I’m a runner. I’m also a mom. I’ve been a runner for over 25 years. I’ve been a mom for just over 8 years. I could write many books over on running. I don’t think I will ever feel like I’m “doing it right” in parenting. And that is why it is so hard to know what to do when these worlds collide.
I would love it if my two kids (6 and 8) decided they would like to go for runs with me and train for races. I can do that! In fact we have gone for the odd run together, mostly with great results, but the truth is, going for runs really isn’t their thing right now. They’d rather be playing on the monkey bars or skateboarding in the ally, and to be honest, as long as they’re doing something they love and are getting exercise, I don’t really care. In fact, I truly believe that being a great runner in elementary school has very little bearing on whether they will be good, or more importantly whether they will enjoy it, when they’re older. I cannot make them train, I cannot make them love it and I cannot make them want to do well in a race. The only thing I can do is mess it up by putting pressure or expectations on them.
A few months ago my 6 year-old’s best friend decided she wanted to train for and run a kids’ fun run. If her friend was in, so was my daughter. I asked her a few times whether she wanted to go for a jog with mommy to get ready and she always said ‘no thanks’. The race was 1K so I knew she could complete it – it would just be more of a challenge than if she’d trained. So be it – I’ve entered races under-trained as well. The result was she ran it, was shocked by how hard it was, but was happy with her t-shirt and medal. And that was it. No “what was my time?” No “I want to do better next time” It was purely a one-time experienced influenced by peer pressure. But I was proud and excited for her.
The next weekend my 8 year-old’s best friend was running a 5K which he’d been training quite seriously for. My son decided he wanted to do it with him. Again, my guy had decided not to train, despite many offers by me to do so with him. He did not want to train but he was determined to race. I had absolutely no idea how it would play out. I decided it could be a disaster but at least it would be a great life lesson. It wasn’t a disaster; he stuck with his friend until the last kilometer where he fell a bit behind, but tried his hardest and ran the whole way finishing in just over 27 minutes. Again, I was proud at his determination and work ethic in the race. Mostly I loved how happy he was afterwards and how great he said he felt.
The school cross-country race is tomorrow. They both say they’re competing although my younger one goes back and forth and it will depend on whether her friends are. Mostly she wants the morning off school. My son is also doing it with his group of friends, although I think he’s a little more personally invested. I’m trying my hardest to remain impartial. They can go if they want. Of course I really want them to go and really want them to try hard and have great races! But I have to remember I only want this for them. I love it when they feel confident and great. Just because my vehicle for these feelings is running doesn’t mean theirs will be. Chances are they’ll find completely different outlets and sources of confidence and I will try to cheer and care as much about those (skateboard tricks? moves on the monkeybars?) as I do about the results of running races. In the end, the only way they will ever love anything is if they are doing it for themselves – not to please someone else. And there is nothing I can do but sit back and watch.