3 Things Camping Has Taught Me About Parenting


Jim Gaffigan once quipped, “So I went camping for this next joke…”

I get it. I didn’t grow up doing a lot of camping, but several years ago my older son had father / son camping trip with the local Scout pack, so we borrowed a tent, made some sandwiches, and set off into the woods. He had the most amazing of amazing times. I needed five full days to recover.

Since then, though, I have learned a lot about camping. Our family has steadily accumulated gear. We’ve learned the tricks of the campsite and what the true essentials are (at least for our family). And now, these several years later, we are more or less a camping family. Don’t misunderstand – we’re not hiking miles onto the Appalachian Trail and hunting squirrels for dinner. But we did buy a French press for coffee in the mornings. We’ve made a pretty good run at many of the state parks of Tennessee, and every time we go we build some good and lasting memories for our family.

But not only has camping caused us to gather some really cool stuff we keep in the garage, it’s also taught us some good lessons about parenting in general. Here are three of them:

1. Prepare, or wish you had.

Let me take you back to that first camping trip when we were so ill prepared. I didn’t know how to set up a tent; didn’t know how to start a fire; didn’t know how to cook food. I had the barest of borrowed essentials, and my lack of preparation made for an overall rough experience. So when Jana and I decided we were actually going to do this – for real – it took some investment on our part, and a good local REI store. Each time I’ve gone camping, I’ve come home thinking of one or two small things that we can add to our stash so that we can be better prepared for the next go round. Now, there are a couple of tubs of gear stacked in the garage, ready to be pulled out two or three times a year.

Such is the case with parenting. True enough, we cannot anticipate every situation our kids are going to find ourselves in, and trying to do so is a maddening endeavor. At the same time, we do know there are certain conversations we need to have, certain truths we need to speak, certain circumstances that every child will face. And when we think through those and talk about them with each other beforehand, at least we have some kind of plan going in. Doing so, though, not only prepares us as parents, it causes us to look with wonder on the perfect Father who is never caught off guard by what comes into our lives. He is always prepared and always ready to give us what we need.

2. Slow is not bad.

I’ve found that everything – everything – slows down when you’re camping. The things that take you 30 seconds at home suddenly take you 15 minutes. The process of making a camping breakfast (which, in my opinion, is truly the most delicious meal a person can have) is at least an hour long process from start to finish. But slow is not bad.

As parents, we are playing the long game. Along the way, there are going to be joys and disappointments, triumphs and defeats. Though character is displayed in the moment it is forged in the furnace of time. When we have that long game perspective as parents, we can look beyond what is happening in that single moment and pray and move toward the end of helping our children grow into the gospel-driven kingdom people God intends for them. For this is the same way God works with us as His own children, re-birthing us in a moment but then progressing us toward the likeness of His Son over a lifetime.

3. No activity doesn’t mean wasted time.

Our camping experiences have always involved a good amount of time sitting around the campfire doing… nothing. Well, not nothing I suppose – this latest round had several hours of the adults telling stories from their own childhood which then evolved into kids telling stories about their own more brief childhoods. There was a lot of laughter, a lot of yawning, all in the midst of this nothing. Back in the real world, that kind of sitting around might be seen as wasted because we weren’t necessarily accomplishing anything. But no activity doesn’t mean wasted time.

When the activity starts to wane, opportunity starts to present itself. It’s opportunity for hearts to be opened and words to be spoken. This open heartedness is often squelched by the frenetic activities of each day but there, around the campfire, where there is no other option, we suddenly have room. This also happens, I’ve found, in the stillness and quietness we spend with the Lord. When we cease our striving and stop our activity for a while, our hearts open to spend true time with our Father. And neither is that time wasted.

I don’t know if you’re a camper or not. If you are, you’re likely better at it than I am. But maybe this is a season, with your own family, that you need to throw a tent in the car and head to the backyard or out to the woods. I think you’ll probably go there a second time.

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