Build lasting memories and instill strength
Going camping with the kids as a Solo Mom is a daunting decision. Camping makes us feel vulnerable in the woods at night with only the flimsy walls of a tent between us and the bogeyman. Choosing to do so requires a measure of courage, confidence, and a desire many don’t consider, which begs the question . . .
Are you really alone?
In today’s world, cell service is getting increasingly hard to escape, which makes camping at most sites merely a choice to disconnect and not a requirement. This should give some measure of comfort—knowing that help is just a phone call away. Even if you choose to camp in an area without cell service, there almost always will be other people camping nearby, park rangers, or proximity to a road where you could flag down help, if needed. As a Solo Mom, reminding yourself you’re not alone can be a huge psychological boost.
Overcoming your fear
Beyond that, and perhaps more important, is the lesson it teaches your children: not to be controlled by fear. One thing a Solo Mom should consider is that by being too afraid to do certain things, she might be passing that sense of vulnerability on to her children, who likely desire to do all the things a two-parent family does—such as camping. To someone who’s never parented alone, this may sound like much ado about nothing, but for those of us who have lain awake at night with the responsibility of young lives weighing solely on our shoulders, you know exactly what I’m talking about.
So, get excited about camping, and involve your children in the choice of location as well as the planning and preparation for the trip. Their excitement will be contagious, and it will become something you’ll tackle together as a family while turning fear of the unknown into an adventure.
Preparation is key
Preparation is the key to alleviating a lot of stress involved when camping as a Solo Mom. Really, that’s the secret to most things, regardless of your personal situation. Many online resources are available regarding camping logistics, and links are included at the end of this article to assist you in choosing a location and preparing food, camping materials, and emergency items. It’s critically important to spend some time both planning and preparing for a camping trip. The time spent on these two endeavors will go a long way to ensuring success and an enjoyable escape.
It’s helpful to spend your first night outside close to home, even in your backyard. This ensures all the essentials are handy and introduces your children to sleeping outside. Lay out all your items, and organize and pack them in plastic tubs or marked bags so they are readily available when on location. Involve the children in this process, and imitate what you’ll do when you reach your campground, from site selection to getting gear and setting up the tent. If you can’t have a campfire in your backyard, make popcorn or s’mores in the microwave. Be patient, as it may take some time to set up the tent the first time, and remember, it’s supposed to be fun!
Choosing a campsite
When looking for that first campsite, keep fun foremost in your mind, and choose a site with amenities such as nearby hiking trails, a lake, or a creek to explore. Also for the first time or two, stay closer to civilization by choosing a family-oriented campground. This can also comfort you—the knowledge that other families are nearby. If you really want to play it safe, opt for a cabin and eventually work your way to a tent.
For our first camping experience, I chose a site next to the fairgrounds by the Missouri River. It turned out to be a great opportunity to both enjoy the river and explore the fair. The only downside was the noise from the stands during the rodeo in the evening. I was careful to select a campsite that was level, not too far from fellow campers and not too close to the restrooms. Ours had a fire pit and a picnic table, which was convenient for easy dinners of roasted hot dogs followed by s’mores. The kids loved the sounds from the fair and the cheering from the stands as they drifted off to sleep each night.
Conquering the dark
If you’re like me, camping is no big deal until nighttime arrives. The night can be challenging enough at home, and for the Solo Mom, who is the primary protector and provider, it can be hard to get a solid night’s sleep. But there is something primordial about being in the woods at night with your children. It brings out both the mama bear and the scared little child.
Before you go camping, it’s critical to face and conquer this irrational fear. Camping out at home in the backyard helps, but a little forethought and a few tricks can help, too. When laying out the sleeping area in the tent, place the children in the middle of the tent with you on the outside, and surround all of you with your gear. It may sound silly, but the psychological feeling of protection from some walls of gear is really helpful, rather like stuffing pillows under the covers next to you when trying to sleep alone in a big bed. (Come on, you know you’ve done it.) Bring the family dog for additional comfort and as a first alarm. Also, be sure to have a battery-powered lantern and a couple of flashlights within easy reach. I’ve also found that bringing pillows from home and a blanket or two to cover everyone up together adds to the sense of comfort and security.
Keep a loose agenda
When daylight arrives, if you’re a go-getter, get up and start a fire to warm everyone as they rise. If you’re not, then snuggle in the tent with your kids until the temperatures rise. Bring simple breakfasts (premade omelets in Ziploc bags, canned biscuits) that you can prepare in one skillet. Keep the schedule loose with some ideas for activities, but don’t overschedule the kids with arduous hikes and other excursions. This should be a time for everyone—including you!—to relax and enjoy togetherness away from the wired-in world at home.
When I took my children on a camping trip on Holter Lake in Montana, we stopped and bought a cheap inflatable raft. While my son fished off the dock, my daughter and I tied the raft to the dock and drifted onto the lake, always a pull away from the safety of the dock. We had the best conversations, and my son was in heaven being able to fish independently. Our evenings were spent around the fire, nibbling on bits of the perch my son caught and insisted on serving with our dinner, proud to be the provider. While the kids slept in until the sun hit the tent in the morning, I was up with the dogs making a fire to sit around and warm them when they rose. We had no grand agenda, only to let each day unfold naturally. They ask me every year when we’re going back.
Prepare for the unexpected
Just as important as keeping a loose agenda, however, is being prepared for the unexpected. Don’t be dismayed if circumstances arise that result in cutting the trip short. Keep the needs of the children paramount, not the work it took to plan the trip and make it happen.
The funniest but most frustrating example I can give is from the only camping trip I took with friends. We went into the Crazy Mountains in Montana, which are beautiful, but they are a daunting location for small children because of the steep terrain and remoteness. We’d only just unloaded and set up camp when we heard a scream from the woods. My son came running out crying, his nose already starting to swell from a bee sting. Several hours from any kind of medical clinic, I was terrified because he’d never had a bee sting before and he had severe allergies. All I could do was treat the sting and pray that his reaction would only be local. Luckily, it was. The next morning, however, his eyes were swollen, and I could tell he was having some kind of allergic reaction. I left a note for my friends (who’d gone on a hike of their own) and hastily broke down camp, cramming everything into the back of my Jeep, heading down the mountain for a two-hour drive back to our little town on the prairie. By the time we made it home, his asthma was settling in enough that I had to give him a nebulizer treatment. Listening to my motherly instinct and abandoning my plan had been the right call.
The rewards of camping with children and the memories made far outweigh the planning and preparation involved, the most important of which is tackling the fear of doing something alone without perceived support. That said, however, it is also smart to be mentally prepared—maintaining a sense of humor, relaxing, and letting go of that sense of control we might lose when operating in a new environment without the familiar walls of home. This means embracing the challenge and adventure while controlling the self-talk that continually tries to play upon the Solo Mom’s mind, sending messages of doubt, fear, or aloneness. The experience will strengthen not only your core mental strength but also the bond you share with your children.
Check out these links for thoughtful, comprehensive thoughts about site selection, easy meals, and packing lists. Most important, get excited about this new adventure. Remember that those little eyes are watching, and in pretending to have courage, it will be discovered. In my five years as a Solo Mom, some of my children’s most memorable (and now most requested) family events are camping trips.
A fourth-generation Montanan, Andre Zollars is a former U.S. army major who has also held management positions in marketing with MCI and the Sacramento Bee. She now resides in Lewistown, Montana, with her husband, four kids, three dogs, a cat, and a horse. Andre has published in print and online publications, including USA Today Travel, Yahoo! News, Livestrong.com, Big Sky Journal, and more. You can connect with her on Twitter and LinkedIn.
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