Monday, June 20, 2011

Why Moms Should Become Runners

Since the 1980s it seems like parenting in the States has become a real competitive sport. Every parent has a super high-achieving child who is destined for an Ivy League university. It's very typical for an American mother to talk about her child this way: "Herkie is in 2nd grade, gets straight As, reads at a 5th grade level and is at an 8th grade level in math. He just finished reading 'War and Peace' and can do some of his older brother's trigonometry problems. Herkie also plays the bassoon, speaks Mandarin, has a black belt in karate, volunteers at the local homeless shelter, and is the youngest kid on his travel Little League team." Whew! One has to wonder when poor Herkie gets some time just to be a kid.

Another aspect of the US competitive parenting culture is judging other parents. We get brownie points for thinking that another parent is bad. A child throws a tantrum in the grocery store because his mother wouldn't let him get a candy bar at the checkout counter. His mother is obviously a Bad Mother; otherwise her child would understand the meaning of the word, "No" and calmly accept not getting the candy. We forget that there may be extenuating circumstances for the kid pitching a fit, like being close to nap time. Instead, we automatically think that the mother can't control her child and we would obviously be better. We also judge other parents as Bad because they do things differently. For example, it's normal in Germany for kids to walk to school starting in first grade. But in the States a parent is judged as being negligent by other parents for letting a 7-year-old walk 100 meters to school on her own. American moms would judge the Germans as negligent parents who risk their children's lives. The German moms would judge the Americans as being too overprotective. Stay-at-home moms judge working moms as being bad, and vice versa.

As I've been out on my morning training runs, I've come to the conclusion that mothers need to become runners. Runners are the most non-judgmental people that I know. When I'm out running, I see people going at different speeds. Some of us are fast while others go at a cool-down jog pace. But everyone out there running is doing his or her best and is simply a fellow runner. We all get to our goal at our own pace and nobody tells us that we're too fast or slow. Some of my former running partners in Parsberg would apologize for being slower than me. But I would tell them that it just didn't matter because we were runners together. We runners also don't judge each other on the types of races that we  prefer. Some of us love running marathons, while others of us are happy doing 5 and 10 km races. A runner who does 5K races is just as "real" a runner as a marathoner.

Runners also applaud each other's achievements instead of trying to tear each other down. When a runner finishes a marathon or places overall or in his age group in a race, that achievement is celebrated. We don't play "can you top this" with our running.  I remember when a friend of mine from Parsberg finished her first marathon (Munich) in over 5 hours. Her time was about an hour slower than I would run a marathon. But I just couldn't imagine myself telling her that she was slow and that I can run a marathon faster and was therefore a better runner. That would have been horribly rude to judge her solely on her finishing time.  Instead, I was so happy and proud for her because we trained together and I helped her to prepare for it. My friend running her first marathon motivated me to train for another marathon after almost a 10 year absence from that distance. Finishing a marathon is a huge accomplishment in itself.  If you're not an elite-level runner, the finishing time is secondary. I used to say that I got the same finisher's medal as the winner but just didn't get the prize money.

While the Boston Marathon would be the runner's equivalent of going to an Ivy League university, most runners will never qualify to run in it. Does that make their running achievements as any less valuable? Not at all. I'll probably never qualify for the Boston Marathon. But I'm happy with everything that I have accomplished as a runner. Most runners feel the same way.

Like runners, parents are doing the best they can. Maybe moms should be runners to learn that we're all fellow parents who are finding our own way in how we bring up our kids. The finish line for a parent is a child who is independent and equipped to leave the nest. It doesn't matter how quickly or slowly our children cross the proverbial finish line. The important thing is that they do.

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