My daughter had signed up for Girls on the Run in 2016. Her mom was the coach of the local program up here in Lansing, New York, but we had split almost a decade before. It wasn’t anything dramatic. Sometimes these things don’t work. In our case, we became different people over the years and realized we worked better as co-parents for our two kids.
So we did what we thought was best for them, and every decision funneled through that. It wasn’t always easy for them, but we made it work.
As they grew, they realized we didn’t function like every other family. They also became more independent, making friends and starting to tune out the parents like many kids do. It wasn’t personal; it’s just part of life.
That didn’t mean I didn’t miss connecting with them. I did. But I wanted them to experience life and be their own people, so I was happy to take a slight backseat.
But that changed when my daughter signed up for Girls on the Run a few years ago. For the program, she’d need a running buddy. She was 10 at the time, and had tons of people she could’ve drawn on, so I wasn’t worried about her finding someone. I just was not expecting her to call upon was me.
In that fun little parenting way, I was honored to be asked. Of course I’d do this for her, but I also had a tiny concern: I hadn’t run much since college. I started in middle school, and had a good habit of it until work, family, life, and all of those things got in the way. This wasn’t going to stop me from helping her, but it certainly kicked my butt into gear, so I did a couch to 5K.
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Plus, it taught me an important role as a parent: the motivator. It was a funny dynamic because as her running buddy, I wasn’t a parent or a coach. I was there to guide her to success, with a little push along the way when she needed it. At that first race, we did a lot of stopping and starting, walking a bit and then saying, “hey, let’s run this section up ahead.”
Finding the right motivator for your kid can be tough. It’s that art of parenting, of searching for that combination of being emotionally supportive while also giving them that slight push that let’s them accomplish their goals by themselves.
There was also an important lesson of running your own race. We hear it all the time as runners. Still, it’s worth rehashing as people pass you and you pass them. During our race, my daughter worried about those other runners going by. I had to remind her to run her race and finish what she started. Whether we walked or ran, getting there in the end is what mattered.
From there, running became a family thing. My daughter aged out of the younger program and moved into Heart and Soul, the older kids program, that didn’t require a running buddy. But we still run together three years later. My son does, too.
It’s actually one of my favorite tools as a father. Running with my kids is a place of connectivity. It can be hard to find those places as kids get older. They’re more independent, and are creating their own lives that will become even greater as the years go on. But I know that I’ll always have running with my kids, and I hope they know I’ll always be here to give them that push if they need it.