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Parenting Off The Beaten Track

Last weekend we decided to check out a fairly popular local hike. We looked it up in our hike book and decided that we’d start from a point midway along and make a loop by using a marked but much smaller side trail back up to where we started. Along the way I learned a few things about taking the path less traveled by, in hiking and in parenting.

Planning and Knowledge Matter

Our route was made possible by the research we did before we left the house. We Google mapped the side road we would start from, and double checked it with the paper map when our first try at finding our trailhead brought us to a “Mature Residents Only” gated community. Um, I was thinking more like wilderness trail, not suburbs for seniors. We were definitely in the wrong place, but found the right turnoff after consulting the map again.

hike marker

Research has helped me quell fears and find my path in parenting too. Knowing homebirth success rates, transfer rates, cesarean rates and overall infant mortality rates helped me make an informed decision to give birth at home. Knowing that breastfed toddlers continue to receive significant nutritional, emotional and immunological support from breastmilk helps me shrug off whatever other people might think. I’m glad to have a map to refer to, even if I still have to deal with day-to-day uncertainty.

The Well-Trodden Path Has A Momentum of Its Own

For part of our hike, we followed the main path downhill until we found the smaller, less worn trail to complete our loop back up the hill. While we were on the main path we met someone we knew, walked along together for a while, passed many other people, their dogs and kids. The constant stream of people seemed to suck us into following along that path, and I was glad that Tom piped up to remind us that we needed to start looking out for the small path soon. It would have been easy to forget to watch for our turnoff.

baby tree

There are certainly days when I feel like the easiest and most sensible choice would be to send Bea to the kindergarten down the street. I felt a lot of internal conflict when other moms started going back to work when their maternity leave was done, and for a while I doubted my decision to stay home. The current of the mainstream has a strong pull when you’re in the midst of it.

The Less-Trodden Path Has More Hidden Treasures

I don’t know whether it’s simply because fewer feet pass by or because the people who find those alternative routes are alternative kind of folks, but we found all kinds of treasure on the little path. We found an Inukshuk, several excellent walking sticks and a nurse log with tiny, tiny newborn trees sprouting up from it. We could talk back and forth with each other and let Bea set her own pace without fear of holding up other people on the trail.


Still, there was a moment when I thought I’d found the trail and we all stared up into the forest at the small path leading through the trees and a solitary yellow marker dangling from a tree branch, trying to decide whether this was really it. Would we say goodbye to our friend and the security of the main path to potentially bushwack our way uphill all the way back to the road? YES! I suspect the thrill of adventure had a lot to do with our willingness to give it a try. That and the fact that I knew to recognize the “faded yellow paint splotches” as trail markers.

Sometimes I wonder whether I prefer the lonely paths because I’m quite happy to choose the company of myself or a few dear ones over being part of a crowd, or whether there really are more treasures to be found by taking the path less traveled by. Maybe it really just boils down to wanting a forest hike to feel like a daring and remote mountain experience, even if I’m only 20 minutes away from downtown. In any case, I’m glad we ventured up that small, almost unmarked path last weekend.

How do you feel about taking the path less traveled by? Do you find it stressful or exhilarating?

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • olivegirl April 12, 2011, 11:39 am

    I suppose it’s human nature to think the path we choose – whether alternative or not, is superior.

    If you gave me a spectrum and asked me where I fit, I’d have a hard time picking a spot. I supplemented with formula for 3 months then exclusively breastfed until 6 months. I weaned them at one. I work full-time, but mostly at home. I had a c-section (emergency) despite preparing and planning for a vaginal birth of twins. I practice mostly gentle discipline, but think a smattering of authoritative direction keeps the calm. I co-slept with them for six months – but then moved them to separate cribs and hired a sleep trainer when they turned one. While some of these were not exactly “choices” – I have no regrets.

    There are more than just two paths diverging in the wood. There are as many paths as there are people, and we all find our treasures.

  • Leah April 12, 2011, 1:25 pm

    I agree with olivegirl – each parenting path is slightly different and it’s hard to predict what that path is going to look like until you actually embark upon it. I know I had a lot of ideas about how I wanted to parent before I had a child but then modified lots of stuff when it came to actually doing it. In some ways we are very mainstream but in some ways we venture into the more alternative realm. I like meandering through different styles and adapting different things that work for us.

    • michelle April 12, 2011, 5:18 pm

      I agree that everyone is on their own individual path, whether a parent or not. Everyone’s making things up as they go along whether they know it or not. In my case, I found that my path as a parent became more alternative than I was expecting once I got going, and in many cases it would have been easy to dismiss certain ideas immediately because of stereotypes or assumptions that weren’t true. Reading and asking questions led me to a new understanding about the different choices available to me.

      I didn’t intend this post to be a “crunchier-than-thou” one, and I hope it wasn’t taken that way. I totally understand that not everyone can or should make the same choices I do. Not everyone will see walking sticks, nurse logs or breastfeeding toddlers as treasures, but I hope you can see why I think they are valuable and worth considering.

      • Leah April 12, 2011, 5:50 pm

        Michelle, I didn’t think you came across as acting superior at all. I really admire your approach to parenting and have learned a lot from you! I was commenting on your question about the path less traveled and realized that my path changes all the time!

        Your approach to parenting reminds me a lot of informed choice. With informed choice one learns about all the different possibilities, the pros and cons, the community standards and then he/she makes a choice. It might not be the popular choice or the mainstream choice but the individual has reasons for making it and it makes the most sense to him/her. Some people really like informed choice and are willing to put in the work to understand a complex issue and make a decision about it while other people prefer to just do what is usually done or have someone in authority make decisions for them. Informed choice works very well in midwifery care and I think it works well beyond the immediate postpartum too.

        • michelle April 14, 2011, 10:40 pm

          That’s a great analogy, Leah. I think it was the process of researching birth stuff so I could make an informed choice that started me off on this path of parenting.

  • Tom April 12, 2011, 4:33 pm

    I don’t think Michelle was suggesting everyone take her path – to each their own.

  • mellymilly April 12, 2011, 5:21 pm

    After 4 kids, I have slowly learned to make peace with myself. We do our best, and hope for the best. Always remind myself, your children are not your children…they are the sons and daughters of life’s longing for itself..Kahlil Gibran :)

  • Cynthia April 12, 2011, 8:57 pm

    I really enjoyed this post. :)

  • Olivegirl April 13, 2011, 10:53 am

    I like the path and treasure metaphor – I was suggesting that the treasures can be found on whatever path you choose – whether the well-trod, the circuitous or the uncharted one. I’ve altered course many a time on this journey of parenting – sometimes well planned, other times on a whim, but I try not to fret about the treasures I will miss had I taken the other direction – too many options, not enough time! :-)