“Mommy and Daddy go to the gym to get healthy and strong so they can play with me!”
It’s not uncommon to hear our daughter utter this statement in our house, multiple times a week. My husband and I are avid CrossFitters, but between raising our daughter and both working full time, we have had to find creative ways to fit in exercise. Since she was three weeks old, Eleanor has been coming to the gym with us. We were lucky. When she was little, it was easy to find someone who would volunteer to hold her so we could get in a quick workout!
But when I went back to work after my maternity leave, life got a lot harder. Between teaching full time, breastfeeding, pumping, being sleep deprived, and trying to juggle a baby, CrossFit seemed like a luxury that I was selfish for taking. Guilt settled in fast. Even working out twice a week seemed too much, and I couldn’t get over how self-centered I felt for wanting that outlet for exercise. In my mind, being a Good Mom meant sacrifice, and I struggled between feeling like I should sacrifice my entire well being for my daughter, and just desperately wanting to feel strong and healthy again post-partum. A good mom, I thought, would give up the gym and always be home for their child when not working. By my definition, I was clearly not a Good Mom.
I vented to a friend. With tears streaming down my cheeks, I fessed up, and the guilt poured out. After listening to me, she gently interjected, and told me of something that I had never thought of: that by taking time for exercise, I wasn’t hurting my daughter. In fact, I was modeling health for my daughter. I was teaching my daughter to take care of herself. As a personal trainer, she had seen too many women put their own health on the back burner to take care of their children. They too, thought exercising was selfish. But, she noticed that her older clients not only had a myriad of health issues, but they had passed their poor habits to their children. If I took care of myself, my friend reassured me, Eleanor would learn to do the same.
We all want our children to be healthy, but it had never occurred to me that I was, in fact, my daughter’s first teacher in health. Her trips to the gym each Saturday, my discussions with my husband about exercise in front of her, the energy that we both have to run and chase her; these all made and will continue to make a difference in her life.
Girls pay attention, especially to their mothers.
And suddenly, I see my role as her mother in a very different light. If I’m happy about my body and talk about my body in a positive light, Eleanor will do the same. If I value exercise and prioritize my health, Eleanor will do the same. If I’m proud of who I am and confident in my own physical strength, Eleanor will be proud and confident as well. As someone who has struggled with my weight since adolescence, one of my biggest fears of raising a girl was teaching my daughter to hate her body. I didn’t want her to feel ashamed the way I did. And now I know that her own ability to love herself starts with my self-love.
When she’s at the gym with us, Eleanor mimics what we do. In fact, Eleanor asks us daily if she can spend time at our CrossFit. At the age of three, fitness is already a part of her vernacular. She knows all about barbells, weight plates, gymnastics rings, and pull-ups, and she loves showing off her toes to bar to anyone who is willing to watch. If you’ve ever seen Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods, the Witch sings “Careful the things you do/children will see and learn.” I’m constantly reminded of this song as I watch her grow, and I couldn’t be more reassured of my own decision to keep exercise as a part of my lifestyle.
Eleanor takes a weekly gymnastics class at Planet Gymnastics in Natick. I’ve received several comments from teachers and parents about how strong and fearless she is in the gym. Perhaps that’s her personality, but I wouldn’t typically describe her as a daring child. I think she’s learned, since birth, that being strong and fearless is something to strive for and celebrate.