Does Being Physically Fit Make You a Better Parent?
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Modeling healthy eating and exercise habits is invaluable
Helen is a Solo Mom with two young toddlers. She woke up late this morning, after binge-watching Game of Thrones and snacking on chips until midnight. After getting herself ready for work, she hurriedly gets her toddlers up and dressed and puts them in the car. Whipping into McDonald’s on the way to day care, she grabs a McCafé drink, a sausage biscuit, and breakfast meals for the kids.
That same morning, Susan, who is also a Solo Mom with two toddlers at home, wakes up early and gets on the treadmill for a half hour before her kids are up. After she’s showered and dressed, she gets them up and fixes them cheesy scrambled eggs and bacon for breakfast. Instead of joining her kids, she insists they eat but ignores her growling stomach.
Helen is overweight. She gained 30 pounds after her divorce and is unaware that depression has snuck in and robbed her of any motivation to lose the additional weight. Helen has given up on herself and focuses solely on her kids and their needs. She might take a walk with friends once a week but generally doesn’t exercise.
Susan shed weight quickly after her divorce, unable to eat due to
stress. She works out religiously, at least five times a week. She
generally skips breakfast and lunch, believing that a small dinner helps
her maintain the lean body she desires. Susan doesn’t realize that the
anxiety she deals with every day is in large part due to the fact that
she’s starving her body and has a low body mass index (BMI).
A study in extremes, Helen and Susan are also very different parents, both modeling less-than-ideal self-care behaviors for their children. How important is it to model physical fitness (which includes healthy eating habits) for our children?
That is a tricky question that will likely strike a nerve with a lot of Solo Moms who identify more with Susan or Helen. Extra weight puts additional stress on the joints and organs, and can cause all kinds of chronic issues and diseases. Being underweight also stresses the internal organs and can cause anxiety and even death. What is good physical fitness, then?
Maintaining a healthy BMI, getting aerobic exercise, and maintaining healthy muscle mass is the best measure of being physically fit.
But is there a correlation between being physically fit and being a good parent? It depends on how you define “good parent.” Most Solo Moms would agree that being a good parent includes being a good role model, but does that include modeling how to take care of your body?
Arguably, modeling for our children how to eat well and stay physically fit is one of our more important roles as a parent. Children who grow up with an overweight, sedentary parent may be more likely to become the same way at an earlier age and face increased health risks, while children of an obsessive, underweight exerciser may grow up with a distorted body image leading to eating disorders and worse.
Modeling healthy eating and an active lifestyle, then, is just as important as modeling other behaviors for our children. Solo Moms need to assess where they stand on the spectrum and ensure they find a healthy balance that will promote physical fitness for both themselves and their children. Schedule an appointment with your physician if you’re not sure how to calculate your BMI or if you would like an objective opinion about your current lifestyle and fitness. If you already know where you stand and simply need help or guidance, the Internet can provide you with plenty of information and resources on nutrition and exercise. Most communities offer nutrition and exercise classes as well as support groups for those who feel they might falter attempting change alone.
It won’t be easy if you need to make big lifestyle changes, so focus on small changes and take the long view. Set goals and give yourself rewards for achieving them. For example, if you haven’t exercised for years, then plan on a short 10-minute walk three times a week. Each week, figure out a reward that will help motivate you, such as buying a song on iTunes or a Starbucks coffee. Add five minutes to your walk each week, and in a month’s time, if you’ve met your goal, give yourself a bigger reward, such as a new piece of clothing. Keeping a chart on the refrigerator or in your bathroom is a great way to keep yourself honest. Apply the same approach to your eating habits, slowly cutting out the sugars, fats, and processed foods over time, but remember to allow yourself to indulge in small ways to slowly eliminate the cravings.
If you discover that you have a low BMI and have developed an unhealthy relationship with food and exercise, your struggle will be just as difficult as that of an overweight person. You may have to see a physician to get an objective perspective on your self-image, BMI, and eating patterns. The best way to determine where you stand is to keep a diary of your exercise and what you eat. Do this for at least one week and then share that information with your doctor. Be honest! If you’re eating only one meal a day and consuming less than half your daily required calories, your doctor needs to know. Then he or she can help point you to the resources that will help you learn how to still eat lean and stay fit, but in a way that is good for your body in the long run.
If you find yourself struggling, remember your children are watching. Any Solo Mom of a female teen will tell you that your daughter hears and often reflects the views that you share with her about your body. In other words, if she’s heard you complain about your curly hair, your soft tummy, or your short legs—don’t be surprised to hear her saying the same things about herself. There is no better reminder that parenting does include modeling good physical fitness.
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A fourth-generation Montanan, Andre Zollars is a former U.S. army major who has also held management positions in marketing with MCI and the Sacramento Bee. She now resides in Lewistown, Montana, with her husband, four kids, three dogs, a cat, and a horse. Andre has published in print and online publications, including USA Today Travel, Yahoo! News, Livestrong.com, Big Sky Journal, and more. You can connect with her on Twitter and LinkedIn.
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