/ NEW ARTICLE: Mountaineering Mums
In this UKC Feature Sarah Stirling explores the difficulties of pursuing an active climbing career and juggling family life.
She talks to top women mountaineers such as Ellen Miller, Ines Papert and Isabelle Santoire as well as weekend climbers from all over Britain.
How do they justify the dangers and time commitments of climbing when they have young children?
Read more at http://www.ukclimbing.com/articles/page.php?id=1739
Great article and very inspiring.
It's hard being a mother and wanting to climb - and people don't think twice about giving their opinion about what constitutes 'good parenting'.
Really enjoyed reading this. Thanks.
top marks to the author for combining both roles brilliantly. It does irk me that climbing mothers are expected to justify themselves "how they justify the dangers and time commitments of climbing when they have young children" far more often than climbing fathers. You would think we had managed to move on a bit by the start of the 21st century
You took the words out of my mouth....completely agree with what you have said.
Really excellent and thoughtful article. Thank you very much.
Great article, interesting and really well written.
I can only just imagine the tearing that women guides or high mountaineers must feel if they have children, and climbing whilst pregnant esp to high altitude is a whole different ball game and I'm thankfull that I took up climbing after RB was born so I didn't have any emotional grief from that.
I love winter climbing and I want to push myself and I have soloed stuff in winter (nothing hard though) I never think about the consequences of what might happen if I hurt myself badly or got killed, you just don't entertain these thoughts when winter climbing!
I've had days where I've been out in winter and got back to base very late and been too exhausted to drive the 4hrs home, so have needed RB's dad or my dad to take RB to school the next day. Has only happened a few times, but the guilt is something awful! You feel totally irresponsible and a bad mother, but often I think it's in a woman's nature to feel guilt about such things.
Conversely, I consider myself VERY lucky being a single parent as my daughter goes to her father's 90% of weekends which gives me free time to climb. Sometimes it's not enough though, I want time midweek, I want time to go off on jaunts for a few weeks, but that just can't happen. Of course, I could take RB with me, but then I can't climb as hard is she's about. It's selfish yes, but no mother is perfect.
RB has just read this article and we were discussing that some people think woman are selfish for wanting to climb, esp if there is any danger that they might get killed. RB's very 1st comment was, 'what about father's who climb, it's no different.'
Very astute my wee girl.
Yes I really enjoyed this - I wish more tabloid papers would consider such balanced views. Fat chance.
And speaking as possibly the only person in the world to have suffered a (very early) miscarriage actually on the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro I feel some qualification to speak out about the guilt trip and the pressures:
But my two sons wouldn't have it any other way. They are really proud of the fact that Mum climbs, its way cooler than playing tennis. They come along with me some of the time, enjoy it as well and my 10-year old has already done 2 lectures to school groups of 30+ on the subject of ice climbing!
Do what makes you fulfilled - kids, climbing or both.
I have to say though I was lucky enough when I was little to have gone to Snowdon and Ben Nevis once or twice with my Dad and for a very long day's walking down a deserted gorge in Crete with my Mum and I think these experiences were probably the times when I was closest to my parents in my childhood.
Mountains also have a way of making you see what is important in life, particularly if you are on your own, either on a solo trip or when you are using ropes so you are apart alot of the time. I can see how parents who used to enjoy that experience before having kids could still need that time every now and then to ground themselves. I expect I will probably be the same.
Rock gobbler, I liked your comment about what we get from mountains: a place to ground yourself, see what is important in life, bond with the people you share mountain experiences with and, for some, an amazing place to introduce your kids to one day. When you put it like that, it highlights what a big ask it is to expect any mountaineer to give up what they love.
Sounds to me like you are being a very good mother by setting an example to your wean that life doesn't go on hold for anything. And a happy parent is imho more likely to be a good parent.
BTW, I'm still up for a trip to Northumberland sometime.
Sarah, a very thoughtful, impeccably-researched piece. As the dad of a five year old, it's good to see a piece of writing that reflects the complexities of real life, as well as showing how some elite climbers have managed to continue doing what defines them professionally.
Wonderfully written, too. Thanks.
