What does hiking a mountain have in common with parenting? As it turns out, a lot.
Adventurers who explore the Colorado Rocky Mountains can be in the wild for extended periods of time. That can be risky if the weather unexpectedly deteriorates. Without warning, hikers can face conditions that change from one extreme to the other, and their well-thought out plans can become uncertain at best, requiring constant course corrections.
Raising children can be an equally daunting challenge. Parenting rarely unfolds in a straight line, and moms and dads can often feel as though they’re being buffeted by wildly erratic conditions –whether in the home or even within the culture – that threaten to knock their family off course.
My colleague Dr. Greg Smalley learned those lessons firsthand on a hike with his daughters up Mount Elbert, one of Colorado’s 53 “Fourteeners” – that’s mountaineering parlance for a state peak that reaches above 14,000 feet.
Greg and his girls had just crossed the tree line on that August day when, of all things, a snow storm blew in. Being summer, Greg and his daughters were wearing shorts and were unprepared for the dramatic shift in conditions. Even worse for Greg, his daughters were suddenly at odds with each other. One wanted to finish, and the other wanted to stop and go back down.
Before he knew it, Greg’s original plans for an uneventful hike to the summit had to be abandoned. In a similar way, parenting requires adjustments along the trail of life as our children grow toward maturity. We may need to tweak our strategy based on our child’s school environment, their good or poor choices, or circumstances in our own lives.
Obviously, hiking a mountain pales in comparison to some of the terribly difficult experiences a parent can go through with a child. But whether your son or daughter brings home a bad grade or he or she gets caught up in drugs, rebellion, or some other destructive behavior, there are still a few helpful character traits parents can bring to the situation.
First and foremost, parents have to be a rock, a present strength in the lives of their children. When our children go through tough times, even before we correct them with truth, they need to feel safe with us. The best way to communicate that is through our compassion, our love, our tenderness, and our presence. We can’t trample over our relationship with them in our hurry to offer advice. Children won’t listen to what we say until they are reassured we care deeply for them.
Another trait that’s needed is tenacity. Like hiking, successful parenting is often about not giving up. You have to weather the storms – even the ones your children create – and keep going. To do that, you need hope. In difficult moments, hope comes from the belief that you can take one more step.
No matter how dark things get, trust in the Lord and take a step. Any step. Just move forward and give God a chance to work through your faithfulness.
That day on the mountain, Greg noticed he gained strength from the people around them who kept moving and encouraged him and his girls along the way. Other hikers would come by and pat them on the back and say, “Hey, you can do it. You’re doing great. You’re almost there.” That’s the power of community.
In parenting, we need the community of other moms and dads for the same reason. When our kids are making poor choices, we shouldn’t face the challenges alone. We all need reassurance and support and someone to pray for us and say, “Hey, you can do it.”
Here at Focus, we love to pat parents on the back and offer encouragement along the often bumpy stretches of the parenting trail. If you’re a parent who’s struggling, our program today is just for you.
Dr. Greg Smalley will be with us today on our radio broadcast to share his experiences on Mount Elbert that day and what he learned about parenting from it. He serves on staff here at Focus on the Family, heading up our marriage initiatives. I think you’ll find what he has to say with his usual humor and wisdom of great help to you in your circumstances.