It's a Family Affair
When we started our running group five years ago, our founding members all had one thing in common – we were all parents of young children. We juggled our own lives with the social lives of our children, providing taxi services, organising childcare, some of us going back to full-time or part-time work, but all of us finding ourselves increasingly busy. In spite of our busy lives, we all had come to the realisation that we had to do something for ourselves, to make time for exercise – whether for weight loss or health reasons, or purely to maintain (or re-discover) our sanity. Our beginners ten-week running course attracted parents who felt the same, and many of them arrived on week one feeling nervous, shy and self-conscious. We made a decision to hold our ten week course sessions and club nights at 7.30 in the evening, giving parents a chance to wait for their other half to get home from work, to put the children to bed, or to make sure they were settled in time for the babysitter to arrive. Despite the best intentions and best-laid plans, sometimes our runners would arrive late, harassed, or somewhat traumatised from the stress of trying to settle little-ones before leaving, and the associated (but unjustified) feelings of guilt and selfishness.
Despite those tough juggling acts and emotional pulls, I noticed something fascinating about those that stuck at it, that continued to run and make time for themselves on those Wednesday evenings throughout the year. For those that have run since their children were young, it has become a regular and accepted part of their lives. In our house, seeing mum in lycra is as normal as seeing the children in their school uniforms. When I leave the house in trainers, they roll their eyes and assume that mum is going running again. It has become a regular part of life, and as running is becoming increasingly popular as a mainstream sport, overtaking cycling and swimming, so it has become popular from top to bottom within the family unit. This can be seen weekly through entire families turning up to parkrun, or to our regular club runs.
As a result of the dedication and commitment by these parents, a hobby can become embedded into a family, creating a lifestyle and mindset that views exercise as much part of life as putting out the bins or doing the weekly shop. That’s not to say it turns into a chore, but instead it becomes normal, accepted, and as I heard my youngest child shrug and tell someone recently: “It’s just what mum does”.
I grew up in a family like this, where running was a huge part of our lives. My sister and I were dragged across the country to watch our father compete, and our mum would often regale relatives with the heart-warming (albeit slightly embarrassing) story of me sitting up in my silver cross pram shouting ‘Come On Daddy!’ indiscriminately to any male runner that came past. Through an unintended process of running-osmosis, I found myself a member of my local athletics club, and on and off I continued to run throughout my adolescence and into adulthood. Regardless of wherever I was, how much money I had, or how busy I found myself, I could always run. It was free and I could do it anywhere. As a poor student, or a busy lawyer, I always had this form of exercise and wellbeing in my armoury – I knew how to do it, it was in my blood.
This deep-seated value that our family placed on running could apply to any sport or form of exercise, or healthy living or other lifestyle choice. Whether it is regular walking, eating well, meditation, or family games in the park, setting a good example at home and creating healthy habits obviously has a huge influence on children. So when the nervous parent turns up to one of our running sessions, they shouldn’t feel guilty that they’ve left their child or children at home with Grandma. As well as the physical and mental benefits that parent will gain from doing their own exercise, they are also setting a great example for their children, placing a value on exercise and movement alongside the importance of good table manners and brushing teeth before bed. And when this healthy lifestyle is demonstrated to children day-in and day-out, you are giving them the greatest gift - equipping them with a hobby or lifestyle that will hopefully stay with them for life.