I always get a good laugh when people try to relate the economies of scale theory with having children. No, having more children does not make parenting easier or cheaper. Trust me on this. I am the mother of six! That’s right: a half dozen beautiful children each of whom I treasure, cherish, and would never trade. Although I would do anything in the world for each of my children, I am going to confess that meeting their individual needs often leaves me feeling tired and overextended. At the end of each day, I am always mentally and physically drained.
Those of you who are parents know the challenges that come with the territory. Parenting robs you of sleep, money, and time to take care of yourself. Of course, there is no question that the rewards of shaping your child into a responsible adult are well worth the money, time, and effort. In order to cope with the daily challenges and responsibilities, I am a big advocate of parents carving out down time. It is crucial that parents put on their own oxygen masks. Taking time to relax and rejuvenate serves as a refresher not only to the care taker, but it also benefits the child.
Running is my oxygen mask. Running is my “me time”. It is often the only sliver of time that I have to think about the needs of each child. While running, I usually plan my family’s schedule; organize my “to do” list; and prioritize my activities. Often, I have a whole new perspective on life after completing a run. The overwhelming task of parenting a brood of six never seems quite as daunting when I have a completed a run.
Running serves as my stress reducer. Running has been proven to increase levels of serotonin and beta endorphins in the brain, creating a more positive mood and fighting depression. The mental benefits of running span more than just this all important chemical release. Through running, I have gained an increase in self-esteem. I have taken my training runs to a more serious level of competition. I have found that I am good at running the marathon distance, and I am competitive in my age group. After staying at home with my children for 17 years, the accomplishment that I feel as I cross the marathon finish line has given my ego a much needed lift: a boost which carries over into my parenting. The better I feel about myself, the more excited I am to tackle the responsibilities of being a parent.
Running, having the reputation of being a solitary activity, has actually expanded my social circle. As a stay at home mom, it is not unusual for me to go most days with very limited adult contact. I do not recommend this lifestyle for any adult. It is unhealthy, and can often lead to depression. Parents cannot be at the top of their game without the support and friendship of other adults. In the past five years, my life has changed as I have made close friendships with other runners. These friends have not only been a source of encouragement within the running field, but have aided me in my role as a parent. I have ended many long runs excited about the new ideas I have received from running friends.
The physical benefits of running are numerous. Like most forms of cardio exercise, running improves cardiovascular health and lung capacity. Running has been my secret to weight maintenance. I have been able to maintain a consistent weight all of my adult life, thanks to running. With the exception of cross country skiing, running burns more calories than any other physical activity. Running can increase HDL levels (the “good” cholesterol), improving overall cholesterol in the body.
During my runs, I feel free. I am not responsible for anyone but myself. I am in control of my speed and distance. I often compare the feeling I get from running to playing outside as a child: the wind in my hair; the air filling my lungs; the sun kissing my face.
The next time you are on a plane, listen closely. In the event of an emergency, it is always advised that you, the adult, put on your oxygen mask before your child’s.
Running is my oxygen mask. As I run, checking off marathon goals, I become more physically and mentally nourished. This nourishment helps me to better handle the responsibilities of six kids.
I encourage each of you to find your own oxygen mask, whatever the form. Whether you are a parent of one, a dozen, or any number in between, it is beneficial to tackle the challenges of parenting while mentally and physically refreshed. Put on your oxygen mask, before securing your child’s.
My national running group, Marathon Maniacs, has more than 6,000 members. This is our pre-race photo on 12-30-12 in Springfield, MO. I am on the far right with the pom poms. I always have fun while running 26.2!
Michelle Walker ~ M.A., 50 State Marathon Finisher, Mother of 6