Rock Climbing with Kids: Is it Selfish?

Kate Calder

We’ve had a really good spring here at Rocks and Sun. We’ve managed to get out climbing three times in the last month, and we’ve had great days each time. I snagged a girls-only day with my friend B, discovered a new family-friendly area on North Table Mountain, and spent last weekend camping and cranking at Shelf Road. And like most of our climbing trips, we brought little G along with us, even though he doesn’t climb.

Is it selfish to bring little kids along on our adventures?

G is 3.5 years old now, and if you asked him what he wants to do on any given Saturday, his answer would likely involve steam trains or the pool slide. His perfect weekend would have no naps or bedtimes, no baths, and Mommy and Daddy playing with him non-stop. And while he does get a lot of attention at the crag, is this where we’d be if it was his choice? Probably not. His choice would be the Dinosaur Playground.

As parents, Mark and I have often uttered the phrase, “The three-year-old doesn’t decide our schedule.” This is pretty much a lie we tell ourselves, because of course he decides our schedule. He decides when we all wake-up, his needs dictate when meals will be, his nap marks a break in every single day we spend together, and his bedtime is the moment parental freedom can begin. But the activities and the adventures that we cram in-between all of those time slots are family activities. And when you do something as a family, not everybody is going to get their way.

But there is a danger in dragging a resistant kid to family activities. More likely than not, this sours them on the experience. A friend of mine recently returned from a climbing trip in South Africa. He visited a family that owned a huge and beautiful tract of land, studded with rocks and filled with climbing bliss. They would take people on guided day trips, and usually brought their son along. By the time my friend visited, the kiddo was 12 years old, and complained the whole day “Do we HAVE to go rock climbing? Dad, I don’t want to climb anymore!” My friend, who had no idea climbing was even a sport until well into his college years, found this hilarious. How many kids in the world would LOVE to try rock climbing? And here was one spoiled with opportunity, who hated the whole sport.

There seems to be a fine line to toe as rock climbing parents.

On one side, the family does whatever makes the kids happiest. If this means parents give up their passions, or only practice them on days when grandma is available, so be it. If the kids demand toys, video games and a happy easy life, we should give it to them. If they don’t want to do chores, or eat their vegetables, or get enough exercise, well, at least the kids were happy, right?

On the other side, the family does whatever makes the parents happiest. If the kids don’t want to be at the crag, too bad, looks like they’re going anyway. If the parents have a family goal they can do it, and oh well, kid opinions don’t count around here. And if you grow up to resent us, and the sport, and the outdoors because of these miserable experiences, well, at least we parents were happy, right?

There has to be some place in the middle, some land of compromise. Surely we can find a way for everybody to enjoy the things Mom and Dad enjoy. We can find a way to balance the activities our kids love with our desires for them as parents. The fact of the matter is, when three, four, or five people are in a family nobody should get everything they want.

Last weekend, G was the only kid at the cliff. He was excited to go camping but disappointed that his friends would not be there. Even though he was not happy to go rock climbing, we went together as a family. And we made sure he got lots of one-on-one time with Mom or Dad. When he was cranky in the afternoon and asked to go back to camp, Mark gave up the rest of his climbing day to accommodate the little one. Our goal as a family is to be clear that nobody gets to be too selfish, but everybody gets some time to do what makes them happiest.



Is Rock Climbing Selfish by Rocks and Sun

Kate and her husband Mark moved to Colorado over 10 years ago in pursuit of computer programing day jobs and rock climbing weekends. Since then, she has climbed traditional and sport routes all over the western US, finished a Phd, and given birth to a sweet, energetic little boy. She writes about parenting in the mountains, climbing with kids, and all facets of adventure living at her blog.