Looking after me… 2 children and a dog
Chauffering, cleaning, catering, peace-keeping: we’re endlessly impressed with all the roles a busy parent plays. For many, the thought of exercise on top of that can be a stretch too far. Our Workforce Project Officer El shares her experience of making that stretch.
As a single working mother of a 6-year-old and a 4-year-old, motivation to get physically active can be somewhat lacking. To be honest, motivation for anything can be scarce after the morning routine, the 24-hour café (to cater for constant food cravings), the school run, washing, taking the dog out, cleaning, and fitting in time to go to work.
The summer holiday challenge
Throw in the school summer holidays and all that extra time to fill, and not only do you feel physically drained but your bank balance is also left a little weary. It’s all too easy to agree to requests to keep the peace and stop the nagging. These often involve a TV or tablet in our house. This is true for all parents I’m sure, whether raising children alone or in a partnership.
Summer can be a specifically challenging time, especially with our good old weather! 6 whole weeks of “I’m bored”… “I don’t want to do that”… “Mummy can I have…” I’m sure I’m not the only parent who is full of good intentions in June but finding everything harder by mid-August.
I’d hoped this summer to be able to provide my children with loads of fun adventures and physical activities to tire them out in the day and let us all sleep at night. Trips out and days in – some “formally organised” and a list of fall-back “spontaneous ideas”. To be fair, I don’t think we’ve done too badly. But then, as a single working parent, have I forgotten someone?
Looking after yourself
There is a saying that goes something along the lines of “you can’t look after someone else unless you look after yourself first”.
It’s so easy to fall into the trap of focussing on others, in my case 2 small humans and Poppy dog. As parents, our priorities lie with our children. Our whole day is consumed by feeding them, clothing them and ensuring they are both entertained and educated. By the time the day is done and they are finally asleep, it’s easy to fall onto the sofa and eat whatever leftovers you can scrape out of the fridge while binging on whatever box set is currently taking your fancy.
There is no motivation for physical activity. There is no motivation for any activity quite frankly! But is this really looking after me?
Breaking the habit
I realised quite some time ago that I needed to break this habit. But how could I possibly find the time (and inclination) to get out there, get some exercise and be more physically active?
I’m honest enough to realise and admit that the end of the day, when the little people are in bed, is not the time for exercise – not yet anyway. I needed to find time in the rest of the day to move more and do more.
In my eyes, there was no time in the day when I wasn’t in mummy mode or work mode. So my physical activity would have to happen at the same time. I’m a big believer in role modelling. Those little eyes look up at us parents and see and hear more than we’d like to think. If I could be more physically active in front of them then maybe it would help them to embrace being active, rather than preferring the easy option of slobbing out in front of the TV or tablet.
An active summer
This summer I set out for us all to be more active: me, the two little people and Poppy dog. We did all sorts from trips to country parks, swimming, and playing in the local parks to venturing further afield for a short break across the border in Dorset. Each day I tried to ensure we did something, anything, that got us out and about and moving.
Now I’m not saying I forced them to run a marathon every day or swim the equivalent of the channel. I know my children (and myself) well enough to realise this is completely unrealistic, especially when it comes to my 4-year-old boy’s legs who regularly tell him “they are tired” and “they don’t want to walk mummy”. Instead, we made what we were doing anyway more active.
We’re lucky in Hampshire to have access to so many outside spaces – country parks, beaches, the New Forest and so many local parks and playing fields. Even when the weather isn’t on our side, there are places to go and explore, run around or look at. The trick is using these opportunities to squeeze in some activity. It doesn’t mean breaking the bank either.
This summer we have been all over and stayed at home. On our break in Dorset, we visited numerous places including the beautiful Corfe Castle. While we were there we played hide and seek, running around the castle walls and climbing over the fortifications and ruins. When we went for a picnic at the beach we played tig and ran round in circles trying to catch one another.
One of my favourite memories of summer was a day out at one of our local country parks. Many of these venues put on activities for the summer so we chose to do a treasure hunt, which meant we had to walk around a lake looking for signs and clues. During our walk, there was wind, rain and some sunshine, but none of us really cared as we walked along taking in the beautiful scenery. Then the children spotted the next sign and squealed as they sprinted up to find the clue.
It made me realise that you don’t need to spend money to get them out. How easy would it be to create our own treasure hunt? We don’t even need to go miles away. We live in Southampton and are blessed to have so many open spaces and areas of woodland.
So the next day I spent 10 minutes drawing up our treasure hunt. I’m no artist but hey they’re 6 and 4 and not that hard to please!
We headed out of our back gate and walked for just under 3 miles in total. There were uphill sections and parts where we’d race each other to find the next thing. We were being very physically active at times, and mummy was definitely out of breath (especially when my son’s legs told him they were tired and I had to provide a piggyback). After being out for just under two hours we were all shattered!
Getting active indoors
We’ve also been active indoors. After my first child was born I went through a phase of trying out fitness DVDs in a hope to shift some of the baby weight. This summer I’ve dug them back out again. But I still can’t face them at 8/9 o’clock at night. So instead we’ve done them together. Both my children love it when mummy puts the “dancing film” on and we all bounce about and laugh and giggle at each other trying to copy the moves. Their favourite moment is when the instructor declares it’s time for “floor work” and, of course, both jump on my back as I try to heave my way through some press-ups!
Better sleep and mental health
As exhausting as it sounds, there’s evidence that shows that if you do regular physical activity you have more energy. And do you know what? This summer we found that to be true. Yes, there were days when it was pouring with rain (thank you British weather) and yes there were days where we all needed a rest. But overall we have been more active, I have been more active and, because of this, I’ve felt better.
I’ve felt fitter, giving piggybacks has become easier, running after them in a game of tig has become less effort and I can still, just about, beat them both in a race! Not only this but we feel better inside. We all sleep better, my mental health has definitely improved, the daily stresses and pressures of coping with these two precious beings have become more manageable.
Last night after the little people were safely tucked up in their pits, I even found some motivation…