me to work from home and earn a living without ever having to change out of my yoga pants or spend long hours away from my family, there are drawbacks as well.
My now-teenage sons are so digitally connected that I long for times when we can be unplugged and enjoy each other’s company without the distractions of an iPhone, iPad or video game. In a world where they are issued their own iPad to use each school year, it’s very difficult finding balance between the digital world and truly being disconnected. With that perspective in mind my approach to parenting has shifted to spending more time in the outdoors.
My daughter was only a few weeks old when we took her on her first hike. Like many new moms I was going stir crazy and wanted to get out of the house so our family went on a short hike to enjoy the fall foliage at a local state park. I loaded my daughter into a soft wrap-style carrier and realized that not only was it good to get out of the house, but it felt really good to enjoy the outdoors. Months later when spring arrived I was anxious to get out again and started taking her on walks on the nearby C&O Canal towpath in a jogging stroller. Over time our mileage increased and so did our discovery of all the beautiful things along the trail -- wildflowers, butterflies, deer and more. I began referring to each trip as a new “adventure” and she’d giggle and react with excitement as we prepared to head out on the trail.
Once her brothers were out of school for the summer we embarked on a 5-mile hike with her in a soft-sided carrier on my back. It was comfortable enough for me but I was concerned that she had to have her neck twisted to one side or the other to see. It was then I decided to start looking for a backpack-style frame carrier. I knew if I committed to investing in a more expensive carrier I’d feel obligated to use it and get outside. We did just that! In addition to our stroller hikes through local parks, we conquered plenty of trails with her in the carrier. It wasn’t perfect by any means, at first. I was always afraid I’d miss one of the many buckles and she’d fall out. Then there was the time we were solo hiking and I went to take a selfie, only to notice that she had pulled her sunhat down completely over her eyes and couldn’t see a thing. Who knows how long we’d been hiking like that (#momfail)!
That summer I think I fell asleep every night thinking about our next adventure. We got outside every chance we had and took advantage of all the wonderful national and state parks near our home, venturing to familiar and not-so-familar places. Our summer vacation to the Great Smoky Mountains was no exception. She was the most easy going little tyke on the trail and when she got tired she’d just nap in the carrier.
By last spring she was walking and running everywhere, which added a whole new facet to our time in the outdoors. Often times, like most toddlers, she wants to hike the trails herself until she tires herself out, then she wants to be carried. Now that she likes to hike I’ve had to scale back and pick easier trails, but it’s so enjoyable watching her confidence on the trail. As with most toddlers, I have to be extra careful about trail hazards because she’s so determined to do things herself and lead the way, but I love that she feels at home on the trail.
My daughter and I have shared countless sunsets out on the trail. I’ve attempted to teach her about wildflowers, wildlife and Leave No Trace principles. I believe our time spent together in the outdoors has been as beneficial for her as it has been for me. As she grows older I hope being outdoors continues to bring her joy as well as confidence in herself, her body and her abilities, empowering her throughout all areas of her life. I hope she’ll always feel close to nature and connect with it when she can. Last Labor Day, with the help of her brother, she took her first official steps on the Appalachian Trail. May those be the first of many!