“No Adults Allowed” could be slapped on the cover of most children’s adventure literature. Besides the many thematic reasons for making adults absent, there’s also the simple fact that society sees adventuring and parenthood as antithetical. This view is wonderfully deconstructed in the Doctor Who episode Amy’s Choice, which one of my favorite bloggers, Phil Sandifer, covered last week on his TARDIS Eruditorium project. In his essay, Dr. Sandifer argues that while the episode at first seems to reinforce his dichotomy, forcing Amy to choose between traveling with the “madman in a box” of her childhood or being married and pregnant in a small town, it ultimately rejects it. Amy writes a different story for herself, one where growing up and adventuring go hand-in-hand. While I’ve never travelled with The Doctor, I too reject society’s false choice, especially for mothers.
This attitude is particularly pernicious because of the constrictions it puts on women. While dad may go camping and hiking with the kids, mom is expected to stay home and do…. something. In fact, mom is the destroyer of adventures, constantly saying no and shutting down wild ideas. Mom is the responsible, safe, and boring one, while dad is the fun and exciting one. For example, this Oscar Meyer commercial. (Of all of things I want to say yes to for my family, packaged meat is on the bottom of the list.) But it doesn’t have to be that way! Of course parents should be responsible, but that should be shared, just should the role of the adventurous parent. While the situations in this commercial are absurd, I do enjoy how it illustrates the silliness of these gender roles.
Beyond the constrictions it places on women, it’s just a plain old false choice – I believe you can bring children on adventures. Post-children vacations do not have to be dominated by child-centric places unless you want them to be. (Not that child-centric places can’t be fun – we’re going to Disney this summer – but they aren’t exactly adventurous.) They might not be as chaotic, dangerous or unplanned than the adventures childless people engage in, but that’s also true if you’re traveling with a less enthusiastic or cautious adult companion.
While the first couple of years are hard – just going on day trips when dealing with multiple naps and long feedings is challenging – I don’t think it’s impossible. This summer, we plan on camping and hiking with Sprout, and there are a couple of different books and websites that offer tips for such activities. In the future, we plan on teaching him to canoe and rock-climb. I’d like to visit National Parks with him and if possible, other countries. We know it’s possible because our families did it with us. My parents brought me to the Everglades, Acadia, Yosemite, Zion/Bryce, and Alaska as a kid, memories that I still treasure. Chris’s dad brought him on a week-long canoeing backcountry trip each year, which he still tells stories about. My aunt and uncle brought my cousin to Europe multiple times. Even if you can’t handle a whole week, day trips can offer plenty of adventure. Chris and I have enough stories of surprises on the trail to prove it. To prepare for longer cultural vacations, museum day-trips can help know young children what to expect and offer parents new perspectives.
These opportunities only expand as children get older, especially if they are responsible and good at evaluating risk. Preteens and teenagers are both physically and mentally capable of a lot more than younger children – and given the chance, sometimes more than some adults! For example, I went on a guided adventure trip to southeast Alaska with my parents when I was 15. Even though my parents had to convince the company to let me on it, I was much more mature than our fellow 30-something traveler who dunked our guide’s head into a freezing stream. (And for such a good reason – he made everyone get up early so we could get to our destination on time!) Similarly, we shared a lodge on our Peruvian vacation with a family with teenage sons. They were both delightful and far better than us at spotting birds. One of them spent at least an hour each night with their guide identifying and chronicling the species they saw. However, parents have to know their kids, as not preteen is ready. There was a 12 year old with his dad on our trip who was more interested in startling the wildlife than watching it and almost got bit by a fire-ant because he wore Five-Fingers as shoes in the jungle.
Even living abroad with children is possible if you make the right arrangements. My church pastor and his wife lived as missionaries in Africa with their three young boys for several years. I suspect the respect built for other cultures greatly contribute to their sons’ emotional maturity and broad-mindedness.
This attitude also assumes that parents’ entire lives revolve around their children. While I’m not a fan of extended adult-only vacations, parents certainly have the right to take a weekend away occasionally so long as they can get child-care.
Lastly, it leaves out the possibility of adventuring on your own once the kids are grown up. Since I’ve moved out, my parents have visited Yellowstone, Prince Edward Island, the Pacific Northwest, Acadia (again), and are going to Napa Valley and Yosemite this summer. Once they retire, they plan on buying a small RV and traveling all over the country. My grandparents traveled around the world, all of it after their kids moved out. While retirement is a very long time away when you have an infant, discounting it out of hand is a disservice to older folks.
So thinking about all of the possibilities, the only type of adventuring that kids really prevent are extended trips with no responsibilities, schedule or planning. And personally, I hate traveling like that. I like to at least have an outline of where I’m going and when, with some flexibility built in. To travel with our kids, we’ll need to plan a little more and have a little more flexibility, but it’s totally possible. As Sprout is an easy-going kid who really enjoys new places, I hope that we can have all sorts of adventures as a family together.