Marathoners are an interesting breed—both physically and mentally tough. But most will tell you the real key to marathon success is the mental side of the race. Twenty-six miles is a long haul, and your mindset can drastically affect your ability to endure the physical challenge. Parenting is much the same: eighteen years is a really long time, and if you don’t have a marathon mindset, you may lose your focus and fail.
1. Come out of the gate slower than you want to. Parents today are in overdrive from the moment they find out they’re expecting. They read books, they enroll their babies in all sorts of “enrichment” activities, and they are stressed out about getting into the “right” preschool. Slow down. While the first few years of your child’s development are important and should be handled with lots of love and care, what your child needs most at this point is lots of time with you, and healthy doses of stimulation in the form of play. Just like a marathoner who gets excited and runs the first 2-3 miles too fast, only to pay for it later in fatigue and frustration, parents who get overly stressed out about achievement in the toddler and preschool years are likely burning up fuel that would be better saved for a later day.
2. Take it one mile at a time. Experienced racers will tell you that, especially early in a race, it’s a bad idea to think about that hill at mile 20. You need to focus on the mile you’re in, and worry about the others when they come. Sure, you need an overall plan geared toward certain big-picture goals, but worrying about whether your kid will choose the arts or sports in high school when he’s still in the 4th grade is silly. What is best for him this year? What would he benefit from and enjoy the most right now? Kids change as they grow, and you may be surprised by the talents they exhibit and preferences they show 2, 4, or 6 years from now. Just run the mile you’re in and deal with the others as they come.
3. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Runners know that to last through a 3-4 hour race, they must take in fluids regularly along the way to replace what they’re losing through exertion. In the same way, you need to feed your heart and mind in every mile of the parenting race in order to have the stamina to finish well. A church small group or parent-focused Bible study is a great way to replenish what you’ll pour out for your kids along the way.
4. A partner can push you along when you’re sinking. Some distance runners wouldn’t think of tackling a marathon alone, because they know how much they benefit from the steady companionship and encouragement of a partner. When one is flagging, the other can say, “Hang in there! We can do this!” Your spouse is like a great running partner when it comes to parenting. When one of you is frustrated or discouraged, the other can be the cheerleader and provide the positive outlook your family needs. Draw on the encouragement that your marathon parenting partner provides, and keep an eye out for when he needs a little push, too.
5. Make it your goal to run negative splits. Some parents burn up so much emotional capital in the early years of parenting, they’re worn out and basically done by the time their kids are teens. But that’s when they need you most! Runners say the best races of their lives were the ones where they ran “negative splits”—or ran faster in the later miles of the race than they did in the early miles. By managing their mental and physical resources, they had the power to finish strong! Manage your parenting mindset so that your focus, your experience, and your intensity is still growing in those crucial teen years.