People who know me really well will tell you that one of my favorite things to do with family and friends is camping. Despite how I appear with my small stature and my outwardly reserved personality (extroverted introvert here!), I love running to the outdoors for a camping adventure. I feel elation and joy rise up inside me as if it will overflow when I get the opportunity to experience the beautiful outdoors, whether I am hiking or biking deep in the woods or sitting around a bonfire cooking a meal for my family next to our large tent. There is this sense of freedom and peace as you breathe in God’s amazing creation. At least that is how I experience it. I have always felt so drawn to the outdoors. I am fairly certain that I was barefoot and outside all summer long throughout my childhood, with a canning jar of fireflies in one hand and a bucket of rocks in the other. Now as a wife and mom, I bring this love of mine into my family.
We have camped in all kinds of weather (even winter) and campgrounds, including primitive campgrounds and state parks. Most recently, we camped at Newport News Park in Newport News, Virginia on an October weekend when Hurricane Matthew was not supposed to come and visit. Consequently, we learned that weekend how very leaky our aging tent is as we were collecting several quarts (yes, you read that right) of water and dumping it out the door of the tent as it filled our tent. It was supposed to turn, they said. Well, it didn’t turn. As the wind started picking up in the evening, we began to quickly realize this fact, and quickly packed up in the dark. If there was a record for the fastest pack-up of a campsite to prevent our demise by trees falling on us, I am certain that we would have broken it. Adventure. I need a do-over of that weekend, by the way, for so many reasons. Mostly, I need it to show my kids that there will not be a cataclysmic weather catastrophe every time we camp and to show them that we won’t drown in our tent. I just wasn’t counting on THAT kind of adventure!
Adventure often presents challenge. Physical and mental challenge pushes us to find solutions and build self-confidence. It helps us see that we can accomplish more than we thought we could handle. When a family is presented with a challenge, it can encourage positive family relationships by providing an opportunity to affirm one another as you work together to complete a task. It is so easy for kids to use the words “I can’t”, and if we are really honest, it is easy for adults to use those words too. As adults, we can push through to get through a task. Most kids need words of affirmation spoken. When you tackle something such as a long hike or bike ride, setting up a campsite, starting a fire, or cooking a meal over the fire together, speaking encouraging words to one another will boost productivity and self-esteem. It also gives opportunity for conversations with loved ones without modern distractions.
Speaking of modern distractions, does anyone else struggle with balancing screen time with real time? We have teenagers in our household with either i-phones or android phones along with our own devices, and the Xbox. Technology is an amazing tool that we love to use for both work and play, but we have a love – hate relationship. The overuse of screen time, as I am sure you are aware, causes a decline in relationships, social skills and can contribute to many other things, such as sleep deprivation and depression. We are trying to be purposeful with the time we spend with our kids without trying to live completely free from technology as though it were 1950. After all, we will only have them under our roof for a little while. It is a tough balance to maintain on a daily basis. This is one of the reasons I absolutely love camping and doing outdoor activities with my family. Being outdoors together forces us to work together to achieve a common goal which would be difficult to complete alone. While camping, we are usually on a time limit for setting up our tent, the kitchen gear, the bedding, the dog’s gear and bedding, the lanterns, starting the fire and then cooking the food. We have to get the tent set up before dark. While that is preferable, we have set it up in the dark and in rain before too, which takes much longer. It is a team effort to get each task done so that everyone has a warm and dry bed to sleep on that night and a warm meal. We usually try to make our camping trips as tech free as possible, so that means finding other kinds of entertainment. I am not going to say that it is always this idyllic experience where all of the kids are thrilled to put away their phones. Admittedly, it is challenging for us too. However, the benefit of unplugging is greater than allowing technology to take the front seat in our relationships.
Incorporating some type of adventure experience provides relationship building opportunities for couples and families. If you don’t like camping, then find something that you can work toward as a family. In the event that you are not into camping, but may want to give it a shot, start with state parks near you. They are fabulous, and often have some modern conveniences (electricity, water pump, bathrooms with showers) and often have events scheduled that you can attend when you camp.