Because of the motivation and inspiration of Couch to 5K, I ran my first 5K last December. Later this month, I'm celebrating my 33rd birthday by running in a 10K. As I've pushed myself in training for a longer distance run, I've thought a lot about how the easily the lessons learned from running translate into powerful reminders about parenting.
Here are some of the things I am learning:
1. DO find your pace.
It takes me anywhere from a half-mile to a full mile to really settle into the pace that is going to carry me through my entire run. It's hard to explain the comfort that the familiarity of hitting my pace brings me, but in each run, I know exactly when I've found it.
It took me almost six months to find my pace when I became a mama over five years ago. I thought I would never find that comforting sense of normal again. Little did I know at the time that parenting is full of pace-adjustments - adding a new sibling, moving from infancy to toddlerhood, dropping naps, later bedtimes . . . all of these require a new pace, and it helps so much to extend grace to myself and my children when a new season requires a new stride.
2. DON'T worry about how others view your style.
My favorite time of the day to run is early morning. In the fall and winter, I love the anonymity the pre-dawn darkness affords me. I'm playing a little fast and loose with the term "running" because what I do is definitely jogging - and sometimes it's a slow jog at that.
Last March I was gearing up for another 5K and slept through my morning running time, so I had to go at 5 PM when Kyle came home from work. I was running on our small town university campus when I passed a man on the sidewalk who laughingly asked me, "I guess that's what they call race-walking?" Ouch! My feelings were so hurt. I know I'll never be a speed runner, but to have someone else call me out on that was not fun. I am, however, learning to own and embrace my slow mama approach to running.
In the same way, we will all certainly interact with "helpful" strangers on the street who feel compelled to offer random observations on our parenting choices. "Isn't she a little old for a paci?" "Don't you think she'd be happier in a stroller? Those slings are dangerous!" "Not sleeping through the night yet? Tsk tsk."
Everyone has an opinion, but let's don't let the sidewalk critics have the power to cause us to question our parenting style.
3. DO find a support system.
Some runners enjoy the accountability and companionship of running with a partner or small group. Not me! My running time is a much-anticipated, much-appreciated slice of solitude in my day. However, there is no way I could pursue this hobby without the support of my husband. From my first day of C25K, he has provided emotional and practical support. He cheers me on, and he challenges me when I miss a day (or more) of training.
Parenting in our culture can be very isolating unless we are intentional about building a support system. We need people in our lives cheering us on and challenging us when we feel like giving up. Support can come in a variety of ways - a mom's group, an online parenting community, family members, and trusted friends. Built-in support is fantastic, but if it's lacking, make it a priority to proactively build a support network of your own.
4. DON'T forget to rest.
Every single run is traumatic for my body. When I am a little behind on my training (like I am right now), I am tempted to increase my schedule to consecutive days of running, and yet I know that my body needs the days of rest in-between to recover. As strange as it may sound to some, I have to force myself to rest.
Would you like to know how old Dacey was before I spent my first night away from her? She was two-and-a-half, and my night away was spent in the hospital following AJ's birth. We didn't leave the girls with family to go on a trip until Dacey was four! So yes, I am one of those parents who has a hard time accepting rest and time away.
I do, however, program in time to my day to make sure I have some rest (read more on that here). Burnout comes quickly with no rest, and it is imperative to make it a priority.
5. DO self-adjust as needed.
Making it through a 5K without walking a single step was one of the biggest victories of my life. As I began to transition to training for the 10K, however, there came a point where I found I had to do a minute or two of walking mid-jog to make it through the longer the distances.
I resisted the walking with everything within me. It severely bruised my pride and my belief in myself, but the reality of the moment was that I could either walk a little bit and meet my distance goal for that day, or I could push through but come up short.
Life is full of self-adjustments, isn't it? Parenting is, too. I began life as a mother confident that following the instructions of someone else would ensure a smooth and peaceful transition to life with a baby. It wasn't until I self-adjusted and accepted that those instructions were never going to work for me and embraced what did work for us that I was able to go the distance through Dacey's infancy.
Sometimes I find that I am more committed to an ideal than I am to reality. My days are marked with self-adjustment and being able to make peace with that is imperative for the well-being of my family.