> It's hard being a mother and wanting to climb - and people don't think twice about giving their opinion about what constitutes 'good parenting'.
Tae f*ck with those people. Ignore them.
(I do see the irony of having just given an opinion in reply to Sonya)
Good article BTW. Sadly, she is no longer with us, but check out what you can about Brede Arkless, one of the first and ultimate climbing Mums. And the nicest lady you could ever meet. Some people on here will have known her far better than me.
By the way, if anyone's tried clicking my website, it's having end of the month stress issues. I will have it back up and running later.
> Tae f*ck with those people. Ignore them.
Cheers, Biped - Very much my sentiment these days. However, these people help to look after my daughter when I'm away so with me it's all about finding a balance.
It was hard to start with as my sister and I would carry a pushchair up to the crag and carried her to the top of Skiddaw when she was 10 months old - my friends and family were horrified that I would introduce her into this environment - let alone 'desert' her to get my mountain 'fix'. I hope the mountains will be an integral part of her life - where else is better to teach her respect, self awareness, confidence, communication skills, etc than the mountains?
Enjoyed reading this a lot. Since having kids my climbing has changed. I was going to write suffered, but that's unfair. I'm climbing as well now as I ever did before. I've changed styles, focusing more on bioulderng and easy soloing as I can achieve much more volume this way. Foreign trips tend to be to Font or deep water soloing in Mallorca, or somewhere like Val Di Mello. Sure I yearn for the days when the boys are old enough to hopefully want to come with us on Alpine trips, but in the meantime things are pretty dandy. That's me - I'm a dad. I'd be very intersted to read an equivalent article on dads in climbing.
Nice one Sarah, and drop me a line if you want any comments on being a dad and a climber. Climbing was my life for the best part of 14 years. My boys are now 2.5 and 2 months and ecplips everything that went before (which was pretty damned good!).
I'm not a mum, and my climbing's not that good either. But it's great to see this standard of journalism on websites like this. Great article on a fascinating subject.
I'd hate someone judging me if I was a mountaineering mum. I tried to let the people with first hand experience - mountaineering mothers (and Twid) -be the ones voicing the opinions. They all had a lot to say and I would say that many would agree with your comment.
Second that, an article on climbing Dads would be good. Also, the question of whether parents want their kids to climb/take the same risks they do would be interesting too.
Do what makes you fulfilled - kids, climbing or both.
I couldn't have said it better. We all need to follow our dreams from time to time otherwise we might end up as miserable grumpy sods.
"Someone told me Ian Parnell has declared he'll give up doing anything hard now he's a dad"
Hi Sarah excellent piece. However re your comment above, I definately intend doing as much hard climbing as I can while still btrying to be a decent dad. As a result Ive decided no more trips to the Himalaya, partly through time away (6-8 weeks) and the obvious risks. But this winter I probably climbed the hardest routes Ive done in Scotland I think partly because I was a Dad. In that my climbing time is now much more limited so I want to make the most out of that time. Its not something I feel is a burden though, infact its heigtened my enjoyment of climbing as a day out feels even more special than before.
Theres also the fact that when you spend time with young kids you are taken back to alot of the basics of life - that wonder of discovery, that thirst for new experiences, the lifeforce in full flow. For me its been a privilege to be reminded of how to approach life with fresh eyes by my 9 month old daughter.
> Very astute my wee girl.
An interesting article & good to see various different opinions expressed. I remember this being an issue with the press over Alison Hargreaves' climbing & them taking a very different stance over her being a Mother climbing than anyone had before over a Father climbing.
When I became a (single) Father I started climbing again after a 20 year break. I did apply very different criteria though with regards to risk, seriously cutting down the solo climbing. All a matter of having responsibility for other lives.
Sonya - good on RB thinking about the Dads :o) My thoughts are what about the single Dads. Like Sonya, I "lose" my children at weekends to their Mum, which in theory leaves me free to climb. Not so easy though when you are in a relationship with someone who is the best part of 200 miles away & come Sunday you have to pick the kids up early evening. A mixture of priorites & neccessities then I guess. I'll still get out when I can, but I do nothing like I'd really like to.
