Ironman vs. Parenting
For more peaceful parenting tips, listen to our podcast episode Tips to Being a Peaceful Parent.
When people find out I trained, raced and finished an Ironman (a 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile bike ride followed by a marathon – yes 26.2 miles, all back to back) they are always amazed. “I could never do that!” is the common response. But you know what is overwhelmingly more difficult, and time and energy consuming? That’s right, being a parent! Parenting is hard work. Now granted I have 3 kids 20 months apart. (Please don’t question my sanity!) But regardless of your family structure nothing else requires so much of us.
When you train for Ironman and you are tired or sick you can just take a day off. Those days would come where I just felt exhausted and I just could not manage to drag myself to the pool and that was OK. I was learning to listen to my body and sometimes it needs rest more than a workout. But I don’t have to tell any parent that there is no such thing as a day off. Sun up to sundown (and beyond) 7 days a week, 364 days a year we are in charge of coaching, assisting and nurturing a child’s body, mind and spirit from basic needs to advanced algebra. Then when that’s done for the day, the laundry, dishes and yard work are always waiting.
In Ironman, you get to choose when to challenge yourself. I’m sure you know exactly what I’m saying here. If you aren’t a morning person, workout in the evening or at lunch. Barring super heat or other weather issues, you can workout when you want, for how long you want to the intensity you want. (and for weather issues, there’s always a gym!) With parenting, your children’s brain development and budding emotional growth can sideswipe you anytime, anyplace and it’s generally at the most inconvenient time, when you are prepping dinner, trying to get out the door, the 10 person deep checkout line at the grocery store, and the end of the day when you just need to collapse. It’s always when you finally get to the restroom after holding it for 5 hours that your kids seem to come to blows over a toy. Enough said.
In Ironman, training or racing, you can quit (and try later or not!) Most don’t take this option but if you just decide in the middle of the race that your body isn’t responding the way you think it should the choice is there for the taking. But when your child is 9 you can’t just say, “I’m done. I quit.” This is not an acceptable option to any well-intentioned parent. Which gets us right to our fourth comparison.
Ironman is a relatively short commitment. Depending on your fitness level when you first start training, it’s a 6 month commitment. Training is 5ish months to work up to the mileage, a two week taper and race day is 11-17 hours. Then you can revel in your glory of a job well done and AMAZE the world with your feat! But parenting, this is an 18-plus year commitment. Holy cow!! That’s a long time!!
Ironman ONLY brings praise and awe. Like I already said, people are SO impressed when they find out you completed an Ironman. It doesn’t matter how slow and rarely do people even ask. You are a rare specimen to behold. But parenting brings all kinds of judgements and comparisons from parents and non-parents alike. (Don’t get me started on the non-parents!) If your kid was walking at 11 months, theirs was at 10. You aren’t strict enough. “You feed them too much junk and let them watch too much TV.” You are too strict. “Let them live a little; they’re only kids once!” Everyone has an opinion about how you are screwing up your most important job. When I say Ironman ONLY brings praise and awe. It’s true. No Ironmen and women that I have ever met talk about how the other could train better or smarter or needs different equipment. We are there for the experience and for the journey. We respect our fellow Iron-people because we know and understand everyone has their own journey, their own obstacles that they overcame to be at that starting line.
Just like Ironman, you have to find the joy in the journey or you will never make it. (at least not with everyone in tact) No one would finish Ironman if every stroke, pedal and step were tortuous and painful. There is joy in each accomplishment along the way, each milestone reached, a faster run, a longer swim. The same is with parenting, connecting and finding joy in your child’s laugh, snuggling for books, all the funny and amazing things they say and do, and just generally watching them unfold into the incredible people they were meant to be, this is where joy lies. When you’ve been working with your child on saying “please” and “thank-you,” on learning to read, on asking for a toy and not grabbing and all of the sudden you just see it click. The struggle is what makes the accomplishment worthwhile and oh so much sweeter!
But Ironman finishers have nothing on us parents! So take a bow. Go collect your medal, because you my friend, are much more and much stronger than any Ironman finisher!