5 Reasons Why Getting Outside Makes Me A Better Parent

Take care of the caretaker.

By: Emily Kent + Save to a List

As a mother of two little girls, I need to stay on top of my game. This means taking care of myself physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. The whole package. Easier said than done. A friend put it beautifully one day when she said that we need to do a better job at "taking care of the caretaker." At first blush, it might sound a bit selfish, but we can only give what we have inside. If our inside is exhausted and empty, it goes without saying that we have little to give back to our kids. Exploring and playing in the great outdoors is my panacea for nearly all of life's stressors. Here are five reasons why getting outside makes me a better parent:

1. An unplugged parent = a peaceful parent = happy kids

My husband and I try to get our family away from screens when we can. This proves harder than we'd imagined with T.V., laptops, iPhones, and iPads seemingly everywhere. But when we have a free day, you’ll usually find us up early getting the kids fed and dressed, packing day packs and the baby carrier, cleaning off hiking boots, scrounging up snacks and water bottles and nearly in the car until one of us asks, "did we remember the diaper bag?"

It can feel like an entire day's work just to get us all out the door and onto the hiking trail, but once we get there, something always happens within those first few muddy steps. We all breathe a little more deeply with a sense of calm beginning to shine through our smiles. Even our 1 year-old becomes completely content the minute she's put in the baby carrier to hitch a ride, look around at the trees and listen to the chirping birds. In the absence of T.V. and computer screens, a kind of groundedness washes over all of us. I think it’s nature's way of reminding us that we're all born to breathe fresh air and play in the dirt on a daily basis.

Ski or Snowshoe to Section House Hut | Photo: Jason Hatfield

2. Perspective

The multitude of mini-battles that every parent faces at home can add up and take a toll if we don't grant ourselves windows for perspective, literally and figuratively. As kids begin to assert their own little personalities, the daily "I don't LIKE carrots anymore!" "I don't want to wear THAT!" and "WHY do I have to share my toys?" can start to feel like a grind unless the bigger picture is in our purview. Getting outside, moving, playing, breathing fresh air and seeing new sights does wonders to rejuvenate me. It helps me to restore the patience and mindfulness I need in order to work through the daily challenges and help our kids be their best selves. When they see their mom handling conflict with calm and care, they're more likely to mimic that for themselves. That’s important to me. When I’m able to keep the long-term goals in mind - that they hopefully grow to be kind, caring, intelligent and healthy adults - I stand a better chance of tackling the daily small stuff with a touch more grace.

3. Parents are teachers and nature has our back

Whether we're walking through a grove of ancient Redwoods or hiking alongside the river looking for fishing holes, there is always an opportunity to model and teach our kids about taking care of and respecting our natural surroundings. Our 5 year-old daughter has been on more geocaching and fly-fishing excursions than she can count. We've seen her resilience, patience and nurturing personality continue to grow, in part, because of the values that settle in naturally by spending more time outside. Sure, I can talk to her about how to hold a fish and safely return it to the water or tell her why littering is terrible for our environment, but being on the river and reeling that fish in together or hiking the trail and picking up trash we see is a thousand times more effective. I’m a much better experiential teacher and this way, we all get to play while we learn. It’s a win-win “classroom” when we’re outside.

Hike to Phantom Falls | Photo: Xavier Salgado

4. Everyone will sleep better!

It comes as no surprise to anyone that outdoor activity and good-quality sleep have a direct relationship with one another. In fact, they like each other a whole lot. When I stay physically active and spend a good portion of the day outside, I sleep soundly and wake up feeling much more refreshed than I would had I spent the day inside seated at a computer. Few of us have the luxury to forgo work and play outside all day every day, but even an hour or two of outdoor time on a daily basis can elevate our moods, increase our alertness, and set our body clock’s up for an earlier night’s sleep. (nwf.org)

5. Mom’s mental health

There is an increase in research being conducted on the ways in which spending time in nature can boost the health of our brains and make us happier. Dr. Gregory Bratman has been at the front of scientific studies on this topic. Evidence has pointed to time spent outdoors producing clear benefits for mood and likely cognition as well.

For me, immersing myself in green environments where I can breathe in the fresh air never fails to boost my mood, grant me perspective, and gift me with a little extra energy. And as a busy mom of little ones, I’ll gladly take it.

Cover photo: Nick Tort

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