What do you think about your kids climbing (if they wanted to?) RB loves it, and when it comes to toproping I'm really happy for her to climb and she often comes out hillwalking which is nice as we usually have a laugh together. But leading is a whole different ball game! I get so nervous for her, sometimes I have to have someone else belay her (so my nerves don't get in her way!) She finally persuaded me to let her try a climb in winter and Andy and I took her into Sneachda a while back and up a grade I gully. I was crapping myself! I do think about the 'what if's' ie if she hurt herself. Though I do feel if she wants to climb, she should have the oppurtunity and we shouldn't wrap our kids in cotton wool. But climbing *is* dangerous, should I encourage her to do something which could ultimately hurt her? And for the folk who say, 'would you rather they were sat on the sofa playing a Playstation or out stabbing auld grannies etc' I don't really think you can make that comparison. Most people would say that a more moderate level of activity (ie running, sports, swimming etc) are better for children, ie allowing them to be active, but with lower danger levels.
Children may want to climb, but do they romanticise it? Are they fully mature enough to understand the consequences should something go wrong? Are parents wrong to put that level of responsibility on a child, who is ultimately supposed to be under their protection and guidance?
Er, I'm havering now!
> Er, I'm havering now!
You are a bit :o)
Actually I have taken mine climbing & Alec is a keen junior munro bagger. Unfortunately i have 2 of these creatures & rarely do they want to do the same thing on the occasional weekends I have them.
This was a very interesting article :o)
My kids will always come first but a mum is no where Near all i am and i don't think it should be, my kids dont either . I take my responsibilities at home very seriously and i'm not going to put myself in unnecessary danger , safety first. Just...i know i need this,my kids do to. This is mums way of going out to play :o)
It's interesting to hear the opinion expressed in this article that women feel greater responsibility to their childeren, and especially (Ines Papert's?) comments that this is entirely natural. Many feminist philosophers are keen to point out that Men tend to have equally strong desires to care for their children (what we refer to as maternal instincts), yet have a socially learned feeling that this just isn't the done thing. I personally know male climbers who are the sole/ main carers of their children, and to suggest that the effect on their lives and climbing will not be as great seems a little unfounded. Apologies if I'm getting the wrong end of the stick here.
Agree that the presses' treatment of Alison Hargreaves was totally unacceptable. Found her biography pretty heartbreaking.
> top marks to the author for combining both roles brilliantly. It does irk me that climbing mothers are expected to justify themselves "how they justify the dangers and time commitments of climbing when they have young children" far more often than climbing fathers. You would think we had managed to move on a bit by the start of the 21st century
Climbing fathers may not be judged by society to the same extent, but it does play on our own minds - well mine at least.
Bugger the kids, as long as Jude sacrifices her climbing to keep the house clean and have my tea on the table, I'm happy.
Yes, I think there a a number of differences between young children and teenager re climbing mum.
By the time your kids are teenagers, they have seen a number of your friends die. They are seriously worried that the next funeral is their mum's. They are also very conscious of the dangers. They hear the stories around the dinner table and they have themselves been rescued and have near misses - with their mum.
They themselves become strong and you have to have to reign them in, but not too much. The balance changes in the relationship: you are not anymore the provider of knowledge and skills. They put the rope up for you. They challenge you to new practices.
I think that teenagers need more time intput than young children. That takes from the climbing time.
Modern society is so devoid of danger that children are growing up unable to calculate risk in everyday situations. I read about a study that found young adults and teens are more likely to suffer serious injury or death now than ever before because of accidents that wouldn't happen if they knew how to calculate risk. Exploring our environment is healthy and should be part of every child's upbringing. If he wanted to climb I would encourage him, but he doesn't....
Very interesting article! Climbing/mountaineering mums have got so little press coverage (Am also asking UKC here - potential for more articles here?) so it was lovely to see your article online.
One question and apologies if this has been answered already and I missed it...are you a mum yourself? Just curious...
I did write earlier in the forum: "I'd hate someone judging me if I was a mountaineering mum. I tried to let the people with first hand experience - mountaineering mothers (and Twid) -be the ones voicing the opinions."
I'm going to write about mountaineering dads soon hopefully.
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