The Athletic Parent

In his first book Lance makes the observation that, in some ways, training to win the Tour de France is easier than being a parent. I’m sure many athletic parents can relate to the honesty of his statement.

Only a few can make a career out of sport but many parents use their careers (or sport) as a haven from the seemingly relentless demands of parenting. With two young children in my house, I have tremendous empathy for people that create an outlet for themselves. 

The lack of sufficient self-expression can lead to mental health complications. I’ve seen angry Dads and depressed Moms, suffering from losing touch with what brings joy to their lives.

In October 2010, I touched on understanding what brings joy to our lives. Today, I’m going to share two techniques that have been helpful with living alongside a demanding, and strong-willed, little girl. At her most challenging, she reminds me exactly of myself!

Regular Breaks – If I spend too much time with my kids then I’m exhausted and appear miserable. I write “appear miserable” because I don’t remember being miserable, or feel particularly unhappy. However, Monica says I look absolutely miserable and it isn’t fun to live with a spouse that appears sad.

I’ve come to realize that misery is removed by regular breaks and ensuring that I’m not exhausted. Limiting exhaustion is challenging (see last week) but simple. Sleep enough and don’t wreck myself.

Between work and personal travel I’m away a week a month. If I go more than a month without some form of exercise-related trip then I feel my mood deteriorate. This realization has led me to race far less often so I can do more of what makes me happy (training trips).

Previously, I had jobs that required a lot of work-related travel. As much as possible, I would underschedule my trips. My travel time (on planes) was left open so I could relax. Getting to a position where you control your own schedule is highly desirable for mental health and high performance.

My wife has told me that she’d rather I stay away for an extra day than come home exhausted. While it’s tempting to extend my trips – learning to moderate my output for a couple days at the end of a trip is more mature, and valuable.

Seize Common Ground – I have a fear that my kids will become skiers and bankrupt the family. The reality is, not surprisingly, they gravitate towards what they see us doing. Our daughter loves to swim with mom and ride her bike with Dad. She also enjoys touring in the bike trailer and I discovered that dragging 60 pounds behind my mountain bike is an outstanding workout!

Do you understand your personal happiness psychology? My psychology is geared towards future pay offs – preparing for a race, working on a consulting project, creating a business, investing and building personal fitness. 

Creating a plan to help my daughter become a proficient cyclist fits my life psychology perfectly! When I am chasing her around the bike park, I feel that every minute invested will yield a future return (and that makes me happy).

What I recommend is to share what brings you joy. Keep in mind that having your personal pit crew may not be your family’s idea of fun! Odd are, if you prefer to be an active participant than your kids will share that trait.

The alternative from building your family into your life, is living with an increasing longing to leave your life. Being surrounded by people with unmet emotional needs creates a cycle of increasing demands, conflict and disharmony.

Avoidance and divorce can be structured in socially acceptable ways – I have been careful to make sure that life is never my “fault”. However, my issues just followed me around.

Summing up

  • Daily, weekly, monthly create space for yourself. I’ve created a life with a minimum of an hour per day, a day per week and a week per month.
  • When your family gives you an opportunity to share your passion – take it.

So much easier than trying to win races – I wish I figured it out years ago!