Today's blog post is by my husband, Matt Mimnagh. His words in this post made me laugh and cry and, while I know I am biased, I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I did. I will be the first to say that what Matt shares here is really what is in his heart. He is passionate about creating a family culture of connection and raising up kids who are thinkers and problem-solvers. He is a man who practices what he preaches.
You may have heard it said that one surefire way to create a family bond is to go camping. No, not alone while the kids are at Grammy’s house. I mean going camping as a family. Is it because there are fewer digital distractions? Is it because you might find a common interest with other members in the family? Maybe you’re inspired by forming a greater spiritual connection to the beauty of creation. Or maybe (definitely) it’s because camping with your family will present you with an opportunity to work through approximately one bazillion things that will inevitably go wrong, challenge you, scare you, empower you, and unite you as a family.
Well if family camping can bring you closer, just wait until you try backpacking with your family. Nothing spells bonding like leading your family into the wilderness with all of your necessities (and theirs) on your back, out of cellphone range, away from running water and electricity. I promise you, you’ll never feel closer to your 7-year-old than when she’s holding onto your leg for balance while she tries to poop in a hole.
Breaking Out of Your Routine
I don’t know about your family, but we thrive on routine around here. We discovered early on that our home will quickly descend into pure chaos without a clear and consistent routine. My wife, the former shoeless, island-dwelling, free-spirited hippy, has become a master of schedules, spreadsheets, and charts that keep this machine running. We do many of the same things, at the same times, on the same days, in the same ways because the consistency of our rhythm actually brings peace to our family.
That said, some of our most exciting times are when we break from the routine and venture into a world where we have less of a grip on our circumstances, where anything could happen at any time and in any way. Now, with four kids that kind of adventure can be had during a quick stop at the Dollar General, but if you really want to break out of the comfort of your routine, go backpacking.
Have you ever had one of those moments when you’re in the middle of your normal day-to-day routine and, for some reason, even for just a second, the sight of your 3-year-old stops you in your tracks, and you realize it’s been a few days since you’ve slowed down enough to connect with him?
You cannot force your home life into the backpacking mold. Sure some things will crossover, like brushing your teeth before you go to sleep. But mostly you get to reinvent the way you live out your day. And the beauty of it is YOU get to decide what you do and when to do it. There is no piano class, no play date, no soccer practice, that you have to get to at any particular time. You can collect bugs for two hours if you want or read Caps for Sale for the 12th time (yes, they insist on cramming books into their packs). You can stop halfway through lunchtime to go skip rocks. You can stay up way past bedtime looking at stars and let the sun on your face wake you up instead of that obnoxious ringer on your phone.
Routine is good and is absolutely necessary in our family but it can become a crutch or, even worse, an idol. Your kids need to get the impression that you are not just getting through life with them. That they are not just a piece of your puzzle that you are forced to find a place for. They are your greatest mission. Throw the routine aside for a couple of days and show them that they are the key piece of the puzzle and everything else can be fit in around them.
Have you ever had a job that was difficult? It could have been difficult physically or emotionally or both, either way, it just wore you down. How did you survive every day? What kept you from going postal or just throwing in the towel? Sometimes, when you find yourself in a difficult situation, the only thing that keeps you going is the fact that you’re going through it with somebody else by your side. There’s a reason so many ER nurses and physicians end up dating each other, why Marines stay life-long friends with the men they fought beside, and why I sit around the gym for a few minutes talking with my workout partner after a particularly grueling class. Simply put, persevering through a difficult situation with someone else by your side will build a bond between you and that person.
A family backpacking trip will absolutely require perseverance. In our family, we call it grit. Grit is that thing in you that you only find by digging deep within yourself. It's the fight you have inside that won't give up when challenged. It doesn't have to be the fight of your life, either. I taught the concept to my daughter while on a bike ride. We were going up a steep hill and I told her she could not get off her bike and push it. I forced her to dig down and find the strength to pedal. You should have seen her face at the top of the hill. Flushed, sweaty, and a big, gap-filled grin.
