Nutan Shinde-Pawar discusses the difficulties many parents - and especially women - with outdoor passions and careers face when deciding whether or not to start a family...
I am worried about what motherhood means for my outdoor dreams. Would it mean losing my passion for climbing and walking? Giving up on my outdoor writing career and shifting to other secure jobs? I feel that the very concept of a "climbing mother" or "female climber" reminds us that something is different, requiring definition, for women. But a climber is a climber irrespective of age, gender, country or giving birth.
This article explicitly refers to research on women working in the outdoors, but doesn't cite the source. Could it be provided?
Sorry, didn't see any mention of the current population size. Just think it ought to be a factor to be considered is all.
That picture of Rachel Briggs bouldering is a terrible example or responsible parenthood, one of her sons is actually touching the crash pad and the other is 20 cm behind it but still in her fall line.
> That picture of Rachel Briggs bouldering is a terrible example or responsible parenthood, one of her sons is actually touching the crash pad and the other is 20 cm behind it but still in her fall line.
That's a pretty judgemental comment on a photo in which you can't really see the angle of the climb or how likely she is to fall back from the mats. If the problem is not very overhanging and she has positioned the mat properly then it would seem the chances of that are minimal. Sure the kids might be better off a couple of feet further back, but she's also done remarkably well to get them to sit still and read while she climbs. Bouldering with small kids isn't easy and sometimes you just have to be a bit more careful to keep your eye on your fall zone and where they have wandered to.
> That picture of Rachel Briggs bouldering is a terrible example or responsible parenthood, one of her sons is actually touching the crash pad and the other is 20 cm behind it but still in her fall line.
Shortly after becoming a parent I remember posting a picture of us out/about with my daughter online, which received a single judgemental comment such as this, and ever since I have been reluctant to post anything online for fear of the comments that might be made. It's toxic, hugely disrespectful and - in the current set of circumstances - entirely unnecessary.
As Si dH's states within his own response, you can't really see the angle of the climb. What you can see is how much fun she's having and that in/of itself is inspiring. The fact the kids are sitting down is another remarkable feat of parenting too, as I suspect mine would be charging off into the undergrowth somewhere, never to be seen again.
Maybe rather than trying to pick holes in other people's parenting it'd suggest you actually read the article, because your comment highlights the exact sort of stigma it describes:
"I wonder why is there this nastiness for mothers?"
"I want to be a climbing mum who is not labelled as selfish"
It's brave of Nutan to stick her head above the parapet given the inevitability of ignorant comments such as yours.
Nobody pauses mid problem to smile at the camera unless they are well within their comfort zone. I think she's cruising something comfortably that looks pretty low anyway. Ah Si said, yeah it might be better if the kids were a bit further back but it looks really low and realistically they aren't likely to get hit. She's got the kids active and outside (and reading!) and the whole family is having a good time. Looks like a massive parenting win to me.
Wow. Well done for almost immediately confirming the unfortunate UKC compulsion to undermine any point raised by a woman with nitpicking whataboutery. You'll be complaining about the grammar next.
And that kind of judgemental comment is literally what the article is about.
I think they have to be where they are, to be in the picture! It's obviously framed to include the children and she is probably cruising.
More egregious is the humongous tickmark.
Reading the article I did wonder about the experience of women, who work in the outdoor industry in the UK, having children. Obviously the nature of the work impacts this (potential temporary and/or part-time). Employers in the outdoor industry in the UK, how supported do pregnant or new mothers felt? in somw cases I thought the precarity of employment might make it very difficult.
Alternatively, it could just be a staged photo?
That's the most likely explanation.
And people wonder why women don't participate more on UKC forums...
As someone who has climbed with Rachel, I can guarantee she is well within her comfort zone and would do nothing to put her boys at risk.
Risk taking and parenting is a huge judgment space. As many have already said, this judgment is not productive and needs to be stopped.
It is also definitely something I see women climbers deal with more throughout pregnancy and into parenting. At WCS we recently surveyed pregnant and post-partum women and the single biggest factor restricting them from/making them feel uncomfortable climbing during pregnancy and early parenthood was other people's judgment - not how they personally felt...seriously...
Finally, it is awesome to see lots of men and climbing dads here having these discussions and sticking up for climbing (and non-climbing) mothers. You are all awesome. There are so many more great family role models in this space now e.g. Beth Rodden and Randy Puro, Family Briggs etc who are showing that climbing families can juggle life, parenting and climbing and inspire joy, activity and love of the outdoors in their kids. More of this please!
