Updated: Apr 26, 2019
After a long workday and not having seen the kids all day, it's easy to let guilt sneak into your workout or even stop you from working out. Here's why it's better for everyone if you can move past the guilt.
You wake up, go through the mad rush of morning prep, make breakfasts, pack lunches, bring the kids to school and daycare, and then spend eight or more grueling hours at work. By the time you make it home, you feel mentally exhausted and the kids are crabby, hungry, and itching to spend a little time together with you. It makes me anxious to even put these actions into words.
It would be nice to sneak in a quick workout before tackling the rest of the evening, but with all of the to-dos left to address it probably seems best to just take one for the team and get the family settled for the evening.
While superficially logical, it doesn’t work out that way.
The logic of sacrificing your own time and self-care for time spent with your kids is flawed if the resulting time you spend with your kids is of lesser ‘quality’. The time a mentally-exhausted and possibly resentful parent spends with their children is bound to be littered, at least occasionally, with impatience, disengagement, and negativity.
Every working parent should find a way to ‘decompress’ after work to prevent the stresses from the workplace from invading our family time. The reality is that this process of decompression or de-stressing after work requires conscious and devoted time directed to the effort. For me, exercising plays a dual role of providing the needed decompression time along with serving my daily fitness goals. Here are some steps you can take to start a decompression routine.
Communicate Most of the conflicts in the house arise from expectations that are not being met. My wife expects the house to be clean when she gets home, and if it’s not, then conflict. I expect my kids to rinse and put their dishes into the dishwasher after supper, if they don’t, then conflict. The kids are expected to brush their teeth after only being told six times instead of seven, if they don’t, then conflict.
The solution could be as simple as communicating expectations, and communicating when the expectations of others might not be met.
If the house is a mess when my wife gets home, and I can preface the situation by explaining that time spent helping with homework meant that there was not time to clean, the conflict can be minimized.
If my son didn’t put his dishes away because he has to urgently poop, but he plans to as soon as he’s done, the conflict can be averted…if he communicates this beforehand and my expectations can be tempered.
If the kids have a good reason for not brushing their teeth after having been told to do so six times, then, well…I guess communication works in most but maybe not all situations.
It works the same the other way around. If the communication is consistent, clear, and in advance, kids can adapt their expectations. If you need 40 minutes after work to get in a workout, you may be surprised how well your kids support the act if they know that is what they should expect.
Include It should be taken as a compliment that your children want to spend every minute together with you. If it works for you, consider involving your child or children in your workout. The challenge is still gaining the ‘me time’ benefits without true ‘me time’. For that reason, I recommend that you try this once or twice, and see if it works for you. There are many benefits to involving your children with your own fitness, but it may be stressful until it becomes more routine. See if it works for you. If so, great, and if not, then don’t force it.
There is a difference between a 3-mile run after work and a 13-mile run after work. Yes, some days it seems like 30 minutes is not enough time to truly unwind, but if we are taking longer than an hour to ‘decompress’, the evening family time ends up getting excessively compressed. The goal is to provide oneself the chance to de-stress from work without adding a significant extra burden to the rest of the evening.
Recognize the ‘danger zones’
Communication, including your kids in your decompression, and minimizing the time away are all great ways to fit in necessary ‘me’ time, but it can all fall apart if we hit one of the two ‘danger zones’.
Kids get hangry. That’s just the way it is. If your family has a routine of eating supper around 6:00 PM, then any thoughts of a 5:45 PM run going smoothly are delusional. You will come home to a bad situation. While you may be feeling zen-like as you walk in the door, a screaming toddler or a back-talking middle-schooler will quickly bring you back to reality. Just don’t mess with feeding rituals. Snacks help, but it’s better to completely avoid the hangry zone.
The same restrictions are in effect for the 30 minutes before and after routine bedtimes. The before should be relatively self-explanatory for any parent who has dealt with a child with less-than-perfect listening skills at bedtime (that should cover every parent). The 30 minutes after are equally important because the moment you leave the home, your child will wake up. It’s just the way it is. Then she will go searching through your home and conclude six seconds later that you left because you don’t love her and that you’re never coming back. Waiting 30 minutes after the child ‘goes to bed’ lessens (but doesn’t eliminate) the likelihood of the panicked look-around.
While anecdotal examples of how exercise can make your parenting more positive are plentiful, scientific evidence on the effects that exercise has on mood and mental health are well-established. You need to prioritize exercise at times to be a more patient parent, and that is okay.