While backpacking, it means one more mile to hike, one more bundle of firewood to gather, and one more tent stake to pound into the dirt. It means washing your clothes in the creek, killing the mosquitoes in your tent before you fall asleep, it means putting on your shoes in the dark, and wandering from the comfort of your tent in the middle of the night because now one of your other little angels needs to hold your leg for balance.
Now imagine a family that is conditioned to persevere through hard times together. Imagine your family staring down its next difficult season, challenge, or tragedy and being confident that your bond is strong enough to hold you together. I recently talked to a woman whose family went through illness, financial troubles, and even homelessness, and they came out the other side intensely unified and standing strong.
Don't wait for misfortune to knock on your door to find out if your family is ready for a challenge. Challenge yourselves now. Do something difficult. Learn how each of you responds to trying situations so you can learn how to respond to your kids and your spouse when they're scared or panicking. Being prepared for that, even in a small way, will give your family a much better chance of coming out of a trial even stronger.
I can't remember the last time I used the formula y=mx+b. I don't even remember what it is used for or even which math class it is from, Algebra maybe? For years I had resolved to believe that much of what I learned in classes like that was a waste of time. That was until I was asked to tutor a high school kid in Algebra. I was broke and needed cash and I was fairly certain I could relearn all that stuff. Well during the short time I tutored this young man I realized that what I actually took away from those classes I was forced to take all those years ago was the ability to work through a problem. It doesn't matter what the problem is. Most can be solved by working through a series of steps in a particular order. And if you can become a problem solver, you can do anything.
When you go backpacking, especially with kids, you will have problems. You should just accept that before you even start planning the trip because that's exactly where the problems start. And they keep coming until you're back at home and you've packed away the last piece of gear. But don't let that deter you. In fact, let it motivate you. You need to learn how to solve problems as a family. You need to know what your strengths and weaknesses are and your kids need to know too. On a recent trip, I learned that my oldest son can actually pay attention to the trail just as well as I can. He was a great navigator, noticing every trail blaze and sign, and calling my attention to the route when I needed to confirm our direction. Me acknowledging that to him put him over the moon. His confidence was off the charts. And I actually enjoyed the trip a little more because I didn't have to worry as much about making a wrong turn.
When a piece of gear breaks you might realize that your daughter has a knack for fixing things. When you realize you forgot to bring a spoon for your oatmeal your son might be able to craft a utensil from a stick and some cardboard. When you find yourself way off track and far from your destination you can talk through solutions together to salvage the rest of the trip.
Let me be the one to tell you–you're not as awesome as you think you are. It may be your job to lead the family but it doesn't mean you can do it alone. Everyone in your family has something to offer. Give them a chance to problem-solve with you and very likely you will all be impressed with each other and grow closer together as a result.
There’s a good chance I’ve convinced you to never, ever go backpacking with your kids. I hope not but, geez, why would you want to after reading this? Mosquitoes, broken gear, poop holes....none of it sounds especially enjoyable. People that get a kick out of putting themselves in challenging situations are a rare breed these days. No, we want it easy and we want it fast. After all, can’t your kids learn these lessons by playing Oregon Trail on your iPhone? No! Put your stupid phone down and take your kids outside. Be challenged, let your stomachs feel what it’s like to be hungry, carry something heavy, and make yourselves *gasp* uncomfortable. Why? Because life is uncomfortable. It is full of curve balls. It is often grueling. Just when you think you’ve got it figured out, new problems arise. Your family needs to be strong enough to endure whatever comes your way.
Because family is the place where new grown-ups are made and the world needs grown-ups who can navigate the chaos of life instead of crawling into the corner with a coloring book.
Matt is the husband of Lyndsey Mimnagh, founder of Treehouse Schoolhouse. He is the owner and operator of a small cabinet shop in the outskirts of Charlotte, NC. If he's not giving piggyback rides or reading books with their four children, you may find him hiking, backpacking, mountain biking, or eating Oreos.