My children are nearly grown now. My oldest is planning her adventures of traveling the world without me. The boys are both taller than me, though I would suggest that I am still stronger and can outrun them (by distance anyway). How I parent now is changing dramatically.
As I reflect back, this parenting gig was the most challenging role that I have ever stepped into. From the first days of trying to figure out why this little human was crying, to helping them pick out their first cars, each challenge seemed to be bigger than the last. Endless hours of homework, tears, and laughter, have been the focus of my life over the past 18 years.
Learning from adversity has been amazing and has transferred easily to all areas of my life. Chief among them is the ability to turn every challenge into our greatest adventure.
Here are three things to keep in mind to make lasting memories – despite some setbacks.
How to Turn Even Every Challenge Into the Greatest Adventure
1. Adjust Fire
Author Gary Smalley wrote in several different articles and books that ‘families that camp together, stay together’. While there are assorted explanations for why this happens, the most common answer is that camping allows for disasters to take place that must draw a family together.
From the time my kids were small, we would take them camping to a small lake in Idaho every summer. It was perfect for us. A small lake for our canoe, less than a two-hour drive, and a measure of predictability, made this perfect for a family with small children. It became a tradition that we loved even as they grew older.
The most consistently predictable event was that, no matter what the weather app said, it was going to rain. Not once in the eight years that we went did we enjoy a dry camping experience. One year, it was incredible. Night one was beautiful. As we sat around the campfire, we laughed because it looked like we were going to really have a great getaway this year.
Day two started out alright, but by 10 o’clock in the morning, clouds moved in and the rain began. Not a sprinkle, but a complete deluge. We could not see the lake that was less than 10 yards away. The kids started to get grumpy. I started to get grumpy.
We decided to take the opportunity to go into a nearby town and hope the rain would let up. After checking out a few small stores, we found a tourist information booth and discovered they had an aviation museum nearby that was free. Since the rain was only getting stronger, we decided to go check it out.
The museum was bit out of the way and I was not sure we were really going to find it. But suddenly, there it was in front of us. There were tons of cars all around it. We went in and discovered that this museum was incredible. The man who put it together had invented a breathing apparatus that saved – and continues to save – the lives of children born prematurely.
Just that year, I had a cousin born who had been saved by the device. Seeing displays that showed the process was incredible. But the greatest adventure happened when it turned out that the inventor was there that day with his wife.
We talked for a few moments and were able to share our thanks for his vision. My mother had come on this trip and showed him pictures of my cousin that he had rescued. It was an amazing adventure that happened because we were willing to adjust fire when things were going downhill fast.
2. Take Risks
We discovered that lake one summer when the kids were very small. I remember carrying the youngest for a good portion of the two-mile hike around the lake. Less than 20 yards into the hike, there was a sign posted by the park rangers that said, “Parts of trail may be impassable.”
Considering the sign, I thought, “Well, if it gets impassable, we will turn around.” Did I mention the kids were small? We took the risk. There were small portions of the trail that had water, but nothing was impassable, and it soon became a joke.
However, carrying my son was making me a bit tired. For those without kids, you should know that unlike a backpack that you can strap down, a toddler likes to bounce and move and keep you off balance. As we went around a turn, I could see the campsite just over the lake. Our pace quickened until we found it.
The impassable part of the trail was a raging river that was feeding the lake. We could see that the park rangers had begun building a bridge and had put two large logs across the river. Without kids, this would be easy. With kids, I put my head down and considered the pain of going back around the lake with my squirmy toddler.
The more that I thought about it, the more that I realized that I really didn’t want to do it. Putting aside wisdom I knew, it was time to take a risk. I told the toddler to put his arms around me tight and we crossed over the river. I then went back and retrieved my next oldest and had him sit on the log and scoot on his fanny.
I scooted right behind him and ensured that he did not fall. I went back and did the same with my daughter. While I was prepared to do the same with my wife, I was amazed that she crossed over like the log was a balance beam. The challenge became our greatest adventure because we took the risk.
3. Look for the Good
On one of these trips, we took our foster children with us. These kids were total city kids, so the idea of open spaces and trees sort of freaked them out. To put it mildly, they quickly became my definition of unhappy campers.
Nothing we did could comfort them. Little relaxation would happen when they were anywhere near the lake. More than once, I was pretty sure that we had lost them. It did not take long before I decided that we had made the wrong choice bringing them with us.
My wife and kids were miserable, and I knew it was just a matter of time before it would rain. Thoughts circled all around the negative. I kicked myself for my stupidity. That is when I learned another great lesson that has allowed me to turn this challenge into the greatest adventure.
Purposely, I started looking for the good. The best I could see was not much, but it was something to start with. I started a good campfire and then found the good: marshmallows! We taught our foster kids the joy of s’mores. With chocolate and sticky white stuff all over them, we then had to take them to the lake.
Earlier, the lake had scared them. But now, they seemed to enjoy it. From there, the camping adventure became one of our best trips. It became great because we were looking for the good.
For many people, challenges are an excuse to quit. Don’t even consider it. Look for what you can learn from it. Soon, your challenges will become the greatest adventure that you will talk about with your family for generations to come.