cutting ourselves some slack

News flash from this morning’s paper: new parents have no time to exercise or eat right.

I love when obvious realities are the subject of extensive (and probably expensive) studies. I mean, really? Doctors and scientists were surprised to learn that new parents have worse exercise and eating habits than young adults without kids?

F and I laughed about this one over breakfast. What part of new parenthood – the sleep deprivation, the constant demands of young children, the physical toll exacted on your body – would make one think it would be a time in your life where well-rounded meals and hours at the gym would come easily? The focus is totally on the other, and yes, your self suffers at times.

Which, in a way, is what annoys me about the premise of this study. To me, new parenthood is by definition a time of sacrifice. It’s precisely when we think otherwise – when we feel like our life post-kids should resemble the pre-kids version, when we try to compete with Hollywood celebs who lose the baby weight in six weeks, when we buy into the delusion that we can have it all, all at once – that we beat ourselves up for falling short.

If new parents could instead be encouraged to see this time in their lives as a demanding, exhausting, but relatively brief period – a great sacrifice born out of love – then I think it would help us gain the perspective we sorely lack when our days are consumed by kid-dom. But instead we’re barraged again with one more source of guilt: while juggling baby and home and work and life, we’re supposed to find time for the gym on top of everything else. Give me a break.

The transition to parenthood is just that: a transition. Which is by definition uncertain, tumultuous, and transitory. (Ironically, I find this impossible to remember when in the stage of childbirth by the same name, yet that transition meets the same definition.)

In transitions, the old patterns are disrupted; the old rules no longer apply; the old ways of life no fit. I used to make it to the gym three times a week before work. Now I’m lucky if I get there three times a month. We used to enjoy long, leisurely dinners over new recipes and candlelight. Now we scarf down something quick before jumping into the bath/bed routine. In some ways our life with S and baby on the way in no way resembles our life pre-kids. But I know the time of just-the-two-of-us will come again someday. I’ll have long, lazy Saturdays to fill with whatever I want to do. But that’s not my work and my vocation right now. I’m called to sacrifice and to let my life be changed by little people who help my heart to grow, no matter how challenging that may be at times.

So I refuse to feel guilted by this study, and I invite you to join me. Certainly we all need to care for our health, take time for ourselves, eat well and exercise. But to think that it must be a primary focus of the transition to parenthood? Unrealistic in my view.

And it bugs me that this article and study offer no practical, helpful resources to remedy the situation. We all know we’re supposed to find time for exercise and eating healthily, but how – when you have no time and you’re sleep-deprived and the baby’s demands run your schedule? I say help new parents to do the best they can with the strapped time and resources they have right now. And help them to gain a long perspective that time for prioritizing working out and ditching junk food will come again in time.

Lest I let the church off the hook here, I don’t need to fund a study to back up my claim that if physical health suffers during the early years of parenting, spiritual health suffers as well. Finding time for prayer? Wrestling a wailing newborn or a screaming toddler to church on Sunday morning? Tasks that seem impossible at times. Again, the last thing new parents need is more guilt in this regard: they’re already struggling more days than not, and they beat themselves up well enough. But let’s give parents practical, realistic, simple resources for how to care for their spiritual health and their relationship to God through one of the most significant transitions of their lives.

As the article notes, parents do want to lead healthy lifestyles while raising kids: “The will is there for the playground parents.” We just have to help people find the way.

4 thoughts on “cutting ourselves some slack

  1. Finding time to eat right and exercise is a daily struggle for us! Many days it just does not happen! Although using P90X has made it more possible to get a good workout in at home on the days we can find the time.

    Now that I have two, I find it more difficult (sometimes impossible) to find the time to feed healthy meals to our (often times picky) toddler. I feel so guilty that I resort to the processed foods because they are quick, easy and a crowd pleaser. Just one more thing I said I would never do as a parent. Again, I eat humble pie!

  2. Good post, and so true.

    Parenting is an all-consuming activity, so of course, new parents don’t seem to have time for anything. However, I suppose it is directly related to how much help a couple has. If they have a lot of help (grandparents close by, etc.) then they might have more time to eat right and exercise. We didn’t have any help, so I sure didn’t have time for anything, and I still don’t now.

    And I also dislike the celebrity parenting illusion. Show me a photo of some fashionable couple with kids, the parents all clean and neat…and I’ll explain that if you pull the camera back, you will see the entire entourage that follows the parents around and really takes care of the kids for them.

  3. Amy – I absolve you from your guilt! 😉 My favorite meal as a kid was Kraft mac & cheese and hot dogs. (F wishes I would say the same today.) All that matters is that you get dinner on the table for the kids. We eat lots of pizza and mac & cheese around here too – life is too short to stress about every meal!
    I have heard other parents rave about the P90X but I’ve never tried it. Lately I just do my yoga in the living room with S while he plays next to me (or messes with my down-dogs). That + lots of walks = the limit of my workouts these days!

    Jeff – I hear you on the celeb parenting. That’s why I refuse to read that trash: why make my life pale in comparison with people who have 4 nannines, 3 personal trainers, a cook, a masseuse and a driver?

  4. Love your attitude with this article, L. I hate when studies like this come out (about any topic) and don’t offer you guidance on correcting whatever the issue is.

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