Being parents sometimes feels like running a marathon that never ends. It is wonderful, terrible, invigorating, exhausting, fulfilling, and draining all at the same time. The difference is that there is no finish line. There is no crowd cheering at the end. No band playing. No free food and beer. No one patting you on the shoulder telling you that you did a great job.
In 2013 I decided to run a marathon. With our daughter, Lucy, being two and our son, Oliver, only a few months old, it may not have been the best time to commit to the training regiment. Taking the time to run a few times a week highlighted how little time Andrea and I actually had for our own wellbeing.
We were both working full-time and if felt like any time outside of work was completely consumed by the needs of the toddler and baby. Of course, I love my kids more than anything, but I felt like I was struggling to avoid drowning rather than blissfully floating along as I had imagined.
I remember once when I hadn’t been for a run in a week. I was putting on my shoes to head out and the two year old spilled water all over the floor. She started crying which woke up the baby who started screaming. My wife was somehow holding both of them and wiping up the water at the same time while I was tiptoeing towards the door. I felt totally guilty.
Lucy and Oliver are now 5 and 3 and although it is getting easier. It is becoming clearer that parenting is definitely like a marathon in many ways. I feel full of life at times and present in the moment. At other times I can’t catch my breath and just want to stop. There are no water breaks for parents.
I have worked with several kids of all ages and their parents. I know that parents work their asses off. They show up every day, on call 24/7. Day in, day out, making meals, giving rides, cleaning up poop and puke. Parents do whatever it is that needs to get done, no matter what.
In my conversations with parents it seems that there is a sense that it will someday be over. Once the kids turn 18. Once they graduate from college. Once they have their own family, then I won’t need to worry anymore. There is some sense that as parents, someday we will arrive. Someday we will finish the race. We will get to a place where people are cheering (not for our kids, but for us). We did it. We crossed the finish line. We are done. There is a sense of satisfaction that only comes when you have worked hard and accomplished what you set out to do.
The bad news is that this will not happen. There is no free beer at the end of parenting. There is no food, no band playing, and no medal. I got all of these things when I finished my half marathon (I blame my kids for not being able to complete the training for the full 26 miles).
The good news for parents is that the opportunity exists for something far more lasting and substantial. Sure, you will probably never finish the race in some ways, but the key is to live in the present and enjoy every moment. The destination is not the finish line, but all the blood, sweat, tears, and poop along the way.
Shane Birkel is a therapist in Dover, NH who works with relationships.