So, what is your role as a parent? In a nutshell?
For those who climb, I suggest this answer – your role is to belay.
For those who don’t, I am afraid the answer is the same. It just requires a longer explanation.
Climbing is a tremendously exciting sport. It is conquest par excellence – you have to fight your way up. You use all of your strength, technique and intuition, you get tired, bruised and beat up, and at the end of it you get to look down from the top and say, “Yes! I did it!”. Then you slide down the rope and flop spreadeagled on your back savouring your victory. Life is good!
Slide down the rope. Because if you want to be able to get up to the top, you need rope. And you need a friend at the other end of that rope whom you can trust with your life. He is the one that controls slack. He watches you like a hawk, he is mentally climbing it with you every inch of the way. When you are doing well, the rope is so loose that you forget about it and feel completely free and unencumbered. You can concentrate on reading the rock face and adjusting to it so you can conquer it. You can experiment and make mistakes. You don’t need to spend any energy stressing out about being all the way up there – you feel completely secure. You know that your buddy is giving you just enough rope so as to catch you with a nice springy bounce if you were to fall.
Your partner is with you when you get stuck. He has the perspective to point out the holds you might have overlooked. He cheers you on, your victories along the way are his victories. If you ask to be let down halfway up, he makes sure you really mean it. Sometimes, when you are really stuck, and you are securely clipped, he pulls the rope tight and puts all his body weight in to give you that extra half an inch of lift so that you can traverse the tough spot. He really cares when you’ve made it to the top. Then he tells you to let go and jump, even if you are scared to death – he knows it is safe and he will hold you up. And once you are down, he unties the rope for you if your fingers have no grip left – you’ve given it all to the climb. Then it’s his turn. Now he trusts you with his life. You repeat, and you get better. Together, you can master more technical climbs, take it outside, feel safe to take on situations that would be quite dangerous or impossible if it weren’t for this relationship of security and trust.
Now, let me tell you about a bunch of things he doesn’t do if your partnership is to last and to benefit both of you.
He doesn’t climb for you. He doesn’t move your arms and legs for you. He can’t, and even if he could, it wouldn’t help anyway.
Neither does he get up on the wall by himself to demonstrate you how to climb properly. He would have to give up his post as your support to do so. And anyway, it is not his show, the two of you are working together. You will have plenty of time to watch him when it is his turn, and you will learn from his mistakes as much as from your own.
He doesn’t ever yell at you or put you down when you get stuck. Why would he – it would be completely counterproductive. Your difficulty is his difficulty, and he is trying to puzzle it out vicariously and see how he can help, not how to make you feel bad. And if you don’t reach the top, he just shrugs and makes light of it – no biggie, you’ll get it next time.
He doesn’t yank on the rope every time he thinks you are making a mistake. If he did, it would throw you off balance and make you fall more likely than not.
He learns very quickly that he has to keep the rope loose. Even though it might be helpful in some beginner situations when the rope is set up for you, tight rope restricts your movements. It does keep you on the straight and narrow, but at the expense of not letting you do meandering routes or negotiate cliff overhangs. It doesn’t let you develop your strength or technique and keeps you in artificial contrived situations.
What is worse, as soon as you start setting your own rope in lead climbing where stakes are much higher, tight rope would not let you make any progress. You will never even make it off the ground. And how much fun is this? Only doing routes that are laid out by somebody else or staying on the ground. If you wanted to keep climbing, you would either have to get a different partner or cut the rope and take your chances.
He doesn’t get distracted. Because if he did and forgot to feed the rope, it would get tight and cut you off just as you are trying to reach for that difficult hold. Or, if he doesn’t take the slack out in time, you fall pretty far without expecting it, and it’s not a comfortable feeling.
And finally, he doesn’t get frustrated with you and walk away from his post, letting you climb as you please. You can get very seriously hurt if he does this. You can die.
He gets no glory. You are the one making it to the top and savouring glory. He just makes it possible.
As a parent, you are that guy.
– Climb on!