*I originally wrote this post for liberatingworkingmoms.com on December 17, 2014.
I am now placing it here for safe keeping.*
Over the past year I have started doing something that my teenage self would have never thought possible, I started running. I am currently training for my fourth half marathon, which is a big deal coming from a girl who once took so long to run 3/4ths of a mile that the teacher just assumed she was on her last lap and let her finish. I was a dancer growing up, always fairly athletic, but running was just not in my repertoire. Fast forward to now: running is my meditation, my salvation, my church, and as much as I love it, I’m not just doing it for me.
One of the things I strive for the most as a mother of two young girls is to teach my children that they are in charge of their own bodies. I am trying to instill in them that they alone get to decide what they do with their bodies, from what goes into their mouths (I’m not going to let my two-year-old eat cotton candy for breakfast, but I try to show them what foods make your body more healthy and which ones make you less so) to who is allowed to touch them and how (I don’t force my girls to hug someone if they don’t want to because I want them to understand that physical touch should always be consensual). These things are important to me because I want to raise young women that feel in control of their bodies. I want them to care about their physical well-being because they take pride in themselves, not because they are trying to look or act a certain way for someone else.
Of course I encourage them to try new things and they know not to use their bodies in ways that are dangerous (like darting out into the street or following a stranger home), but I really hope if I help foster these feelings of ownership and self-awareness, that they will develop the desire to make healthy choices on their own. I have also realized that the only way I can teach them these things is by example, and that is why I am making the effort to take care of myself.
I am far from perfect and like many women I have my own issues with my body, but I do my best to never speak negatively about myself in front of my girls. It was hard enough to find the time and motivation to exercise when I was a young carefree 20-something, but add two kids, a husband, a house, and a job to the mix and it is damn near impossible. Impossible, but infinitely more important. I have two girls, two girls that still think I hung the moon. Everything I do is an example, everything I say is a lesson. I better watch my mouth.
When you are a working mom, whether inside or outside of your home, the guilt for spending time away from your family is almost inevitable. So how, I ask, do you justify taking even more time for yourself? I struggle constantly with finding this balance, but I truly believe that showing my children that I value myself is essential. This is why I run, they are why I run. I want my girls to see me making the effort to be healthy and strong. I want them to see me fuel my body with good food and I want them to hear me speak kindly about myself.
It is hard to find the time to exercise and I often feel guilt, especially on days when I've already been at work all day, but then I overhear my four-year-old telling someone “I’m strong and fast, like my mommy” and think I must be doing something right.