As a mum when I think of sport and exercise it usually does not involve my children.
For me being physically active has historically been my outlet, my chance to escape the chaos at home and a moment when I am alone and not pestered for a snack. It has rarely involved kids, unless it involved some kind of errand or logistical arrangement. Walking to and from school or cycling somewhere to get them out of the house during the darkness of Covid lockdowns.
That’s not to say we haven’t done walks (collective groans from the kids), family cycles (choruses of do we have to?) or the occasional family swim in the local pool and sometimes the Thames if I can brave the cold and murky water. But I haven’t ever equated these with exercise for myself – they were more about getting the kids moving, getting them some fresh air. Often to a circuit breaker to unravelling sibling dynamics.
Aside from exercise being kid-free, being active for me, has also been about keeping a lid on my inner critic, ever present and always judging my chocolate consumption. Sport and exercise becoming the antidote to over indulging, to ‘balance the scales’ both literally and metaphorically, rather than for pleasure or release of mental tensions. In my mind I can burn more calories and hit the target faster if I ditch the ‘smalls’.
Even just reading those words makes me sad. Sad on so many levels. Have I imprinted the ‘chore’ aspect of sport and exercise to my children rather than its benefits? Have I missed out on the benefits of exercise with my kids because of some outdated mental image that exercise is solely for slimming and toning? Have I role modelled to my daughters that sport and exercise are primarily about weight loss?
About 3 weeks ago I was setting out for a run. The sun was out, the summer was lagging, the outside world looked amazing. Instead of announcing I was going for a run, plugging in my earphones, slamming the door and high fiving myself down the drive for getting out rather than unloading the dishwasher, I asked my children if any of them would like to join me. I properly sold it. Any real estate agent would have hired me on the spot. I explained the weather was stunning, that it was a great day to get out, that I would love it if one of them would like to come (OK I may have resorted to a little guilt), and that we could stop somewhere and get some kind of treat (yes I may have also used bribery). Busted.
Fortuitously, one of my daughters did want to hop on the ‘time together’ train. The other mumbled a half no and that she was busy running for something on Roblox. Oh the irony.
The youngest joined me. She came on her bike and she beamed. She actually beamed. I beamed because she beamed. We were like a beaming pair setting off at pace. It was like we were on some set for a Hollywood movie. For about 3 minutes.
She chatted and made jokes, while I huffed and puffed. It didn’t take long for me to realise I was like a duck on water. Looking serene and beaming on the surface but paddling furiously underwater just to keep up with my bike riding daughter. I peaked too early.
I called a time out. I was almost doubled over from the over exertion. We decided together that she would venture on ahead and meet me at a designated spot. After that we would both walk and enjoy the outing. She enjoyed getting out and having some freedom away from her siblings and I enjoyed my run, once I levelled back to a sensible pace. We met up and then had a glorious walk a bit further and then back home sharing the pushing of the bike.
We beamed again. She opened up about stuff at school and I listened. She asked about how I navigated some of the tricky school things when I was her age. And we also just enjoyed some silence walking together, making sure the bike pedals didn’t sting our shins.
I know people say that time speeds up when you have children. In the trenches of the baby years, I’m not sure I would have agreed because every day felt like ground hog day. But now they are hitting tweens and teens it’s like their childhood is flashing before my eyes.
I need to grab these moments and make them more frequent. I want to give my girls the confidence to enjoy sport and exercise and see it as a pleasure rather than a chore. I want them to see the global benefits of sport rather than simply a means to an end within the slimming and trimming frame of reference. If I can get out and get active with them, then together we can consolidate those shared experiences. This feels especially important as winter approaches and things start to feel sluggish and our collective desires to get out decrease. My daughters could be my winter torch and I could be theirs. Perhaps lofty, and ever so slightly soppy but who doesn’t love lofty sentimentality when it comes to their children?