This is a difficult post to write for me on many levels. My 12 year old daughter, Summer, is getting ready to leave on Monday for a five-day trip down the Yukon with our church group of young women. That’s a trip that is right up my alley. The only problem is, I can’t go with her…and it’s killing me.
The trip is a rafting trip that starts near Dawson City, Yukon Territory, Canada and follows the Yukon River to a take out point in Eagle, Alaska. This is some of the most remote wilderness any of us have ever been into, let alone my kiddo without a parent. Plus the fact that it is a foreign country does nothing to settle my anxiety.
When we first learned of the trip, my impulse was to say no. It’s not that I have never let my kids do things on their own. I even let Bridger do an airplane transfer at LAX by himself when he was 14. The difference is that if he made a mistake, there were plenty of people to help him in the USA, and the “wildlife” in the terminal doesn’t eat you!
My kids have been outdoors a lot, it’s just that usually it is with us, or they are older like my 23-year-old, or they are close enough for us to get there quickly. This time, it’s my little girl and she’s only 12. This type of trip is no joke on many levels. There’s the water safety aspect, the bear aspect, the weather aspect, the foreign aspect, the remoteness aspect, and the list goes on and on. I admit it, I am nervous.
As much bravado as I have when it comes to my own outdoor adventures, is as much caution as I have when it comes to my kids. I want them to experience the things they want to do, and have the same chances in nature that I’ve had. It makes no sense that I tolerate a pretty high level of risk for myself, but tolerate much less risk when I am protecting my children. It’s a maddening catch 22: holding on tightly vs. releasing the reins a little.
What do you do as a parent when it comes to a child’s adventure and when do you let them go?
It’s an answer I’m not sure I know.
But I can tell you how we arrived at the decision to let Summer go.
The first thing we did was make sure that this is something that Summer wanted to do, which she did, so I told her we’d gather the facts and evaluate.
Second question: Who would be going with her on the trip? (If Jeff or I could have gone, it would have been a no brainer, but they wanted the girls to bond.) The answer was that there will be 1 female leader per 5 girls, plus two adult men that would carry guns. Several of the adults have done this before and are very experienced outdoorsmen and women.
The next question: Where and how would they camp? The Yukon is a very wide river in places and the group plans to camp on sand bars in the middle of the river which should eliminate some of the bear threat. They will be in tents, but the camp will be bear proofed and the packing list looks appropriate to reduce the risk of uninvited guests.
Fourth question: How will they handle the river? As a former river guide on the Colorado and Green Rivers, this is something I’m very particular about. Although it’s not really rapids they would be dealing with, this water is cold and silty from runoff. They assured me the girls would wear life-jackets the entire time and that both paddle and oar options would be on the boats.
Last question: Could they contact us if they needed to? The answer was yes, there would be a satellite phone.
With this information, we decided to let her go.
I hope we made the right decision. As a parent, you want to protect your children from everything. But you can’t. They will spread their wings and fly as they set off to find adventures in their own lives. It’s selfish to want to keep them close always. I’m glad my parents let me do the things I did when I was younger and I want my kids to have the same opportunities. It’s just going to be an anxious week.
My advice for children’s adventure when you are in doubt? Gather all the facts first, make sure it’s something your child wants to do, and if the risk is acceptable…let them go.
P.S. Summer will be writing a guest post after her trip detailing her adventures. She titled it, “Summer on the Yukon.” More Later…0