Advice for parents with children of all ages on how to cope with toilet training, teenage blushes and how to keep the kids coming back for more.
Maybe you are thinking about having children and are not sure what to expect, or you are carrying very heavy packs with all your children’s gear and wonder if you will ever get out from under such huge loads again. Whatever your current situation, what follows is an insight into what’s in store for you as you explore the outdoors with your family.
Heavy packs and bad smells: 0-18 months
All first-time parents are adamant their new child won’t change their life. They say they will still go tramping and baby will just have to fit in. There is some truth in this. Provided you have the energy, day and overnight trips are possible. Newborns love to be cocooned in a front pack for hours on end and many older babies seem to love sitting in a backpack, enjoying the view from up high and being swayed to sleep by the repetitive rhythm of walking.
You will need to do things differently, though. You will probably only go in fine(ish) weather, you may find yourself pushing a buggy and carrying a heavy pack, or merely camping at the road-end and doing short walks that you previously overlooked. And you will finally see the sense in taking hand-sanitiser into the hills.
Breast is certainly best when it comes to tramping. Before dad’s had time to prime the cooker, baby is already getting full on mother’s milk. Breast feeding keeps a baby quiet when sharing a hut with others, or for resettling one woken by a flapping tent.
Toileting, though, is complicated. You’ll be laying out your raincoat in the wet tussock and doing whatever is possible to avoid a leaking nappy going everywhere. Your pack will become heavier with used nappies, which have their own distinctive smell.
Babies can be really hard work and not everybody will have the time, patience and energy to take them tramping. But, if you do, you will be laying the foundations for a lifetime of family fun and adventure.
Patience is a virtue: 18 months – 5 years
Think small with preschoolers. Most little children can’t walk far and nothing you do will change this fact.
Don’t be too ambitious. Patience is the cornerstone to family tramping; developing a tolerance to children’s limits at this age will greatly improve all future experiences.
Preschoolers will carry virtually nothing but may still want their own small backpack for hat, gloves and a soft toy, but you will still be carrying all the gear.
This is okay though, for the walking will be easy. There will be lots of stops for playing, exploring, paddling, or climbing trees. And you will get huge delight in watching your kids become comfortable with being in the outdoors.
You’ll need to be extra diligent with keeping children warm and applying sunscreen and insect repellant – sunburn and insect bites are especially intolerable for young children.
The fun of toileting really begins here. They may not need nappies, but accidents still happen, so take extra underwear. Correct aim (especially while squatting for girls) is difficult to master so a toilet-stop may also end in a complete change of clothing. Holding little girls with their legs at a right angle to the body helps, as does taking off shoe, long-john, shorts and underwear from one leg – there’s no such thing as a quick pee in the bush anymore.
And of course you get to dig holes for solid waste not only for yourself but also for your youngsters. Get used to it – it goes on for many years.
A little bit of bribery: 6-10 years
By this age bracket your tramping world will widen considerably and your children will be becoming good companions in the hills. You’ll still be subsidising the weight carrying, but chances are sometime during this period your children will take their own sleeping bag, clothes and maybe some light party gear. With more room in your pack, longer and slightly harder trips become possible. Your children will be getting fitter and more experienced.
Your storytelling skills, will develop nicely and the rules around sugar consumption, which you have managed to uphold so diligently, will go right out the window. Bribes in the form of sweets are great motivators – the added incentive of knowing there is a jellybean every 5-10 minutes on a long climb will keep any child walking.
Be prepared to carry some of their load at strategic times. Long uphills and difficult descents are made easier with lighter packs and a child’s motivation is greatly improved if they know they have less to carry.
Toileting is still taking a lot of time. They may be able to dig a hole and bury their own waste but they will still want your company – not many 10-year-olds want to head off into the bush alone to do their business. At least by this age they have their aim sorted and you can now ditch the hand sanitiser.
Gaiter-tan and self obsession: 11-14 years
Although still not carrying their share of the food, your kids will now be very capable. They fit decent-sized packs and can carry some supplies and other light stuff. Don’t load them up too much; they’ll go virtually anywhere with you if their packs are not too heavy.
They are also becoming very useful and can help cook meals and pitch tents.
I am only equipped to talk about teenage girls here, but during this age teenagers may develop a sensitivity to flesh exposure. You’re no longer required for toileting, but it still won’t be quick. Instead of accompanying them, you’ll wait for ages while they head miles away in case, heaven forbid, a piece of bare flesh might be seen.
Ditto swimming. There’s no more stripping to the undies and swimming in those alpine tarns anymore – teenage girls will need togs or they’ll swim in their clothes. They certainly won’t tolerate skinny dipping adults.
Girls particularly will be concerned with what they look like, and you may need to compromise – hugely – on what they wear.
I recently asked Mackenzie what she enjoyed most about tramping and in true self-obsessed teenage-girl style, she replied: “You get fit, skinny, and you get a tan.” (Tip: Remove gaiters when possible to avoid ‘gaiter tan’.) What would make it better? According to Mackenzie, “free wi-fi in huts”.
Sooner or later you’ll be enjoying the hills with your self-obsessed, digitally connected, delightful darlings. Yet, teenagers are a strange species, in and out of the hills. Tramping with them keeps them grounded, teaches them they can go for a week without washing their hair and that a world without Facebook really does exist.
And they are such fun to be with. You will laugh more during this phase of your family tramping life than you ever have before.
Happier all around: 15 – 18 years, and beyond
Older teenagers have mellowed somewhat and may now be happy to get changed in front of you if you promise not to look, but skinny dipping is banned forever. They can carry a decent load, and are capable of going anywhere you go. But perhaps most rewarding of all is that they actually want to go, with you, even when they have other choices.
Beyond their teenage years, if they continue tramping, they will likely become fitter, faster and stronger than you. Their youthful energy will be contagious and this, along with your stubbornness, will help you up the hills as much as your fitness.
You are still more experienced and they will respect your knowledge and the wisdom gained from years in the mountains and seek your advice and opinions when planning trips of their own.
You will be incredibly proud of them and all that they do. You should also be proud of yourself. It wasn’t always easy, but your patience, perseverance, and tolerance has meant you have given them a very precious gift – the love, desire and skill to enjoy New Zealand’s wonderful outdoors.
As tramping parents, nothing could make you happier.