Sunday, April 3, 2011

Climbing the "Rock" Wall of Life

One of the best features of the fitness center we belong to – along with many other great features – is that it has a room devoted to rock climbing. I did it once – once – and I’m here to tell you that if you’re someone my size, who has suffered the fate of a slowing metabolism, paralleled by a propensity for beer and an addiction to sugar, it is not easy. There’s a counterweight pulley system that allows you to climb safely, but it really means you are pulling your own weight, quite literally.

That’s why the kids make it look so easy. Their weight and their strength to pull it are much more closely matched than mine. It’s amazing to watch them scale the walls so quickly. There is absolutely no fear of heights, and falling when harnessed into a counterweight pulley system is downright fun, so they certainly don’t fear that.

In one sense, the rock wall is a metaphor for their growth, as they overcome challenges, and go from, “I can’t do this” to “Hey, I did it, and I’m proud.” It is the week-by-week manifestation of their growing confidence and sense of their own ability. On the other hand, however, it occurs to me that it also represents a bit of a set-up.

The rock wall at Lifetime Fitness is not a rock wall at all. In fact, it’s made of some kind of rubberized plastic composite, so that when you whack your knee on it, your knee bounces off the “wall.” You feel your weight only when pulling up from whatever point you are currently at, to the next destination. As soon as you move downward, the counterweight kicks in and lowers you gently to the ground. The ground is not rock either. It is a leaf pile of recycled auto tire flakes. One could argue that children are being given a false sense of what it means to climb a rock. If and when they ever do decide to dig some pitons into an actual rock face, they will learn in the first minute that they are in a completely new, and very real situation.

It’s sort of analogous to the kind of parent I’m trying to move away from being. When you’re the Fun Daddy, and you never discipline your children, you become the rubberized rock wall, and you deprive your children of the knee scrapes that will help them develop real strength of character. By “protecting” my children from pain, I am really putting them at a disadvantage in later life, a disadvantage they may very well resent me for.

The secret I’m learning as I get better at this parenting stuff is that you can do both. You can be rock when they need the rock and recycled tire flakes when they need that softness. The important thing for you to remember is not to let one parent become all rubber and the other to become all rock. That’s the way the whole wall comes tumbling down, and then everybody loses.

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