Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Dangling Carrots

What can make a fit mom, trying to raise fit kids, more proud than seeing her child grasping a donut hole in one hand and a baby carrot in the other?

O.K., a few things. But this ranks, I tell you.

After church on Sunday the kids ran into the foyer, where the post-service donuts and coffee are served. One of the reasons they like this church (for now, actually, the only reason) is because they offer donuts. When I found them the first thing that caught my eye was the bright orange nub of a carrot poking out of my daughter's fist. She was simultaneously taking bites of donut and carrot.

Here's why this matters to me:

#1--I did not say, "In order to eat a donut hole you must also eat a carrot." But I have said that, or versions of that, quite a bit in my years as a mother.

#2--I did not expect anyone to eat their vegetables that morning. I didn't know there would be vegetables served with donuts. (Who does that? Are you pointing at me? I didn't do that, I promise!) The choice was all there's. I know she likes carrots, but...

Before you a table; a spread of donuts holes and a little bowl of carrots. What would Jesus do?

OK forgive my irreverence. But seriously, the child that chooses a carrot? Let me be a little bit proud, here.

Seeing that carrot in her hand, it was like getting an A on my Motherhood Report Card (they don't hand these out very often). I felt like perhaps I was doing something right. That my message about how our body needs healthy food for fuel was resonating.

More likely, of course, is that she just likes carrots. I'm puuuuurdy sure had broccoli florets been offered they would have gone untouched.

But let's linger here for a little longer. Let's dwell in the victory, such that it is.

A huge part of our message in Hot (Sweaty) Mamas: Five Secrets to Life as a Fit Mom is that an important reason to exercise and eat nutritiously--aside from the bazillion health benefits--is to role model a fit lifestyle for our children. There is research that supports this. But you know what? There is also research that says, "Meh... what parents do doesn't really matter." Like most research out there you can find a study that supports any view you want to take.

What I can't find in the research, but that I swear I've read somewhere because I repeat it often, is this: Parents who are active raise kids to become active adults.

Subtle. Did you catch it?

Most of the research focuses on what makes kids active. But we know very little about what will influence them to become active adults. In the long-term plan, this really is the ultimate goal. What will they choose for themselves when they leave the nest?

I have plenty of anecdotal research, of course. My favorite comes from Liz Johnson, a triathlete I knew in Dallas, whose story I included in my book, "Becoming an Ironman: First Encounters with the Ultimate Endurance Event." Liz was a single mom of six kids. She lived in a small town in Kansas, coached a swim team and taught aerobics when aerobics was the hot new way to exercise. She trained for the Hawaii Ironman in 1989 and her kids helped her every step of the way:
My support crew and my training partners were my children. The kids all swam, so we were in the pool together a lot. Three of the kids did track and cross country, and my third son Jere--number four child--used to get up and run with me in the mornings. People talk about how training is time away from their family, but not for us.
She goes on to explain how she tackled her long bike rides:
We would take the car and two bikes and the kids would take turns riding with me. They would ride about ten miles apiece and then switch out. Of course, we had to work it so we had somebody old enough to drive the car.
But here's what Liz says at the end of her story, that perhaps is all the research I need, maybe it's the research I've been referring to all along:
Aside from being an ironman finisher one of my greatest athletic accomplishments is raising children who have grown up to appreciate fitness and include it in their life somehow."
Maybe that's why the carrot was somehow symbolic that my choices are influencing my children's choices; a sign that my kids will grow up to make healthy choices, too.

If there's one thing I've realized as a parent--and I realized this fairly early on--it's that I don't have a whole heck of a lot of control. My job as a parent is to help them become who they are meant to be. I live the way I do because I want to for my own reasons; in doing so I hope I'm leading by example, that there are some merits worth emulating. And, as a friend of mine said recently, one of my goals as a parent is to end up on my children's advisory board. Good enough.

I will bring the donut holes and the carrots to the meetings.

Do you think a parents lifestyle influences their children's choices? Do you have research to back that up? Either way, I want to hear about it!


Chris Pine said...

Parents' lifestyle choices absolutely have an effect on children.

So many of our own preferences come from those around us.

They come from any of our social influences, but parents are one of the biggest, especially at young ages.

I bet you've shown how delicious carrots are on quite a few occasions!

Paige Balius said...

I used to teach Stroller Strides when my son was younger. I cannot tell you how many children now think it is completely normal to get up in the morning and go exercise outdoors (and sing while doing it!). They would say, "What else would you do?!" It is completely and totally natural to them - second-nature.

My son now knows exercising every day makes him feel good. It is an ingrained part of him. And now he's learning how smart it makes you, too!

Kara said...

And when I think about it... I wouldn't stop bathing or brushing my teeth if research said that doing such things don't make it more likely that my kids would grow up doing them. Although I might be less likely to visit my grown children if they chose not to bathe or brush their teeth...