Essay: The Highs and Lows of Climbing as a Parent

Highs and Lows of Climbing as a Parent

It’s been just over a year since my daughter became mobile and I can count the number of times I’ve climbed outside on my fingers and toes.

Not for lack of trying; that’s been a weekly attempt. But, because the time involved in getting out to the crag and get back home by dinner (somehow avoiding the LA traffic) has been elusive.

I rejected this sentiment, but now, nearly three years in, I realize kids can really put things on hold.

All of the blogs say that you can easily take your child with you: raise them at the crag, unschool, let them roll around in the dirt to build up their immune system.

Well, speaking from first-hand knowledge, there is a list of variables that must be present for this lifestyle to come “easily.” Things like: a partner who climbs and will go with you, close proximity to the crag, a child who easily sleeps in a tent or outside of her crib, a group of other parents who can help watch the child …

For the rest of us, regular crag days are going to be low on the priority list for awhile.

Thursday dawn patrol has been my outdoor attempt for the last year. Every Wednesday morning I make plans with my climbing partner to gear up and meet at 5:30 a.m. in hopes of good conditions and little traffic. And, like infuriating clockwork, nearly every Wednesday night something would arise to rearrange those plans.

During the day-to-day, these things roll off, because I strive for an equal relationship with my partner. I do not take weeks away scaling mountains leaving her with the child. There is no expectation, conscious or unconscious, that her role is to raise our daughter while I play. We have a detailed schedule in which we strive to give both of us personal space and seek out as much family time as possible.

That’s a tough effing schedule to keep. But, we try.

I consider myself fortunate to have been able to continue climbing throughout my daughter’s life. While my schedule waxed and waned, my partner, because she physically grew our daughter, was forced to stop running altogether (her climbing equivalent). In this, she is endlessly patient and flexible. It escapes me, her strength.

You would think that because I still get to climb, just not outside, I would find some way to mirror my partner’s flexibility. She must be a saint, because every Wednesday night when plans fall through, the world feels like it shatters.

Every time.

I realized the other day, it feels like legitimate deprivation or depression. Only a climber would understand this because to the world at large it seems to petty, nearly entitled.

One Wednesday, a few weeks back, two separate veteran parents (one a gestational parent and one a supporting parent) commented on this without my prompting. Both had the same thing to say.

The first five years of your child’s life will bleed waves of elation and nothing short of depression. It’s just like being a preteen all over. Climbing will bring comfort and such sadness as roles change, schedules morph, and children become more mobile. Both found themselves in similar situations, feeling similar emotions.

And, it passes.

They both hugged me, and told me again, it passes. In a completely validating way, they resonated with knowing the space I was in and assured me that this short period of time is real, but not forever.

My daughter has been raised at the gym. She was at the crag in New England’s March weather at three months old. Now, at nearly 2.5, she has her own climbing shoes and comfortably scales walls both indoors and out. She is fortunate enough to go to school. My partner supports my climbing. And, these variable’s don’t always add up to the Instagram photos you see of other families spending weekends at the crag.

The mountains truly do call. In a relentless, agonizing way. They are met with an equally furious call for flexibility and familial presence.

I hold on to the sweet moments I am fortunate to spend with my family. And, I know, that one day the time crunch will pass. I know I will be able to answer the mountain’s call. Hopefully with my partner back on trails and daughter by my side.


Want more? Get our awesome climbing newsletter, delivered weekly.


Explore More

Related articles you'll love

Our 40+ most popular articles ever
Today’s Best Rock Climbing Gear Deals
200+ rock climbing videos
6 Tips to Climb Harder Than Ever … While Working Full Time
Story: 9 to 5 Ruins Lives
Essay: What a Long, Strangely Normalized Trip It’s Been—The Role of Counterculture in Climbing
“I Will Climb, Too” — A Story on Mentorship and Responsible Climbing
The Dirtbag Dream, and How it Nearly Ruined Climbing For Me
Nursery Rhymes, Biomechanics, and Bad Attitudes — Why I Stopped Climbing
The 5 Best Friends to Have at the Crag
Essay: To Suffer Well — An Ode to Grit
Essay: How to Climb When You’re Not Alex Honnold
Essay: A Bad Month, Or, The Broken Man’s Guide to Climbing
Will You Be My Trad Guru?: The Importance of Apprenticing in the Gym Climbing Era
Essay: Looking for a Partner, Pants Off Limits
Get daily updates by Liking us on Facebook
Free rock climbing PDFs on technique, training, knots, and more

Tags from the story
More from Michelle Lloyd

How to Survive a Climbing Injury

Face it—your finger doesn’t quite feel right. When you climb, it might...
Read More
  • Arthur Lee

    Thank you so much for writing this article! It totally resonates with me. I have a 15 month old daughter, and I can’t wait for her to start climbing (she’s already throwing her legs high and mantling over 3-4 feet boulders!). I understand the deprivation and antsi-ness with not being able to climb. Fortunately, I have a supportive co-parent who gives me time to go to the local gym (Pacific Edge in Santa Cruz, CA). I am hoping that once she is potty trained and is a bit more self-sufficient, we can travel and climb outside together 🙂