take the options

I’ve never been an athlete. I’m not an exerciser. It’s just not my thing. Besides, I’m a busy mother and who has the time? But as my metabolism has slowed and slowed in my late 40s and my jeans size crept upward I felt like I probably needed to do something. And soon. Like, SERIOUS BIZ.

Several months ago I paid for and downloaded an app called Les Mills On Demand that allows me to work out from home. I liked that I didn’t have to exercise in front of anyone else and feel stupid. I didn’t have to drive anywhere. I could get some exercise whenever I wanted instead of being stuck with a specific class schedule.

Sidebar: You’re thinking, why is Katherine talking to us about exercise? This is not a fitness blog. But there’s something in particular that has really stood out to me about the attitude of the people who lead these workouts and how it has contributed to my success, and how much I feel like it applies to being a mother. So bear with me …

The instructors, Dan Cohen and Rachael Newsham, continually reinforce the idea of simply trying. That’s it. You are doing by trying. Not by being perfect. They encourage you to take breaks when you need. They encourage you to take the easier options when you need. For example, if you can’t do full pushups do them from your knees. If you can’t do the mountain climbers quickly, do them in half time. They continually talk about doing the workout that is right for YOU. You succeed by knowing yourself and always paying attention to that.

These are people who have perfect bodies; they have sculpted muscles in places you didn’t even know there were muscles. You’d think they’d be in your face shouting, “DO IT. ALL OF IT. BUST YOUR ASS. NO EXCUSES.” I’ve seen that so much from fitness folks, the “no pain, no gain” thing. Yet here are Dan and Rach at Les Mills On Demand talking about focusing on you and what you can do. Embracing who you are. And I, a person who has always hated exercise, am now kicking ass because of it. Because they made me feel like doing the best I can do on any given day is enough. Because they encouraged me to be me and not beat myself up for it.

In the past when I tried exercise it never really stuck. I didn’t get much in the way of results. Certainly not big ones. Nothing ever worked that well. I don’t know if I hadn’t found the right thing for me. Or if I felt like no matter what I wasn’t going to be as strong as all the other people around me so I never enjoyed it.

This time, for the first time, I have really taken in what these instructors are saying and paid attention to me and only me. I have taken the options. I have taken the breaks. I have substituted exercises I can do for things they’re doing in the video that I’ll never be able to do in a million years. And I haven’t felt bad about it AT ALL. And here’s the crazy thing: I’ve lost 20 pounds. No lie. I have had more success than I have ever had at exercising by NOT being perfect. I have succeeded, in fact, by being FAR from perfect and being perfectly okay with that.

Isn’t there a lesson in that somehow? We beat ourselves up as mothers by thinking we need to be doing what everyone else is doing. It’s as if we’re standing in the Gym of Motherhood with all the other mothers around us and instead of judging each other’s squats or situps or workout outfit against ours, we’re judging each other’s bathing skills, baby soothing skills, breastfeeding skills, parenting skills.

I’m imagining being in a different Gym of Motherhood with Dan and Rach up front telling us it’s okay to TAKE THE OPTIONS. The mom next to you is a breastfeeding champ, but it’s not for you. So what! Take the options! The mother on the other side of you is dressed and made up and her hair is perfect and she’s running around the gym with her baby talking to all the other moms like a social butterfly and you’re covered in spit up and haven’t showered in days and want to hide under a rock. Do it! Take the options!

As therapist Kate Kripke LCSW explained in this great post, “… mothers actually need to be flawed and imperfect so that they can teach their children the importance of repair; so that their children learn not to fear mistakes and so that they learn the value of repairing—or bringing resolution to—situations or interactions that are flawed.” Imperfection is good. Not doing it all is fine! Better than fine, in fact!

It’s possible to succeed by not doing. By doing less. Or not doing some things at all. Or doing them very differently from everyone else around you. Being a good mother includes taking the options.

If you are struggling right now and not doing all the things you think you should be doing and beating yourself up about it, I’d like you stop. Stop this very second and try to reframe your thinking. All you are doing is taking the options, and that’s a good thing. Keep up the good work!