Yes, that had crossed my mind too, I was just in a hurry to reply to climbercool as I thought his post was out of line!
Brand new dad here, our little girl turns four weeks old tomorrow.
So proud of my partner, she top roped 6a outdoors at around 8 months pregnant and am very much looking forward to our first climbing trips with our daughter. I'm in absolute awe of her and what she's done and is doing. Women are amazing.
This forum, and perhaps the wider climbing community in general, at times hasn't been the most supportive of climbing during pregnancy, mothers climbing, couples with children at the crag etc... However I think attitudes are beginning to change and I'm starting to see more supportive messages than negative these days.
Worth doing some research on the late Brede Arkless. She had several children along with being an active climber and was, I think, only the second woman to qualify as a British Mountain Guide. She received some criticism from the armchair chatterers but she was a formidable (and charming) character and could more than stand up for herself.
There was an article on UKC more than a decade ago on a similar subject, also worth searching out.
I work in the industry and don't have children. The main reason that I don't, is that I don't like babies! However, if I was inclined towards babies, I wouldn't be able to stay in the part of the industry which I am in. I suspect I would be out of the industry from probably around 3 months pregnant until kid is around a year, by which point I would be starting again from scratch as I would have lost all contacts and would be coming back in as a new freelancer, which is a hard place to be. I would probably end up getting a "normal" job, which would likely be dull, but would work better around kids.
There are women who make it work, but I think I would struggle. Thankfully it's not a dilemma I need to wrestle with
I think mothers with young kids who manage to go climbing are fantastic. Go for it!
I'd love to know where the adverse comments come from though. Single men? Married men? Fathers? Single women? Married women? Other mothers?
My supposition is that it could mostly be fathers but I just don't know. Knowing the distribution of types of people who criticise climbing mums would help define educational strategies to help fix the problem.
ok, that was a bit of a shit comment, and i certainly didn't mean it personally towards Rachel, sorry that it came of that way. i suppose i just meant to say that a better photo could have been chosen when the point of the article is about responsibly combining an outdoors lifestyle with parenthood. I guess the real answer is the photo is staged and she doesn't need mats because she knows she is not gonna fall.
I was reading something on Facebook yesterday about Helen Glover being the first mother to represent GB in rowing. Someone commented that men had already done this. Which to be fair would be impressive, but I am pretty sure that no member of the mens GB rowing team have ever given birth.
I better story. I was at a race last week where it was announced that the winner had recently (4 months) before a father, but this was followed by an announcement that the first female had actually given birth to the child in question, which was somewhat more impressive.
This is a tricky topic and I think there are two things that can be disentangled:
1) Who should be doing the looking after whilst the other is out climbing (not really in question these days, I wouldn't think), and
2) The wisdom of pursuing such goals with young children.
My second point is related to my own experiences with two children under 42months and my observations of others in a similar situation. I cant speak for everyone's kids, but to get both of mine sat down in a carrier without making both our lives unbearable is almost impossible.
My wife and I have come to the conclusion that we will take what free time where we can, but to pursue the end of having a rewarding personal life involving something as involved as (eg) climbing is a fast track to frustration and resentment.
My feeling and philosophy is that we chose to have kids, and we acknowledge that their highly dependant time is limited, so why not just go with the flow until they grant us more free time?
The message is, don't beat yourself up because you see all these photos of 'super parents' out climbing when many parents struggle to simply get through the early years.
For anyone who has not seen it this is a good companion video
Despite climbing being a huge part of my life before having children, I found that I all but gave it up after getting pregnant. Too little is said about the issues that come along with pregnancy and child birth, but for me the carpal tunnel discomfort and recovery from multiple c-sections meant that climbing during pregnancy, and returning to climbing afterwards was impossible whilst trying to manage my full time job. I travelled abroad around half the time for work without my family and had to prioritise spending time with them when I was home. My husband is not a climber nor into adventure sport either. So I totally agree with the message of 'don't beat yourself up'.
However the good news is we invested heavily in family outdoor activity, starting with hikes carrying the children in backpacks, moving onto gentle walks and bike rides as toddlers. Now we can do a mountain walk together (they are 7 and 9) and this Summer they are really enjoying scrambling. I feel like it's a new lease of life for me and I'm loving watching them discover something that I loved before. Even their Dad has started to get jealous and has even talked about coming with us one day...
Absolutely agree. Whilst it’s great to see images and articles about climbing family life, it maybe needs to be acknowledged that many climbing trips can be deeply frustrating, extremely hard work and not very productive.
