A Knife’s Edge Dance

” I can’t”

“I’m scared”

“I want down!”

“I’m too high up”

This is the usual one-sided conversation my son has with me when we are at the climbing wall of our fitness center. It also happens at the climbing cave at our favorite outdoor retailer, Midwest Mountaineering. He’s gotten himself up about six feet off the ground, he’s roped in, and he’s reached his limit.

After lowering him to the ground and calculating in my head that it took my wife more time to tie him in then it did for him to actually climb I wonder what am I doing wrong.

The funny thing is he climbed up in a tree, no harness and no rope, to about thirteen feet and only stopped when we told him to because the tree couldn’t bear his 40 lbs of beefiness. So what is it about the climbing wall that terrifies him? He’ll come off the wall and promise us he’ll go higher and try harder, but the end result is no different.

I’m former military, so is my father, my grandfather, aunt, uncles, all branches of service. Being pushed, pushing yourself, not quitting, not giving up, testing your limits and going beyond them to the point of failure and the chastisement with failing is familiar territory for me. It isn’t familiar for my little guy.

You WILL climb that wall, now move!

So where does this lack of confidence in his ability come from? It’s not germane only to climbing: it comes out in hiking, reading, writing, even putting away his clothes. It’s a total 180 from a few years ago when the boy could do EVERYTHING (or so he thought) on his own without parental interference.

This led me to thinking that there is a fine line in parenting and in life between understanding limitations and allowing failure and fear to stop you prematurely. Do I push him or do I allow him to go as high as he wants and allow time to hopefully take him higher? As a parent this is really dancing on a knife’s edge. You don’t want to encourage a child to quit and give up so easily, but at the same time you shouldn’t force them to do something that may end up breeding resentment and a sense of insecurity with someone who is supposed to help them feel secure (that was a TERRIFIC run-on sentence, my English teachers would be proud!)

I’ve run into a similar situation with myself. I went climbing at a climbing gym here in town for the first time. My wife and I wanted to compare it so we could determine whether or not we wanted to switch from the fitness center to a climbing gym. We climbed for over 2 hours. I kept trying my best to get in as much climbing as I could. I climbed so much I hurt my hands, tore them apart but at least I got a story out of it.

Here I am five days later and still sore, plus both shoulders ache now. I obviously climbed way too much and my rotator cuff muscles are far too weak. Since I  use this blog to spew my mental neurosis upon all of you I feel comfortable in making this confession. I haven’t been doing my at-home therapy exercises. I know….what a shocker huh!?!

So when I decided to look up exercises to strengthen the rotator cuff muscles I found the exact same ones as they gave me in therapy. The muscles (there are four) are important because of the way they position the shoulder. When they are weak it puts pressure on the tendons and bursa sack. Having strong shoulders doesn’t mean you have strong rotator cuffs, because they are so small when lifting weights the lats and delts get used more then they do. (Quick health lesson)

So now I find myself wondering what to do. Where is the fine line between being a pushy overbearing drill sergeant parent and a loving encouraging parent who doesn’t allow a child to quit easily but understands how to let maturity and growth happen?

I also have to discover for myself when to stop pushing myself too hard to the point of injury and where I am immobile for two days later and when I can keep going to push through physical limitation and mental barriers.  As an athlete, or anyone who does physical activity and wants to improve this can be a quandary you have as well.

So to all my readers out there I ask this: Do you struggle or have you discovered the delicate balance between pushing yourself too hard, and just enough to overcome? If so I would love to hear about it.

Until next time……Climb On!

Categories: Climbing, Insight, Outdoor Recreation | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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2 thoughts on “A Knife’s Edge Dance

  1. Hey Man, you are not alone. I’m always walking a knife’s edge with my son as well. It’s a tough balance both him and I. When he gets stuck on the rock, faced with a problem, there are times when he just doesn’t want to work it out and push through. Unfortunately for him, I’m on the bottom pushing him and sometimes my frustration comes across in my voice. However, the last couple of times I’ve really begun to recognize it and when I do I say out loud or to myself; “Ok, I’ll shut up now” my son seems to be more successful. He’s at an age where he really likes to figure things out on his own and it would seem that when I push him, he starts to shut down. So, I’m learning to just shut up, and provide feedback and praise after the climbs rather than during. 🙂

    As far as my own knife’s edge, I know that all too well. My climbing partners are all way ahead of me in terms of experience and technique and I find myself pushing my body to try and keep up. I know I shouldn’t. I know I should work my way up to their levels, but I’m an athlete and I compete, especially against myself. Som days I have that balance, other days I don’t, but I’m learning to accept that as well and learning to say “Ok, I’ll shut up now” 🙂


    • Andy,

      Appreciate the insight. It sure enough is a fine line. I’ve been finding lately that the knife edge is awfully sharp! My body just can’t take the abuse my mind wants to dish out on it. Even two days after climbing last I can still feel the affects, the problem is it’s so much fun!

      One of the reasons I was drawn to it was I get a workout without feeling like I was working out. We get to spend time together, get great exercise, and get a mental workout too. I really hate limits…..they’re so limiting!


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