I have a love-hate relationship with my elliptical. I love that I have it. I know that it’s good for me. It gives me a good workout, and it saves me the hassle of going to a gym. But when it’s time to use it, I’m a little bit resentful of the thing. I huff and puff and sweat and count down the minutes until I’m done. In the midst of a workout, I often wonder why I’m even bothering. Why put my body through something so strenuous? And in this complicated relationship with a machine, I find some unlikely lessons on parenting. I see in my workouts a microcosm of raising kids.
Allow me to share a few lessons I’ve learned.
- You do the same thing over and over again
On an elliptical, I feel like I’m going around in circles. Literally. Okay, ovals, maybe, but still. It’s the same motion over and over and over again. The scenery doesn’t change much. Sure, maybe I’ll flip through a different magazine, but I’m always in the same spot in my room, doing the same old thing. And let’s face it, when you’re raising kids, who doesn’t feel that way? Your days run together because you’re doing the same thing, fighting the same battles, doing the same chores, reading the same books… Parenting can be very monotonous. There’s not a whole lot of glamour in any given day. And that can be frustrating.
- It’s hard work
When done correctly, I sweat a lot while exercising. It requires effort and concentration. I can’t multitask beyond reading a page or two of a magazine while I’m on the elliptical. I can’t fold clothes or talk on the phone or start dinner. I need to concentrate. Same thing with raising kids. Parenting isn’t supposed to be a “sit on the couch and command your kids from there” sort of affair. You have to put a lot of effort into it. You have to focus on your children, attend to their needs, and shape their character. None of those things happen overnight. It’s a daily, hourly, minute-by-minute effort that requires a lot of time.
- At some point, you feel like quitting
I know it’s not pretty, but it needs to be said. At some point in every workout, I’m sorely tempted to just stop. It’s too hard, I’m sweating too much, I could be doing something more enjoyable… Why am I doing this in the first place? Parents, don’t even try to tell me you’ve never felt that way about raising kids. I know you have. I know I have. After a particularly bad day, haven’t you ever fallen into bed, exhausted, wondering, Why did I even want kids in the first place? Maybe you get discouraged because you think your kids will never stop fighting. Perhaps they’re disrespectful and you can’t figure out how to teach them otherwise. Maybe you feel like you’re failing them in terms of discipline, either by being too harsh or not strict enough. Possibly you compare yourself to other moms or dads who seem to have it all together, and you feel completely inferior next to them. No matter the reason, you’re tempted to throw in the towel and forget this parenting thing. And yet…
- You get better at it as you go
Over time, I’ve become more efficient as I use the elliptical. As my leg muscles and heart get stronger, I build stamina. I can do more rotations per minute, burn more calories overall, and increase the level of difficulty more than I could when I started. Practice makes perfect, after all. The same is true of parenting. When I had my first child, it was all I could do to get dinner on the table at night. Even if I started at 3:00, somehow it was never finished before 6:30. And had someone at that time showed me what my life would be like now, I would have made a run for it.
But slowly, over time, I learned to multitask and make better use of my time. I realized I didn’t have to hold my baby every waking minute. I figured out that my kids could amuse themselves at times. With the birth of each child, I became more confident and efficient. Now I can whip up a meal in 20 minutes if need be, all while my baby hangs on my leg, my toddler whines for snacks, my first grader tells me a story, and my boys come in fighting or bleeding. I’m not saying I always handle this terribly well, but I can do it. Why? Because you build stamina and endurance and get better as you go.
- The end makes it all worthwhile
Admittedly, I’m still waiting on this one. I assume this is true for parenting, but since none of my kids are out of the house yet, the verdict is still out. Still, I’ve heard so many empty-nesters say they’d do it all over again that I’m convinced it has to be true. When I’m finally done exercising and I’ve taken my shower and I feel fresh and clean, I get a surge of adrenaline or endorphins or whatever, and I feel fabulous. I’m proud of myself for finishing, and my body feels the effects of a good workout, and it’s one of the best feelings you can imagine. But it doesn’t happen during the workout- it comes afterwards.
When you’re in the midst of raising kids, and you’re wondering if you’re doing it right and if your kids will turn out okay in the end, you sure aren’t patting yourself on the back for doing such a great job. But someday, someday, when they really are grown up, and you realize they’ve turned into responsible and capable young men and women, you know all the time and effort you put into raising them has paid off. And that will be a gratifying feeling indeed.
Okay, so maybe my elliptical didn’t teach me everything about parenting. But it sure has a lot of good analogies. And as I exercise, I remind myself that the end is in sight. For Christian parents, that doesn’t just mean the magical day our kids move out, but the eternal glory that awaits us in heaven, where we will someday, with our children, see our Savior face to face. There’s no better ending than that.
For those who are in the middle of this monumental task we call parenting, take heart. Yes, it’s monotonous. Yes, it’s hard. You might feel like quitting. But that’s probably because you’re doing it the right way. Proverbs 22:6 tells us, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” That’s why parenting is so overwhelming. We are trying to raise our children to know the Lord, to have strong morals, to be responsible and caring adults. We are raising our daughters to be wives and mothers, and our sons to be husbands and fathers someday. It’s daunting. But God, the perfect parent, is by your side as you raise your children, because, after all, they’re really His children. As are you. It’s hard work, but God is with you, and with His help, it’s definitely worth it. And while I’m thinking of it, I’d better go. I have just enough time to sneak in another workout.