I largely gave up trying to do any form of family climbing outings for this reason, my kids are just not that into it and it’s boring for them and off putting for me when they are bickering, moaning, announcing they need a poo just as I’m at the crux etc
> However the good news is we invested heavily in family outdoor activity, starting with hikes carrying the children in backpacks, moving onto gentle walks and bike rides as toddlers. Now we can do a mountain walk together (they are 7 and 9) and this Summer they are really enjoying scrambling. I feel like it's a new lease of life for me and I'm loving watching them discover something that I loved before. Even their Dad has started to get jealous and has even talked about coming with us one day...
Funnily enough one of the things I've loved about family life thus far is that it's done something similar to us, which is to say that we've gone from almost exclusively climbing to doing a far more diverse array of activities. Where previously I'd have got pretty stressed about a non climbing weekend and/or holiday, I now relish the opportunity to do something a little different.
To put this into context, last weekend - whilst almost every mountain crag within the British Isle was dry - we did The Gruffalo Trail at Sherwood Pines and it was absolutely bloody amazing. In a previous life I'd probably have gone insane when faced with the prospect of missing out on good conditions, yet there I was loving every moment...
My kids are much older now but I more or less packed up for 10+ years - climbing just felt too damn selfish (me, not anybody more skilled at juggling). I started running as more of a quick hit (and later ironically got into longer distances, doh!). The beauty of climbing is it's always there for you at whatever level, local bouldering or remote ranges, V Diff or 8c+. Fair play to people with good balancing skills in the earlier years!
> Absolutely agree. Whilst it’s great to see images and articles about climbing family life, it maybe needs to be acknowledged that many climbing trips can be deeply frustrating, extremely hard work and not very productive.
I think it partly comes down to matching expectations with reality. If you take young kids climbing and think it will just be a normal days climbing but with kids, everyone will end up not having a good time. I think me and my partner fell into this trap when getting back into climbing.
If you treat it as an nice day doing something outdoors with the kids but with a bit of climbing too, everyone is likely to have a much better time. Although as you say it’s easy to see social media pictures only showing the good side - there is more folk being honest about the realities if you look for it though (not just in relation to parenting).
> Worth doing some research on the late Brede Arkless. She had several children along with being an active climber and was, I think, only the second woman to qualify as a British Mountain Guide. She received some criticism from the armchair chatterers but she was a formidable (and charming) character and could more than stand up for herself.
I have a vivid memory of Brede Arkless nonchalantly strolling up a route where I crapped myself. It wasn't that it was hard, simply that it seemed in danger of imminent collapse. Not just me having a bad day; my second was pretty shocked too and, at the time, he was climbing on roughly equal terms with some character called Jerry.
A very gutsy lady indeed.
> This forum, and perhaps the wider climbing community in general, at times hasn't been the most supportive of climbing during pregnancy, mothers climbing, couples with children at the crag etc... However I think attitudes are beginning to change and I'm starting to see more supportive messages than negative these days.
Well, in the spirit of parental support, my top tips for climbing with children from personal experience would be:
She wasn't everyone's cup of tea but I thought she was lovely and she was very encouraging to a young wannabe (me). I witnessed her publicly tearing a then well-known Scottish climber a new one after he made an ill-judged dismissive comment about Grade 4 being easy, which she took issue with, having guided some young clients up a Grade 4 that very day. He wasn't a soft character by any means but he looked like a schoolboy with a spanked arse after she'd finished with him.
I had a google about her earlier having forgotten many of the details of her life. 8 kids and 1st UIAGM woman guide. An unstoppable force.
I couldn’t care less who does what and when as long as the kids come first and the parents (plural) recognise the responsibility they have.
> If you treat it as an nice day doing something outdoors with the kids but with a bit of climbing too, everyone is likely to have a much better time.
Also, we were then (and still are) members of our local club, in which there were other parents with small kids so we'd go on meets together, sometimes just a day out, sometimes a weekend or longer - kids get to play and the parents can take it in turns to go climbing / walking etc.
> I think it partly comes down to matching expectations with reality.
> If you treat it as an nice day doing something outdoors with the kids but with a bit of climbing too, everyone is likely to have a much better time. Although as you say it’s easy to see social media pictures only showing the good side - there is more folk being honest about the realities if you look for it though (not just in relation to parenting).
Your partner's reality seems to be doing routes which remain beyond almost everybody else's dreams (which is awesome)!
