Do you ever scroll through Facebook and raise your eyebrows at some of the updates describing perfect family outings? Do you feel deeply inadequate at the scenes of cross-generational harmony, big joyful smiles, out in the open air, without a screen or piece of technology in sight, and none of the anxiety and tantrums you recall from your own recent trips out?
Those scenes of tranquillity and accord often take my mind back to the last time we took our child around Tollymore Forest Park. The walk seemed to start well. There was some delightful scampering along the path, with its soft carpet of pine needles underfoot. The pretty sunshine was breaking through the forest canopy. We traversed the stepping stones to cross the racing channel of water without getting wet.
The child was picking up a series of twigs and sticks to carry around the trail. The size of the timber seemed to increase in proportion to their grumpiness. But the moment of crisis came when we were half way around. An enormous branch, thicker than the child’s arm, was picked up.
Something inside me snapped and I put my foot down. It was clearly too big to be carried back to the car by a tiring child. I wasn’t willing to lug it around. It was not going to be transported home. And when this litany of common sense didn’t stir the child to set it down and pick up something smaller, I grabbed the branch and threw it into the trees. Sorted. Cue melt down.
With a show of petulance, my inner manchild had sabotaged whatever chance we had of completing the walk in calm or peace. I should have held my tongue, applied a bit of perspective, and exercised a lot more patience. I was an adult after all.
With his show of petulance, my inner manchild had sabotaged whatever chance we had of completing the walk [in calm or peace]
Looking back, it wouldn’t have killed us as parents to wait for the child to tire of carrying the heavy log and set it down of their own accord, learning a lesson about biting off more than they could chew rather than us oldies knowing better and jumping to the conclusion without showing our working out. Instead, I exercised parental power too quickly.
This summer, I’d love to return to Tollymore Forest to redeem it as a place worthy of a family outing. If you’re there at the same time, you’ll spot me as the adult that is insisting on carrying an overly large branch around as penance, followed by a sulking teenager who I suspect still won’t want to be out in the fresh air, but may in time may laugh at my attempt to put things right.
So even if your family outings this summer don’t turn into picture-perfect Kodak moments, in the spirit of every cloud having a silver lining, fear not because these imperfect occasions can still create memories that families can share. Times that you can chuckle – and cry – about in years to come.
Alan is a freelance journalist and arts / politics blogger better known online as