On a blustery December morning, I completed my third marathon. After feeling great the first half of the race, I started to fade and had to keep my mind busy to get me across the finish line. I began reflecting on my first full year of marathon training and what I could do differently, better next year. I also thought a lot about my family, in particular my kids. I reflected on another year of parenting and what I can do differently, better. It dawned on me that there are a lot of similarities between the journey of parenting and running 26.2 miles.
No Amount of Training Can Prepare You
You run the training miles, you go to the parenting classes — heck, you’ve been there before with other marathons and other kids. But nothing can prepare you for the hurdles you will face during any particular race or any particular moment in time while parenting. Every race is different, every child is different. My sons are like two completely different races; the strategy that works for one is not necessarily the strategy that will work for the other. Having one son did not prepare me for having two. Running one race doesn’t make you an expert on all races to come. It’s the experiences you have that make you stronger and more knowledgeable for the next event.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
With every marathon, you’ll experience mental and physical greatness as well as barriers. At the start line, you’ll have this wonderful sense of anticipation. You’ll feel pretty good during the first 13 to 20 miles. Inevitably, that feeling begins to fade as you reach the dreaded “wall,” where things go from pretty hard to “I can’t take one more step.” Somehow you push through that feeling for miles more.
It’s much like parenting where feelings of calm and joy can quickly be overshadowed by whining, fighting, and pure exhaustion. One week I don’t want the kids to grow a minute older, the next week I’m wishing the time away. Just like running, one mile you feel confident while the next you question all your abilities. It’s natural to question your parenting abilities. To me, that’s part of what makes great parents. To think you have all of the answers is just setting yourself (and your children) up for failure.
The Power of Positivity
During the race, the thought that occupied my mind most was the power of positive thinking. I knew once I hit my wall that it was more mental than physical. I remembered the studies I’ve read about positive thinking’s impact on health, work, and life in general. Saying I was too tired and wanting to give up wasn’t doing anything for me. Positive thinking pushed me through.
It’s easy to hit that wall as a parent and become overwhelmed with frustration. Yelling is often easier than calmly making the same request 20 times in 5-minutes. But it can’t be denied that children react differently, better, with positive parenting. I realized during my marathon that I have to try harder to not let negative parenting take over. The moment of frustration won’t get us across the finish line. While we may quickly forget that particular moment, it is still a defining one that helps make up how the race will end, for better or for worse. In the end, positive thinking and positive parenting will get us all further down the road.
Crossing the Finish Line
I’m nowhere near the finish line with raising kids, and I’m not sure you ever fully cross it since you never stop being a parent. I do know the feeling of crossing a marathon finish line and that of crossing a parenting milestone give me a similar feeling. You may have heard the term “runner’s high”. It isn’t a myth — once you accomplish a run like a marathon, you’re overwhelmed with emotions and feel like anything is possible (except walking up and down stairs). I had a similar feeling when my kids learned to walk, when they learned to say “orange” properly, and when my oldest was finally potty trained. I feel it when they share, speak words of encouragement to each other, or make friends on the playground. It may not be as intense in the moment as finishing a marathon, but the sense of accomplishment is there.
As the miles go by in a marathon, there is a painful joy. You know you are that much closer to the finish, but you are physically drained and hurting. Once the medal is around your neck, you can be satisfied that all your hard work has paid off. In parenthood, each milestone is joyous, yet also a painful reminder that your kids are inching that much closer to the finish. It’s a long, grueling road at times, but in the end there is nothing you’d rather accomplish.