I have a close friend whose son is a couple of years younger than mine. We were co-workers during both of our respective pregnancies so we got to experience all that comes with first time motherhood together. One significant factor differentiates our experience and that is, her son received a diagnosis on the Autism spectrum.
As many people are aware, rates of this diagnosis are on the rise. When I was a kid about 1 kid in every 2,000 had Autism. Today the CDC estimates that number at 1 in 68 children. This disorder has no definitive diagnosis, no one specific set of symptoms or treatment. What does seem to be clear from what I gather, is that early and intensive intervention is key. What does this mean for parents? It means not only grieving for the childhood you likely envisioned for your child, but also dealing with a healthcare system that isn’t set up to meet your child’s needs. Many insurance plans, even the best, don’t cover the intensive therapies that may be recommended for children with an autism diagnosis. My girlfriend pays for a very expensive health insurance plan through her employer (so basically best case scenario with regard to the American healthcare system) and still pays a significant amount of money out of pocket to provide for her son’s treatment. Once the treatment is paid for, there’s still the task of getting your child to multiple appointments every week- occupational therapy, speech therapy, etc. It means trying to work with teachers and schools that may not be equipped to support your child, or even understand their unique circumstances. It’s really staggering and adds up to an immense amount of physical/emotional/financial stress on a family.
April is Autism Awareness Month and this year I will have the privilege of participating in a competition called Battleground April 18-19, 2015. This is a volunteer run event with 100% of the proceeds going to the Train 4 Autism Foundation. This organization has established an incredible, innovative, and thoughtful way to enhance the lives of families impacted by Autism. I love this model because, as many of us have discovered, fitness can be such an amazing outlet. What a gift to have access to a program where your entire family can be served, alleviate some stress, enhance your physical health, and make the financial cost of participating in CrossFit attainable. Proceeds from Battleground will benefit Train 4 Autism’s “CrossFit for Parents and Children with Special Needs Project.”
“Train 4 Autism Foundation has created Strength & Conditioning program specifically for parents and their children touched by autism. These classes are coached by Level 1 Crossfit Certified Coaches as well as certified behavioral therapists and volunteers. This training is held at No Limits Sports & Fitness Academy.”
It’s easy to get involved with Battleground by competing in the beginner/intermediate/advanced or team categories, or by setting up your own fundraising page to support this event.
I saw this quote posted on social media awhile back:
“I don’t want to be the mom who is too busy to watch her kids because I am working on my muscle-ups.”
My gut reaction was to be quite irked by this. My emotions read it as, “Oh, one of those moms? The selfish ones who want to train?” I know and like the person being quoted, she is an incredibly high level athlete (who has dedicated years to training and competition herself) and I’m sure she was simply referring to the choices that work best for her family.
Nevertheless, I put some thought why it bothered me. On a base level it immediately tapped into that lurking, insidious mommy-guilt*. It also had a really “mommy wars” feel to it, a concept I despise because of it’s assumption there’s one right or superior way to do things. I’m sure I’m reading more into it than is there, but the image conjured in my mind was of a CrossFit version of the mythical welfare mother. A bunch of unattended children running wild while their mother does muscle ups and takes selfies of her abs.
All the mothers I know (athlete or not) are in a constant daily battle to balance parenting, partnering, work, and other aspirations all while continuing to develop as people. Whether that development comes via hobbies, fitness, study, or whatever avenue, it should be supported and embraced as part of being a whole person who is also a mother. Parenting is like breathing to me, it doesn’t stop because of any other task or activity. “Parent” really isn’t a title it’s a state of being.
I’m fortunate because through ongoing efforts and a commitment, what I do as a mother and training for the CrossFit Games has become pretty integrated. It’s a normal part of our life. If I were a surgeon, a student, a baker, or cleaned toilets for a living I wouldn’t suddenly become a less effective parent. In fact, I think my choice to train and my life as mother are symbiotic. My son helps my training and my training helps me be a better mother to him.
Right around the time I saw that quote I had just had one of the most awesome days ever at the gym with my son. It was a snowy day in Chicago, so we might have otherwise been cooped up. I actually didn’t feel much like training but my son wanted to go to the gym, so off we went. Win/win, he gets to have a place to run and play and I get my workout in. We put on Disney radio and went to it. I did some sled drag intervals and he recorded my times for me and used a baseball bat and ball to play a sort of mini-golf between my legs and the sled as I pulled it. He sat perched on a yoke having a snack and cheering me on through my muscle-ups. Out of the blue he asked me, “Mommy, are you doing what you want to do or what you have to do?” What better way to teach your kids about the process of working to achieve a goal than through example? Frankly, his question was a huge benefit to me by starting a reflection on what I’m doing on a day-to-day basis and why. This child keeps me grounded in what really matters and also inspires me to create the best life for us. You know, like Oprah style “Live Your Best Life.”
The search for life balance as a parent, just like scales, is never static but a constant adjustment. I look at other parents that I respect for reassurance that it can be done, but not how to do it because that’s unique to each family.
*Constant or easily triggered sense of unease based in the desire to always do what’s right for your children, and having infinite possibilities for what that is. Fathers may also be afflicted.