Family Biking: Saying ‘no’ to our kids can lead to many other yeses

Posted by on December 22nd, 2021 at 7:33 am

(Photos: Shannon Johnson/BikePortland)

Tis the season, isn’t it? The season of consumerism, consumption, over-buying, over-spending, and over-doing. Tis also the season of comparisons, between your family and everyone else’s. Family comparisons (is life a competition this time of year?) are even made the old-fashioned way, via holiday cards, in case social media were not judging you enough. Soon even the daily snail-mail makes it abundantly clear that everyone you know had a perfectly rosy year, amazing children, and are always happy. Everyone else’s family seems, from the photos, to “have it all” and “do it all”.

It’s really hard to be a parent in this age of comparison, perfectionism, social media, social judgements, and American expectations. Every parental choice can feel complicated and loaded. I fret over every decision, especially this time of year. I think family biking can help us here, as our heads spin and pocketbooks strain.

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Family biking can remind all of us that saying “no” can be a most beautiful way to say yes.

The choice to bike with one’s children is an alternative choice, and it can remind us that all of our parental and life choices have pros and cons, benefits and sacrifices, yeses and nos. Family biking often takes longer than driving. It’s hot or cold or whatever temperature it is outside. It can be sweaty and give you helmet hair. It takes effort and energy that might have been utilized somewhere else. Someone will argue that it’s dangerous to bike with your children, just as someone will probably judge any parenting choice that you make, especially if it’s different from their choices. And then, what if you begin to make other alternative choices as you bike more with your kids? What if you decide to shop locally, from stores you can reach by bike, which perhaps requires you spend more money on products you could have bought cheaper if you drove to a bigger store? What if you decide to limit your and your children’s activities to those that can be reached by bike or public transit? Soccer is too far, so you choose swim team for your little ones instead. What if, oh my, you even decide to give up your car altogether, and make a family life locally, by bike and transit, and just say “no” to all the places outside of that circle? Then, oh dear, then your kids can’t “have it all!”

It’s quite hard to make choices that involve saying “no”, especially to our children, especially when it seems like everyone else around us is saying “yes”. I feel the weight of that especially heavily this time of year.

But let us take heart! Family biking can remind all of us that saying “no” can be a most beautiful way to say yes. Yes to less driving, yes to quality time with our children, yes to exercise and fresh air, yes to slowing down, yes to living locally, yes to shopping nearby, yes to immersing ourselves in our neighborhood and local community. But the reverse of that means saying no to quite a lot. And that is a lesson I need to remember during this time of year.

It’s okay, and even good and healthy and wise to say no, even if it seems like all of the other parents in the neighborhood or at school are saying yes. We can say no to that toy, no to that gadget, no to that video game, no to those social media comparisons, no to that party, no to that travel plan, and no to the guilt over saying no. It’s okay. Your kids are going to be OK. Even better than okay, even better than they would be if you always said yes, even if you could.

I hope this is a beautiful season for everyone. But I recognize how stressful it can be, especially when financial constraints make it impossible to say yes to all the things we might want to have, buy, and give to our children. (Hey, all of my kids’ “new” bikes this Christmas are most definitely not new, as we continue our habit of buying used gifts for our children… they’ll be fine.) I hope that instead of feeling guilty, you can go for a bike ride, and remember all of the blessings that can come from having less, going slowly, and not “having it all”.

NOTE: Thanks for sharing and reading our comments. To ensure this is a welcoming and productive space, all comments are manually approved by staff. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for meanness, discrimination or harassment. Comments with expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia will be deleted and authors will be banned.

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Matt S.Mark smithcalebSam YerkeShannon Johnson (Family Biking Columnist) Recent comment authors
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9watts
Subscriber

Good for you!
I firmly believe in principles, and sticking to them. I really appreciate your article!

Skip Spitzer
Guest

Our household is car-free (we rent a car occasionally) and my six year old has benefited from growing up this way in more ways than I can count. It definitely is a great way to support children’s development–independence, self-esteem, confidence, executive function, values, emotional intelligence, health, road safety, sense of discovery, environmental awareness, and probably just about everything else we want for our children. Thanks for taking on this topic!

Harald
Guest

I don’t have kids and I don’t have a car. The article really resonates with for my own life and activities. Thanks for sharing.

Caleb
Guest
Caleb

Same here, and I share Harald’s thanks.

Mike Quigley
Guest
Mike Quigley

Family biking is about the only family thing out there that is truly family friendly. Despite all the family this and family that you see and hear, America is the absolute worst developed country for children, with virtually no early child care support (the child tax credit is the latest to go). What support is available is horribly expensive and unaffordable for most working class families. And, if the kids survive early childhood, they’re forced through a mostly failed public education system (not to mention costly higher education).

One big reason why America’s birth rate keeps plummeting?

Steve Scarich
Guest
Steve Scarich

So empowering to see a very pregnant woman heading out for a ride.

Lisa Caballero (Southwest Correspondent)
Editor

I loved this article, Merry Christmas!

Matt S.
Guest
Matt S.

I value and respect the columnists perspective however I disagree on living a no car life with kiddos. I’ve argued this one for years on bikeportland: you don’t need a car for the city, but to get away from the city. With the way things are going, it’s important more than ever to get away to the lakes, mountains, rivers, and fresh air. We went camping multiple times this year with other families (it’s a big part of our lives). We brought bikes, kids could ride and roam without the worries of being hit by cars, riding through homeless camps or the fears of being abducted. I felt like I could finally relax.

I come from a time when I was car free (my first six years in Portland) and where I also worked for a bike factory. I lived and died by the bike. Groceries, dating, travel, commuting—all by the bike. I loved it and recognize it was a brief moment in my life where I said yes to the bike for everything.

caleb
Guest
caleb

Your post seems misplaced to me. Has the author ever discourage renting automobiles, ride sharing, etc?

Matt S.
Guest
Matt S.

Great, rent a car, carpool. Just get out of the city from time to time — this isn’t Omaha, Nebraska where everything is flat and boring once you leave the city.

Sam Yerke
Guest
Sam Yerke

Yes!!! Thank you for the article, this resonates with me so well!

Mark smith
Guest
Mark smith

If our society had a mass casualty event where all video game consoles were infected with a virus that rendered them inoperable forever, I would be all for it as that seems to be one of the most toxic things of our society.