Do parents lose or gain by taking kids outdoors?
I’m a little bitter about not playing soccer.
Or softball. Or piano. I did take dance lessons, but the name “Klutzy Chrissy” didn’t happen by accident.
My parents preferred to send me outside. Even in our Detroit neighborhood, which developed a reputation during the last 30 years of offering a wide assortment of crack houses, my friends and I explored the alleys while making sure to wear shoes as protection from broken bottles.
My parents certainly didn’t view themselves as the last of a dying breed. But as the National Forum on Children and Nature works to get America’s kids back outside, I’m busy forcing my lifetime of outdoor lessons upon my children. There’s a sense today that parents need to get their kids involved in organized gatherings. Coupled with the constant connection of technology — I’ve actually seen cyclists chatting on their cell phones — people’s free time is no longer their own.
My parents made their career with horses. They were outside, so I was outside. There wasn’t any other option. Plus, we didn’t have cable so there was no reason to stay at home.
Now I’m patting myself on the back because this summer I’m showing my daughters, who are still too young to be set free into the neighborhood, the wonders of nature. Little things, like a family of ducks feasting on tiny fish in a stream below an underpass. Or stopping the bike to examine a patch of prairie plants.
And yet, I’m still wrought with guilt over the feeling that we’re goofing off.
Is it goofing off to take a few minutes to look at a stream? My fellow parents might think so, as they rush from one lesson to the next. And sometimes even I think so — shouldn’t I be in front of the computer or the TV news, learning everything I can about the energy bill?
Like everything else about kids, there’s no clear-cut way to parent. Those staying at home to raise children, mostly women deemed uninformed by some, need to work even harder to keep up with the issues of the day.
But it takes time to show kids to the edge of a stream, prepare healthy home-cooked meals, and tend a tiny garden. Maybe it’s 12 years of Catholic school, but I’ve got to agree with the Pope’s message of “working less, wanting less, spending less.” With a 24-hour news cycle, maybe it also means knowing less.
So I sacrifice some time in front of the news, and as a result I’m semi-uninformed. My lax views on stranger safety will probably seem to endanger my daughters. Some days, the only news I get is from the radio while I make dinner.
I’m teaching my kids about their world. As an adult, I’m sacrificing knowledge for the greater lesson of rediscovering nature with my children.
My only unity with most parents staying home is our shared perception of isolation. But I know there are other outdoor-prone parents out there. I’ve seen their work.
Coming home from our duck observing, I saw two teenish-looking girls who had stopped their bikes by the stream and were hunched over the water. OK, maybe they were fishing out their Mary Jane pipe from the stream. But I’d like to think they were undertaking the more innocent task of seeing nature.
Get Grist in your inbox