Grandparent, are you manning the ropes for your kids? As you cheer their climb, are you also prepared for them to fall?

Mountain climbing provides a great analogy for that stage of life when our kids begin to explore the world. From the grade-school years through to their twenties and beyond, we want to instill in them a healthy attitude about discovery-cautious, yet confident.

Now, at first glance, scaling a huge rock may appear dangerous: a handful of people going up hard, unforgiving crags, connected only by ropes. However, under the guidance of a trained professional, the sport is relatively safe. The leader anticipates potential disasters and takes precautions against them.

Ideally, two support ropes are anchored into rocks from different angles, taking into account different possible stresses. While the climber ascends, he is supported by the belay man, who is responsible for letting out rope as well as holding the climber in case he should fall. In addition, the belay man will often view the climb from an overall perspective-either below or above the climber-and can offer encouragement and suggestions to help him or her succeed.

What a great image that is for grandparents! We can create the support, encouragement, and perspective necessary for the child to feel safe and secure as she explores. In rock climbing, a good belayer is one who is both focused and calm, alert and patient. We must strive to cultivate those same qualities.

And of course, once we’ve created an environment where our grandchildren feel safe to explore the world, we must let them do so. That might sound simple, but it’s often very difficult. Our instincts may tell us to keep them protected and isolated.  That’s safer and, let’s face it, more convenient for us.

Yet, even if we tried, we couldn’t stop our grandchildren from exploring. Their quest for understanding requires it. Our homes can no longer contain them.

So, grandparent, the question isn’t Will your child explore the world? but, Will you be her belay man? Will you accompany her in her exploration?

You can try to deny the inevitable and leave her to face the outside world alone. Or, you can be a partner and encourager who helps her navigate the dangers and reach the top.