A few days ago 26-year-old Menna Pritchard, the single mother of Ffion, a 2-year-old toddler, posted a photograph of herself and the child top-roping a climbing route in Wales. The child sits in a baby carrier on Menna's back as she climbs. She wears a helmet to protect her head while the child does not.
The photograph, which many people originally thought was two images PhotoShopped together, has caused a furor in news media across the world, and the resulting stories have hundreds of comments, mostly negative ones slamming Ms. Pritchard's lack of common sense.
The headlines tell the story:
"Crib notes: Mom goes rock-climbing while carrying toddler--confident or careless?" MSNBC Today.
"Is she off her rocker? Anger at mum rock-climbing with toddler strapped to her back." The SUN.
"Mum defends rock climbing toddler." The West Australian.
Parenting is about common sense, it's about keeping your children safe in a dangerous world until they are old enough to begin to make personal decisions about safety. Taking a baby or toddler climbing in a baby-carrier that is not designed for climbing is reckless, irresponsible, and yes, just plain stupid.
Yet Menna Pritchard stubbornly defends her actions, saying "Life is about risks." Yes, life is risky. Climbing is risky too. Everyday we assume the risks of living while driving to work, crossing a street, and all the other countless things we do that can go wrong in an instant. A child, however, doesn't have the experience in the world to make those judgments about safety but instead relies on her parents to make commonsensical decisions.
Ms. Pritchard also says that Ffion encouraged her to keep climbing, saying, "Up Mummy, up!" Menna wrote on her blog that she stopped climbing when she "felt we'd gone far enough," and added, "Some people would say I'm taking more risks than are necessary, but I am very conscious of safety." She also noted that a climbing helmet was unnecessary on the route and wore hers only "out of habit," implying that the child didn't need a helmet despite the fact that she wore one.
She continued by writing that top-roping "is the safest form of climbing you can do. I was also in a beach environment surrounded by experienced climbers. Health and safety legislation and the sue-and-blame culture mean so many people are nervous, so afraid of getting into trouble, and taking small risks."
All this from an unapologetic young lady who admits to have been climbing for less than two years, but is currently studying for an outdoor recreation degree at the University of Wales. She concludes, "The idea is that it's fun and exciting for Ffion too and hopefully I am inspiring her and giving her access to the outdoors."
We want our children to be adventurers in the world, to seek outdoor challenges and learn to move about the world with all its dangers with confidence, but also with safety. Taking a child in a carrier pack on your back on a rock climbing outing is not only unsafe but it really doesn't teach a child how to navigate the world.
I'm a lifelong climber so it was natural that when my two sons were youngsters in the early 1980s, I took them with me when I went bouldering. That's bouldering, not rock climbing. While I worked on boulder problems on the small rocks with buddies like Bob D'Antonio, our kids climbed on their own small rocks and while doing that they began to learn how to use their bodies to climb as well as the effects of gravity when they inevitably fell off. Never were they in danger of falling a long distance or playing and climbing below a cliff face where rockfall could possibily occur.
As they got older and wanted to begin actual climbing, they wore body harnesses and wore helmets. When we went climbing, I regularly told them that climbing may seem like it's always fun but it's not, because every time you go climbing there is the possibility that bad things can happen to you and your climbing partner. That's being a responsible parent. That's teaching your children how to step into the world with confidence but also how to understand and assume the risks of risky behaviors and activities like rock climbing.
I'm all for moms and dads to go out and pursue their vertical adventures, but in this case it appears that Menna Pritchard didn't think through the implications and risks of taking her young daughter climbing in a sack on her back. Young Ffion would be better served by playing on the sand beach below the crag at Three Cliffs Bay on the Gower peninsula, scrambling about on small boulders in her own fashion, and watching mummy climb the big cliff on a top-rope. In good time she might learn to love climbing and just might live long enough to drag her old mum up Cenotaph Corner at Llanberis Pass.
For more thoughts about Menna and Ffion, read Jannette Pazer's blog post "Climbing Mom, Menna Pritchard, Climbs With Toddler on Her Back--Big News?" at her CliffMama website.
Photograph above: The photo that caused all the fuss...Menna Pritchard climbing with baby Ffion on her back in Wales. Photograph courtesy Menna Pritchard.