Pregnancy didn't really stop me, I was climbing at Bosi when 8 months pregnant, but I did get some negative comments. Think I was at Harborough taking my time on something when another party offered me a toprope. Never happened without asking when I wasn't pregnant, so I guess they were fearful for bump. I was fine, just resting.
Motherhood is harder, mainly to find time, and also since I conveniently married my climbing partner. Hard to occupy a small person, and she didn't climb til she was 3. Much easier as they get older (mine is 7 next month) and can choose routes, help with ropework etc. I'm just about getting back into it myself now!
Having said that, the hard work pays off. The reason she walks 8-9 miles over the fells is because we normalised it, taking her on walks from when small, and not using pushchairs in daily life. We popped her in a canoe with us from toddler age and she's had a wetsuit since before she could walk, so now wild swimming is second nature to her. Taking her to crags even if it's just for a potter about and a picnic (plus playing practising knots with a rope, normalises climbing. Sure, we can't do long days cragging. Yet. But she will do long mountain scrambles and adores them, so we're all happy.
Maybe attitudes are changing a little though. We took my godson up Tryfan north ridge age 7, and had a few comments, such as "I don't think you should bring your son up here, isn't it a bit dangerous?" (to which I cheekily replied "don't worry, he's not mine"). That was 12 yrs ago. Took my daughter up Jack's Rake last month and she only got admiring looks and people said to me they wished they'd started that young.
This is pretty much our precise experience! It's so challenging juggling various priorities (work, childcare) and interests (climbing, running, beer, friends etc) and you're spot-on that trying to do everything you did pre-kids with the overlay of childcare is a one-way route to resentment for all concerned and extremely unhealthy. I think that most parents aiming to achieve a fair distribution of childcare and other domestic responsibilities will come to the same conclusion, albeit it doesn't happen on day 1 and there will be some bumps along the way. All that being said, I reckon most parents of young children are kidding themselves if they say life is rosy all the time and that they don't wish they had more time to pursue their personal interests, which if you're a climber tend to take up whopping chunks of time.
Well, I can't speak much for climbing mums, but having become a climbing dad this year I think the biggest challenge is actually getting out at all right now. For me, the biggest issue has simply been finding an opportunity to get out. Covid and lockdowns, of course, haven't helped matters, and certainly haven't helped my climbing fitness but even now it's difficult to find the time.
After work, I've got maybe half an hour before preparations for tea need to be made, then having fed little Lord_ash the 2nd and eaten my own food it's half six before mum goes up for his bedtime routine. During summer I could probably then get out for an evening session but I feel obliged chip in with the housework, nappies need to be put in the wash, feeding stuff needs cleaning and the house normally needs a tidy etc.
I feel it's a bit selfish of me to leave mum with the baby and housework (who's been looking after him all day while I work) as soon as I'm no longer needed for parenting and go off on a jolly with my mates while she spends a couple of hours putting a restless baby to sleep.
That said we have both acknowledged that we have to make a bit of room for ourselves rather than both feeling guilty about leaving the other with all the childcare/household tasks. As such we've allotted ourselves one evening a week each where one of us can go off on our own for a few hours and enjoy ourselves with the aim to increase this to two nights when the situation allows.
I have two daughters and went dow a different route.
I loved the fact at 16/18 I went to the Lakes and North Wales and went to the tops for the first time and explored on my own at an age I could really value it.
So I said to my girls if you are interested at that age it will be very much a new experience going up Tryfan etc etc and a tick under your own steam.
They are now 21 and 25.Ones into climbing and the other the outdoors generally( but not climbing).
Somehow we managed to create a love of the outdoors without removing the sense of inspiration you get at 16/18 by going to the summits of the big hills .
Not an easy one.
I'm saddened to see that this is still an issue 30 years after I had my first child. Climbing and the outdoors have always an integral part of my way of life, and whilst of course there are adjustments to be made, you don't have to stop doing the things you love to be a good parent.
When I had my first child I asked the health visitor about this, and she said "if going off mountaineering is part of your normal way of life, build it in from the start; that way your children will grow up thinking its normal" and that's certainly been true in my experience.
Having a supportive partner is of course, essential. But why would they marry a mountaineer if they expect you to stop being one as soon as you have children? Of course these conversations need to be had from the outset.
There have been rare, uncomfortable social situations. I attended my first mother and baby group meeting shortly after Alison Hargreaves died, and well remember the negative publicity. I was a few minutes late for the meeting and I was warmly welcomed and asked to join them. There were about ten new mums sitting in a circle on the floor with their babies. "We've just been telling each other who we are and what are our hobbies" said the hostess. "Great" I said. "I'm Alison and I'm passionate about mountaineering".
