I’m biking for my children. …well, really… I’m biking for myself. However, I think my progeny experience a few positive side effects from my two-wheeled adventures.
I recently listened to a podcast on Freakonomics Radio called “The Economist’s Guide to Parenting”. It’s a fascinating hour that I recommend everyone listen to – especially those people who obsess over the future prospects of their children. The basic premise of the show is that data suggests that many of the things that parents do to enhance their children’s success in school and careers have very little effect. Culture cramming, taking them to museums, giving them music lessons and signing them up for a hundred sports leagues, will not have a significant impact on how well they turn out as adults.
But, where parents have a huge effect is by modeling good behavior in their own lives. Kids thrive when they follow their own passions and they look at you as a example for how to find that path.
I am a stay-at-home dad, and as such, I spend a lot of time thinking about the challenges of raising kids and how best to set them up for the future. Like any parent (well, most parents), I want the best for my children. I want them to do well in school, find success in life, be healthy, but most importantly I want them to be happy.
I look at my cycling as one of area of my life where I am modeling good behavior. There are so my lessons that can be gleaned from this activity.
Being Healthy Can Be Fun (It should always be fun!)
First and foremost, cycling is a healthy activity. Whether you want to race or just go for leisurely fun rides, it’s important to include physical activity in your life. It’s well-documented how exercise can prevent disease, reduce stress, ward off depression, increase energy, and in general, lead to a longer, happier life.
So far, at ages 2 (almost 3) and 5, my kids seem to really enjoy riding their bikes, but I don’t try to force it on them. I’d be happy with just about any sport they decided to pick up.
At least 3 or 4 times a week, when the weather permits, I ask them if they want to go on a bike ride around the neighborhood. They love it. I usually walk with them, but they are getting so fast that I am going to have to start riding just to keep up. They are able to go for at least 2 miles – which I think is pretty awesome for a 2 year old on a balance bike.
But now the tables have turned. They ask me to go for bike rides, rather than me asking them. I love seeing the excitement in their eyes when they are flying down the little hills at the park by our house. Their bikes are speeding along at what feels like 100 mph to me as a nervous parent watching, but is probably closer to 10 mph. When they safely get to the bottom and coast down the bike path with a big smile on their faces I breathe a sigh of relief. I’m always overcome by a brief wave of emotion as I realize that they have tackled that small challenge on their own.
For these children, exercise is still fun. They don’t even know that what they are doing is so good for them.
SIDE NOTE: Both of my kids could ride a balance bike at age 2. They learn how to balance first and then the transition to pedaling isn’t really a big deal. They don’t use training wheels. I highly recommend this method of learning to ride a bike.
Life Can Be an Adventure
For the last several years, I have taken a week off each year for a bike trip. I load up the bike with supplies, a tent and a sleeping bag and head out. I’ve ridden from Pittsburgh to Washington DC on the Great Allegheny Passage and the C&O Canal Towpath. My friends and I traveled across the state of New York along the Erie Canal. There have been plenty of smaller adventures too. These have been great opportunities to see the country in a completely different way than you do from behind the windshield of a car.
On top of that, I travel to races and events, where I get to explore areas that I otherwise would have never thought to go to. I cherish all of these excursions and all the cool people I have met along the way.
As Mr. Mom, I spend a lot of time with my kids, so I don’t feel too bad leaving them behind while I go on these journeys. I know that not everyone has the luxury of riding guilt-free, so I really appreciate that aspect of my life right now.
But, even though my offspring aren’t tagging along, they see photos and videos of my adventures. They see me packing and getting ready and I can tell they are interested in learning more about what I am doing.
We go on mini-adventures all the time, like the zoo, metropark, and the science museum, but someday when they are a little older I hope we can share some more of these “epic” adventures together. How cool would it be to explore Amsterdam on a bike with your kids? A fella can dream can’t he? My hope is that my two-wheeled excursions will inspire my kids to dream up their own adventurous life.
Commitment: Setting and Working Towards A Goal
The best way to get somewhere in life is to set a goal and figure out the milestones that you need to achieve it. My kids know that when I ride, I am usually training for races. They understand that I have events coming up and in order to do well I need to practice.
Not every goal has to be that specific or competitive, but that just happens to be what I enjoy and what motivates me. I think riding for fun, adventure, commuting, fitness or sport are all great reasons to get on your bike. But, regardless of your reason, if you don’t have a purpose then you won’t find inspiration to lift your leg over the saddle in the first place.
Riding my bike has been the backbone of my fitness regimen for many years. It’s not just a way to stay in shape, it’s been a hobby that has given me lots of enjoyment. But, the moments that I strayed from the bike (and my health suffered) were the times that I couldn’t find a purpose for my riding – no race to train for, no upcoming cycling vacation, fitness plateau, etc… That first stroke of bad weather breaks the habit and then I don’t have a reason to get back on the bike.
Luckily, I’m good at coming up with goals to work towards. I’m currently trying to get in shape for XC mountain bike racing in the Ohio Mountain Bike Championship Series (OMBC) throughout the summer and the Mohican 100k at the end of May. These goals will guide my bike riding until October.
I’ve even set a new goal to keep me inspired through next winter. On December 3rd, I turn 40 years old. I’ve decided that I want to run a marathon for my 40th birthday – preferably someplace warm in the south. (Who wants to run with me?) I don’t just want to finish, I want to cross the line with a decent time (which is still to be determined).
In order to accomplish this without getting injured, I need several months of running under my belt. I’ve already started slowly building my mileage. Each run is focused on working towards this big milestone and I’m already envisioning victory – which for me will be the satisfaction of a job well done.
While achieving these fitness goals won’t bring me wealth or fame. I do feel like they enrich my life. I’m knocking things off of the bucket list and working towards something that I can be proud of. I’ve never regretted the hours that I spent on the track in high school that helped me to reach the state championships in the 4×400 and I don’t think I’ll ever regret the hours I’m logging now.
Even though I am a stay-at-home dad, I wasn’t always one and I won’t be at home forever. I approach my professional life with this same mentality of setting goals and working towards them. That might mean finishing a project and handing over a final product that I am proud of or working towards a promotion to the next level.
When your children see you doing this, they start realizing that they too can accomplish many things. They might start with small goals – like building a cool Lego plane that they can fly around the living room or riding their bike all the way around the block. But as they age, and build up a few small victories, they might aspire to achieve something much greater.
When I get up in the morning to ride, I am showing them that through hard work and commitment that they can accomplish whatever they set their minds to. Someday when they see the picture of me finishing that 40th birthday marathon, they will know that I lived with purpose and never stopped dreaming. It would be a lot easier to grab a bag of Cheetohs and watch the Boston Marathon on ESPN4, but I want to be in the action, not on the sidelines.
What Are Your Goals?
Are you living a life of purpose? Do you have any goals that you are working towards? Even if you don’t have kids, are you living a life that you would want a child to emulate?
Today is your day. Start thinking about what you want to achieve. How can you get there? What sort of immediate actions do you need to take? Are there small milestones to work towards on the way? It could be a cycling goal or something completely different.
It doesn’t really matter what it is as long as it adds to the quality and enjoyment of your life. Whatever you choose, do it now and do it for the children. They need someone to show them the way.
Tell me about your goals in the comment section. I would love to hear about them. Also, do you think that riding your bike sets a good example for our kids or does it just take time away from them? How much riding is too much riding when it comes to balancing your hobby and your family?
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