It’s Australia Day: Take a minute to celebrate ‘The Land Down Under’ by raising kids who have an adventurous spirit
Here’s some stellar advice from Tommy Caldwell, one of the top rock climbers on the planet – someone who I imagine spent way too much of his formative years hanging off high-points by his fingertips (and maybe being told not to by well-meaning adults).
In early 2015, Caldwell and partner Kevin Jorgeson became first people to successfully free ascent (that’s only using ropes) arguably the most difficult ascent in the history of rock climbing – earning him his second nomination for National Geographic’s Adventurer of the Year.
We kind of conclude that this gives Caldwell more right than most to tell other people how to be stone cold in the face of death and on a lighter note, how to raise kids who have an adventurous spirit.
This guy has climbing in his DNA. Interestingly, it was his father who instilled in him an adventurous spirit, and now he’s trying to do the same for his two and a half year old son, Fitz.
His fathering mantra is; “I just want my son to think the world is an awesome freakin’ place”, and to do that, he recognises that he has to think that way as well. Caldwell wants other Dads to know that “It’s really important to do the things that feed you, so you can look at the world that way. Having a kid brought my most cherished values into focus. I wanted to be a good example of that.” If you live life in an authentic way as a Father, you can feed your soul, energise your body and instil that drive for self-honesty in your kids.
Here’s how to breed an Adventurous Spirit in even your littlest ones…
- Know that Toddlers Are Tougher Than You Think
“Most of my parents’ peers looked at [my dad] like he was a bit kooky for putting me in these situations,” says Caldwell, whose father was loved to expose his kids to the great outdoors. He tells a vivid story to illustrate the point, noting that his Dad took him (as a nappy-wearing two & a half year old) deep into the mountains – where they spent the night in a snow cave during a raging blizzard (all the while keeping him safe, loved and protected). His Dad believed that this was one step in instilling in his son a sense of adventure – with the adult that Caldwell became being great testament to his own Father’s success.
- Feel Fulfilled For Your Kids
Now, as a Father himself, Caldwell reflects on the generation at hand and the fact that many, if not all, of our kid’s needs are met as a matter of routine, and that many teenagers feel empty as a consequence. He states: “A lot of people walk through this life feeling like something is missing. In my mind, that’s because life is so dull. We don’t have to find water or hunt for our food. Climbing fulfils that need within me. My dad totally understood that. He was energized by that adventure and wanted me to understand that as well. I want Fitz to, but in a way that’s calculated and won’t kill him.”
- So, let’s talk more about the phrase ‘in a way that’s calculated and won’t kill them!’
Caldwell knows most parents think that what he does is crazy, but he insists that with all his training and gear, he’s safer than your average pedestrian. “I’ve become more thoughtful about the types of climbs that I do. When I had a kid, I re-evaluated my life. Every day I look at my son and ask, ‘What kind of example do I set for him?’ I certainly don’t want him to walk through life in fear.”
- Model Confidence
He notes that climbing “does teach you to analyse and manage the risks you take. You live in a turbulent world and you have to figure out how to manage that,” he says. “I’ve developed this mentality to just have confidence that no matter what gets thrown in my way I’ll deal with it. I took having a child just like that. Yeah, it’s going to change things, but we’ll figure it out. I think any parent has to take that leap.” I guess we should emphasise at this point, that we’re talking about a metaphorical kind of leap — not the kind that goes splat…
- Don’t Be Scared, Be Prepared – it starts in the playground!
Are you crippled with fear every time your child misses a monkey bar? Perhaps not surprisingly, Caldwell doesn’t share your neurosis. “I don’t spend a lot of time dwelling on the fear side of it,” he says. “But I do think about how can we make it safe? Kind of like ‘harm minimisation for toddlers’.
Here’s an everyday example that he cites: “Everyone I know who has kids has a trampoline, and they have a net up around the trampoline. I’d rather get Fitz on that trampoline and get him to learn and respect the boundaries of it and use it in a proper way. That will lead to it being safe. Prepare him for the path, not prepare the path for him.”
- Carry Them On
Are you about to spend a couple of hours in school-holiday traffic with a baby? Take comfort in the fact that the Caldwells brought their infant around the world with them — and it was smooth and uncomplicated. “I became convinced that the traveling lifestyle is the way to raise a small child. We did pay attention to schedules, like sleeping. But maybe that sleep can be taken when we’re hiking through the mountain in a backpack. We’d also bring this pop-up tent everywhere we went. So that when we put him in it, no matter where we were in the world, he would feel at home.”
- Learn When To Learn
“Having a kid is also humbling. I used to have firm opinions on what I thought was right and wrong. Now I have things I think are right, but I may be wrong. My wife is such a logical, amazing person that she puts me in my place constantly. Before we had a child I’d say following the whole sleep schedule thing is bogus and people just feel like they have to do that. I learned pretty quickly that if Fitz doesn’t get a sleep every day, he’s a lot harder to deal with. I was really wrong — about that.”
- Digeridoo Players Are Awesome Too
“I love having Fitz outside as much as possible. My favourite times are when we’ve lived out of our van. I feel like that’s really helpful for him and fun for us. We’re also around very inspired people all the time, and we want to immerse Fitz in that community. If he likes that world, great. But if he wants to spend all of his time playing the (Digeridoo) also, we support that too. Ultimately we want him to be his own person. It’s walking that line of when to push your kid into things and when to back away. We’re just now having to figure that out.”
Kym, one of our many supporters, has written this article inspired by “Rock and Roll Model” by Jonathan Stem as published in fatherly.com in December 2015.