My mom used to allow me to climb the tallest tree in our yard — a fir tree with a knobby trunk whose tip could be seen from the highway several miles away.
I would perch on the highest limbs, unseen by the rest of the neighborhood kids, and read my Nancy Drew mysteries. Did my mom worry as I climbed? Yes. Quite a few prayers were said — of this I am sure. But my alone time in the clouds helped me developed characteristics I still have today — and that I have tried to pass on to my kids.
We want kids who understand what adventure even is, and what unstructured solitary pursuits can bring to their character.
I still love adventure, and the outdoors. My mom allowing me to climb that tree gave me that. As a mother myself who has raised three boys, I reveled in the adventures they had growing up and that they (sometimes) allowed me into. I have jumped off our roof into a snow bank. I have hung upside-down (for way too long) from a high treehouse ladder. At the neighborhood pool, I was a regular on the diving board, trying my best in those crazy cannonball contests.
Even today there is hardly an activity I won’t at least try. I have bounced on waves in a gathering storm on a jet ski. I’ve climbed a mountain on horseback high enough to see a mountain lion. I’ve been blessed with good health and opportunities to experience these things.
Also, I relish alone time — a gift from the tree, and from my mom. I see the value in the solitary pursuit. Raising kids in a male-dominated household that could often frazzle the most stoic person, I had the ability to tune out — not lash out. I’d take a walk.
- Give away your baby stroller. Let your toddler walk, step, toddle and explore.
- Tear up your agenda. It's OK to be without a plan — just get out there and get the kids out there.
- Model adventure yourself. Take hikes, get out on a river, ride a horse, go mountain climbing, take a ski tour. Live a little.
Poet Devi Lockwood wrote in The New York Times of her incurably adventurous mother who, for her daughter’s 18th birthday, brought her to MIT — not to attend a lecture or admire the architecture, but to scale the iconic dome on top of the building at night, under the stars.
“Many American parents would probably say their primary responsibility is to keep their children safe, to teach them to respect authority and stay out of trouble. These were not my mother’s goals,” Lockwood wrote.
“A year ago I rode my bicycle solo along the length of New Zealand. In the South Island, I cycled to the base of Aoraki Mount Cook, the mountain where Sir Edmund Hillary’s mountaineering career began,” she continued. “It was there I realized my mother’s example has allowed me to be a female adventurer of a different sort.”
We do want safe, respectful kids who don’t ever take truly dangerous and foolish risks — this is true.
But we also want kids who understand what adventure is, and what unstructured solitary pursuits can bring to their character.
In a world of supervised play groups, organized day camps, endless technology, and blaring televisions — real parenting is often about nudging our kids out of the nest of comfort and routine, and into the vast unknown.
Helen Keller once said, “Life is a great adventure or nothing.”
Without a parent’s guidance into adventure, the current generation might even know what the word really means.
“It’s hard to absorb how much childhood norms have shifted in just one generation,” writer Hanna Rosen noted in The Atlantic. “Actions that would have been considered paranoid in the ’70s — walking third-graders to school, forbidding your kid to play ball in the street, going down the slide with your child in your lap — are now routine. In fact, they are the markers of good, responsible parenting.”
Helen Keller, the American writer who was deaf and blind, once said, “Life is a great adventure or nothing.” Don’t rob your kids of that great adventure. Encourage them to be bold — in thought, and in action.