6. DON'T be discouraged when you have a bad run.
A few weeks ago, just when the weather had started to really warm up, I decided to go for a lunchtime jog while Kyle was home at the noon hour. Terrible idea. It was utterly the worst run of my life. I staggered home and laid down on the kitchen floor and guzzled water and cried. Literally. I was so disappointed in myself. I was pretty sure I would never run again.
Kyle wasn't nearly as devastated by this bad run as I was. It takes a lot to sway the heart of a former college football coach who has seen many an athlete have a bad day. He kind of shrugged his shoulders and said, "It was a bad run. The next one will be better." And, indeed, it was.
That's pretty much the same advice he gives me when I sit on the couch and cry at the end of a bad day with the girls. (Don't be alarmed - I cry easily and often.) There are some days as a mom that are so, so bad, I'm pretty sure I will never be able to make it through another day. But then the sun comes up the next morning, and almost always, the next day is better.
Bad runs and bad days are inevitable. Sometimes it helps just to focus your eyes on the promise of the next day.
7. DO celebrate the good runs!
The best run I've ever gone on came as a complete surprise. My parents live just outside of the city limits of my hometown on a hilly stretch of country road. We were there for Mother's Day, and I laced up my shoes on a Saturday morning and headed out. The last time I had jogged on that road, it kind of kicked my butt. Because did I mention that it is hilly? But it was a gorgeous morning, and I couldn't resist.
Something about the combination of the perfect weather, the brilliant blue sky, the cows and goat herds and guinea flocks in the pastures I ran past, and the unapologetic persistence of wildflowers along the side of the road made for an absolutely perfect run. It's cemented in my mind as the Golden Run. I'm still grinning about it as I write.
We have those Golden Days in parenting, too, right? Somehow - magically - no one is fighting, no one is whining or arguing or complaining. Activities go as planned, books seem more charming, hugs are exchanged freely, and grins abound at the end of the day. These days are worthy of note. These days are worthy of capturing and recording and celebrating.
8. DO remember that not everyone is a natural.
My husband is a born athlete. One of our daughters is undoubtedly a gifted athlete as well. I am not, in any way, a natural athlete. I have to keep reiterating that I am excising a lot of creative license when using the word "run" here. My jogs are not pretty. If you were to pass me on the road as I run, you might think to yourself, "I hope that lady is okay. Should we call 911?" Doing anything that requires any amount of athleticism requires heroic effort on my part.
But I have decided I can't go through life avoiding all things athletic just because I'm not a natural. Sure, I have to work hard at it. Sure, observing me is not a picture of effortless ease. And sure, it takes more effort for me than it might for others, but that doesn't mean that I am not capable of pushing myself to pursue this hobby.
I may not have been gifted with athletic ability at birth, but I was definitely born with a nurturing nature. Take a look around here and you'll see that parenting is something I think about, talk about, and write about often. In many ways, I'm a natural at mothering, but I fully recognize that this isn't the case for everyone.
And in the same way that I don't feel guilty about not being a natural athlete, I think that recognizing and accepting that not being a natural at parenting is okay, too. Some of us have to work harder than others at building block towers or reading story books or sitting through t-ball games or listening to The Incredibly Imaginative And Complex Story That Never Ends. It's okay. It's all about the pursuit.
9. DON'T forget the importance of the other 10%.
Kyle and I recently watched Running the Sahara - a documentary about three men who decided to run across Africa. One of the men shared a truth about running, that running is 90% mental. And the other 10% is mental.
This is such profound truth. If I set out half-heartedly, not really believing I can make my next distance goal, I inevitably have a bad run. If I set out with the mind-set that I will finish and meet my goal for that run . . . somehow, miraculously, I can do it.
Oh my goodness, isn't that true about life in the trenches of parenting, too? On days I find myself daydreaming of escaping the activity of home life by fleeing on a long, solitary road trip or when I begin muttering to myself under my breath I'm going to run away today . . . Those days never get better with that mindset. Those days require a lot of self-correction. Those days invite a lot of self-talk and prayer to get my mind straightened out. But all of those things are essential to honoring the other 10%, and remembering that has lifted me out of the despair pit on more than one occasion.
I had no idea how much I would learn about parenting when I set out in pursuit of this hobby. I suppose when you choose to run with only the sound of Oklahoma wind in your ears, you have a lot of time to think about these things. Maybe it's time for me to dust off the old iPod and allow the rhythm of music to accompany me rather than just my thoughts. (I think that's probably what normal people do.)