It’s not (ever) going to be like it was before you had a kid. Never. Ever. So take reality by the horns and move with it.
By that I mean don’t wait for the clouds to part for a bike ride, to bank enough sleep for a long run or to be totally Zen before you start a yoga session. Life’s messy, and even messier with kids.
Start with a totally new perspective about squeezing in workouts early (like pre-dawn early), maximizing your lunch hour, doing active stuff with your kids that still count as a quarter-workout and laughing about the inevitable time trade-off that comes with raising kids while staying fit. Here’s how.
Wake up early
Ask any parent who is also a hardcore athlete. This is the secret sauce. It doesn’t always taste good at 5 a.m., but this is the only time you’ve got when your kids are little. Am I right?
By 7 p.m., when kids are ready for bed, you’re too toast to even consider exercising, plus that’s a queen of sleep interrupters (something that I’m going to guess you don’t want to mess with any more than you already have). Thanks, killer cry-it-out sessions.
But I digress. If you have the luxury of having one parent who can go in to work at 9 a.m., take those morning hours and run with them.
Get outside as the sun rises. The fireworks might blow you away — and set you up for a great day of parenting. Or head to the gym and treat yourself to a latte on the way home. It’s hard the first few mornings, but once your body adjusts (and it will), you may just grow to love it.
Try trading off with your spouse, too, so you don’t have to do the early shift every day.
Use your resources
You do not have to be stuck at home until your spouse comes home to relieve you. Say that to yourself again, just so it sinks in. It may feel like this some days, but grant yourself some permission — at least twice a week — to exercise when your kids are in your care.
Not only will you be a better, cooler mom to your children, your significant other will appreciate not being dumped on the second he or she walks in the door. Here are two options:
1. Use your rec center or gym daycare. This is what it’s for. If it costs extra, have the budget conversation first and get it out of the way. This is a healthy use of family finances; it protects the physical and psychological health of the entire clan. My rec center is close enough to trails that we can even run a loop through the woods while the kids play, socialize and generally have a blast with other kids.
2. Swap time with another mom. Trade two hours of exercise time with a mom in your neighborhood. It works best if you take Tuesdays, for example, and the other mom takes Thursdays, rather than jamming it all in one day and over-stimulating the kiddos. Maximize time by starting your workout right from home rather than driving somewhere. Dial in a bike loop or an interval run course right from your house.
Work out with your kids
I’m not kidding. Make the whole movement thing fun for the entire family — and model some lifelong health habits in the process. While it’s not ideal (remember: forget perfect), it works in a pinch, let’s say once or twice a week.
There are an endless number of options. If your kids are really little, invest in a sturdy stroller and get moving while they lull to sleep. Consider a comfy ergo backpack for a longer hike or a detachable kids’ bike seat for cruising around town. As the kids get older, start some yoga and see what they can do alongside you, or set up an activity while you do some downward dogs.
One evening each week in the summer, we also play a little family soccer on our deck. It gets the heart rate up, makes me move in ways that I typically don’t and generally puts everyone in a good mood. As your kids get bigger, it gets better, too. Now we mountain bike, ski and hike as a family unit. And that’s pretty special.
So combine some mini workouts with the kids, a rec center day, mom-time swaps and a couple of early morning shifts. You won’t believe what you can actually accomplish exercise-wise.
Then, on the weekends, trade some bigger chunks of time with your significant other and you can achieve the kind of healthy me-time you deserve. If you want to stay sane, heed this advice: Give up the ideal and get moving in real time.