"Moving swiftly on..." said the hostess.
This negative attitude was fanned especially by Nigella Lawson who does a great line in making up the facts to get her point across. Those of you who have read Joe Simpson's books might be familiar with Pam Caswell's story. She and her new husband and her teenage son by her first marriage were in the Alps where they had set themselves the challenge of doing all the Alps 4,000ers. They had done a lot of them already and were descending the Aguille de Bionassay when unfortunately they fell into a crevasse and Pam's husband was tragically killed. The press got hold of the story and made up the details, so they were portrayed as a stupid inexperienced family trying to have a picnic on Mont Blanc.
Some years later Pam was raising funds for charity by climbing Aconcagua; a straightforward trip for someone of her experience. This gave Nigella a great excuse for another rant about selfish mothers risking their lives and traumatizing their orphaned children. Of course she didn't bother to research the facts or ask Pam's son or his actual father how they felt.
In my experience, whilst having children obviously affects all aspects of life, it doesn't mean you have to lose your identity or stop doing the things you love. During my children's childhood I qualified as a full member of the AC, and did my summer and winter ML and my SPA and IML all whilst holding down a job.
My children have holidays in Fontainebleau and the Costa Blanca to look back on as well as trips to mountain, moorland and coastal climbing areas around the UK, and they think having a mountaineer for a mother is normal if a little boring. I certainly never got any sense that they felt deprived or poorly parented and they have grown up to be well-balanced individuals.
My tip for new mums is to work out what you need to feel fulfilled as an person, keep it simple, and then be very clear and unambiguous about what that means in practical terms, so that other people can work with you and support you without feeling imposed upon too much.
I'm lucky that I found what I needed to have a happy and fulfilled life, and that thing is mountaineering.
> If you have any photos of your kids climbing without wearing helmets, even if they are toproping somewhere completely safe, don't put them in a guidebook.
LOL. When the latest BMC Stoney Guide came out out I spotted a photo of a teenager leading without a helmet and said to myself, "Why aren't that lad's parents making him wear a helmet?" Before reading the caption and realising it was my own son, taken on a day out with a friend.
I guess a lot depends on whether you are a single parent or have a supportive partner.
Getting out and doing things as a parent, separatete to your kids is usually a good thing....
I reckon it's common not to push too hard when you have kids.....I know when I first had kids I was more apprehensive when pushing hard grades or moving on dodgy gear....although as they got a bit older that did dissipate to some degree.
I have mostly been a single parent dad....kids are grown up now, one loves outdoor stuff and one hates it!
My time to climb was very curtailed at times but I would never have wanted it any different..
Thanks for that.
Generously written I thought.
Sure blokes ponder their choices when parents, but there's nothing like the shitstorm Alison Hargreaves got in full public glare, and that exists in less visible form every time a mum does anything more bold than sit at home. Even going to work gets tuts from some people. The people doing the tutting are men and women, but the people they're judging are mostly women..
I would like to reassure you and everyone else, this is a steep lowball traverse, with more pads than you can see in this picture, covering more of the fall zone. The yellow pad that you can see most of this picture, is in fact only partly in the fall zone. I can also confirm this is a very low traverse (this position is reachable from the ground 🤣 so I would not be taking a big fall, that might result in me falling on one mat and then roll over another mat, into my children. They are really in a good position, well out of harms way of getting either fallen on (or in this case, at risk of getting stepped on). I understand the angle of the photo doesn’t show the whole picture.
Your response reflects how quickly people are to judge mothers at the crag or wall (something also reflected upon in this great article). I am very experienced at outdoor climbing with children around, I have been doing it for over 10 years now, and have probably done over a hundred crag visits with my kids.
Judgmental comments like this is why many women don’t feel safe, welcome or confident to comment in online climbing communities/forums. I better way of communicating your concerns would have been to messaged the climber or author to voice your concern privately. If you couldn’t do that, and really felt the need to comment, try something more like this; ‘from this angle, it looks like the children are in the fall zone, which would not be very safe. As photos can be deceptive and I don’t know many of the facts, I will give this experience climber the benefit of my doubt’.
Better that than judging someones ability as a climber and a mother, so publicly in this way.
Rachel, I may have got this wrong but I'm sure my little one and I bumped into you in the Peak, possibly Stanage, sheltering from a downpour under some rocks. Probably 2-3 years ago. Anyway, if that was you, when we go climbing now she still asks if we're going to the place we "met the climbing lady in a cave"