Do good fathers go mountain biking?

Carrie left a comment on the “False choices” post last week noting that she had just such a false choice going on in her family. Her husband had given up mountain biking because he didn’t think you could go on long bike rides and be a good husband and father.  We could substitute a multitude of words for “biking” (train for a marathon, start a business, join an orchestra that travels, etc.) and for “husband and father” (“mother and wife” comes to mind). But the question is the same: if you’re in the workforce, can you make a major commitment in your personal life without neglecting your family?

I think you can, but you have to do it carefully. I say that as someone who trained for the Big Sur Marathon in early 2010 when I had a 2-year-old and a baby, and my usual work commitments. My training regimen required about 8 hours a week of running. I did at least 6 of those during my regularly scheduled childcare hours. To do my long runs, I took a morning (or at least 2-3 hours) off work one day a week. I thought that taking 2 hours on weekends to run was a reasonable request, and certainly wasn’t outside the norm of what I was doing before.

In other words, I made the time come out of work, not out of family. This would be my first suggestion for someone looking to take on a commitment. Sometimes, work is more flexible than we think. Can you come in an hour later one day a week, and so get a run in before the day starts? Can you do some quick tempo runs on your lunch hour? Especially if you’re a fast runner and have a gym at or near your office, taking 90 minutes off in the middle of the day just one day a week could buy you time to run close to 10 miles (and hopefully find a shower somewhere to rinse off as fast as possible). Some workplaces encourage people to volunteer under certain circumstances, and even a lunch hour string quartet rehearsal might theoretically be possible.

If you can’t take the time off work, take it out of time your family doesn’t care about. This usually means getting up early. Unless you’ve got a nursing baby, no one wants to see you at 5 a.m. If you’re a night owl, you could possibly devote some time to your hobby after 8:30 or 9 when the kids go to bed a few days a week. This may mean giving up your TV time, but you’ll have to decide what matters more.

Another option? Trade off with your spouse. If you’ve got young kids, each party gets one night “off” per week to devote to the softball league, the bridge game, etc. One parent takes Saturday mornings and one takes Sunday mornings, or some other equivalent commitment.

All these ideas would keep resentment to a minimum. The trouble, though is when people expect to be able to devote large blocks of time to a hobby and expect a spouse to cover for them quite a bit in general. If you’re traveling a lot for work or putting in a lot of late nights, and making a lot of demands from your family to accommodate that, then I actually don’t think it’s fair to ask for more — particularly if you’re not willing to cover for your spouse’s hobbies, work, etc. Take your running shoes or your swimsuit with you to your hotels. Volunteer at some other point in your life, unless it’s a volunteer commitment you’re doing with your whole family. 

Of course, just because I don’t think it’s fair to demand such accommodations from other family members doesn’t mean they won’t be willing to give them. Particularly with exercise, people often like having a spouse who’s fit and who has less stress! If your family is willing to let you do your hobbies, be sure to express your appreciation and try to reciprocate as much as possible and to spend time focused on your kids whenever you can. You’ll have a much better shot of getting a run in if you go at 4 p.m. on Saturday after taking the kids to the zoo, vs. insisting that you need to spend Saturday morning working or golfing with a client…and then you need to go for your run. And by the way, you’ll be leaving for Europe on Sunday night. 

Have you ever made time for a major personal commitment?

(photo courtesy flickr user


6 thoughts on “Do good fathers go mountain biking?

  1. There are some good thoughts here- many of us could be better at exercising than we are- but it assumes a level of CONTROL over your time that many of us don’t have. I was going to grow grocery shopping/Easter basket prepping/40th birthday party preparing tonight, but my husband got tasked with a work problem in Kentucky that has taken his whole evening so no break from kids for me.

    Our kids require more attention than can be supplied from a treadmill to stay in bed/in their rooms. (And I am the only person I know whose 3 year old can obstinately stay up till 4 AM!!!)

    So much of time management advice assumes you have CONTROL over your time, when the toughest problems (business travel, physician call schedules, colicky babies) stem from lack of control.

    On the flip side, when I couldn’t get a tool at work until after standard work hours, I would often exercise and then stay late to get my tasks accomplished.

    I would say you were successful with your marathon training because you have good self control, few sleep problems (my husband’s insomnia has been a huge, unexpected issue in our marriage) and a job where you didn’t get fired if you didn’t work 50 hours/week. For many of us in this economy, our choices are 50 hours or zero hours.

  2. Men do this much more… even while doing crazy jobs… without taking time from jobs. this is b/c women are more primary parent…
    In that book by wife of stoneyfield yogurt founder she mentions how she had 3 kids and her husband built that company and ALSO made time to go skiing and run outside his regular 12-hour days… for those of us who are working moms… this is inconceivable.. I would work 45 hours but I would never never then attempt to ski for an entire saturday.. physically b/c of breastfeeding I wouldn’t even have felt physically comfortable to do this and this is the difference between men and women… men do these things assumed and women still have to plan for them… when men take time out of work for these things I think it will be different !

  3. I understand Twin Mom’s comments about control of your schedule. When my kids were babies my husband was starting his own business and was pretty much just an accessory to the family outfit. I learned a lot about surrendering, being flexible and just letting stuff go. During that time it was easier for me to just not work out or think so much about ‘me’ time, because without a doubt Murphy’s Law took over and made it pretty much impossible to get things done.

    Now that my kids are 3 and 7 I have much more control over my schedule and I can work out regularly and work my day job and (insanely enough) pick up freelance work on the side.

    Maybe it helps to think of goals and priorities as flexible, ever-changing things and not set in stone.

    1. @Kelly- there is something to that. Having run one marathon, I don’t think I’ll do another until the kids are older. What I’ll lose in physical sprightliness, I think I’ll gain in not having to squeeze runs into time between feedings.

  4. I agree with the stuff about SAHM or when I am the single parent on duty I completely syp. how your schedule or personal priorities can get trashed while you are doing the more rewarding and exhausting work of primary parenting…. the SAHM definitely doesn’t get enough credit for this and I think when our society really acknowledges how hard it is to care for young young kids for 12 hour stretches you will see more of this.. they do get older …. too : )

  5. We struggle with this one in our house, not because of the time-guilt but more of safety. My husband rides a motorcycle and likes to go to the occasional track day where he can ride fast. He doesn’t ride much on the road, but it still makes me nervous. Even though I used to ride myself and know how awesomely fun it is. Sigh. I want to be able to let go and let him enjoy himself, but it’s super-stressful for me.

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