I recently started thinking about all the parents that train at my dojo and their training patterns. Some come to class like clockwork every week. Others come more sporadically. Then there are some who sign up with the best of intentions to train regularly and then fall away from training for months at a time because of their parental commitments. Not having any children myself, this got me thinking: Is it very challenging for parents to maintain their martial arts training because of their kids? Some people seem to have no trouble, others find it a struggle. What is the secret to keeping it going? With no experience to draw on, I turned to Facebook to ask my many martial arts friends for help answering these questions. The following tips are the result of said inquiry.
1. Be Realistic. New parents are often overwhelmed with the responsibilities involved in caring for a child in the early years. During these years, your child is more dependent on you as a parent, especially if you’re the mother. Even if the mother isn’t breastfeeding, I’m told by many mothers (even progressive ones) that the natural inclination seems to be that the mother takes on more responsibilities than the father. There are exceptions to every rule, but apparently instincts create a strong pull. If you’re about to have a child, be prepared for life to turn completely upside down for the first few years and that you might have to reduce the amount of training you’re used to. It gets easier though, according to J.N., a parent I chatted with. When his children reached the ages of 4 and 7, he was able to start regular martial arts training again. He said it is possible to train with children under the age of 4, but ultimately it might be more sporadic because of the nature of parenthood at the early ages.
2. Be Flexible. The need to be flexible was explained well by B.H., a friend of mine who is married to a martial artist Dad: “It’s all a matter of expectations. Parenthood, for good or ill, is never what you expect when you think about having kids. Sometimes it’s better, sometimes worse, but it’s never what you expect.” S.S., one of my students who has 2 kids and does shift work on top of that, explains how it affects your time: “Getting to/doing everything is a struggle with kids, not just Jiu-jitsu. They reduce the amount of time for yourself, so hobbies are limited.” So don’t expect to be able to maintain all your hobbies to the same extent as you did before you had children. You may have to give up on some of them or do some of them less frequently. Everyone has to find the right balance for themselves, of course. During the early childhood years, you will also likely need to make changes to accommodate your child/children’s schedules. The best time to do anything is when your children are occupied. B.H. suggests the following: “When they’re little, train during nap times. Eat on the go, and sometimes sacrifice the nice sit-down meals in order to get to class.” If you can set up a training area for yourself at home, whether it’s a punching bag, or just an area in which you can practice patterns, this can greatly facilitate the amount of training time you could get in. If you can find a school that has a flexible training schedule, you may find it easier to get in regular training. Children will often change your schedule out of necessity, so if your club only has 2 training days a week, there’s a good chance you’ll have to sacrifice training nights from time to time. It’s easier once your kids are at an age when they can be left with a babysitter, but there are still challenges. K.S., a single mom who trains in Jiu-jitsu twice a week, offered a good idea for making meals for her kids on training nights: “I get home from work at 5:30 then leave at 6 for Jiu-jitsu so creating good meals those nights can be challenging. (Slow cookers rock!)”
3. Give Yourself Permission. Many parents feel selfish for taking time away from their families and spending money for their own hobbies and interests. As J.N. so succinctly put it, “People have to give up that TV family bullshit,” believing that parents need to develop a more realistic family model. Taking the time to take care of yourself is not a selfish act. L.B., a mother who trains in BJJ and MMA, feels similarly: “Some people frown upon moms like me that have a lot of hobbies and interests, but I think that it sets a good example for my kids.” If you want to raise your children right and have the energy to do it, you have to maintain your mental, physical and emotional health. Martial arts training can take care of all these things. It can give you a good physical workout, mental stimulation, and valuable “me” time during which you can relax and socialize with other people outside the family circle.
4. Communicate with Your Kids. It’s important that your children understand the value of your training time and see it as a positive thing. Explain that Mommy or Daddy needs their hobbies too, just like Billy does gymnastics and Sarah plays soccer. You may even be able to get them involved, directly or indirectly. L.B. says, “I take my son with me when I go to train, and I think that it’s good for him to see that I have interests and goals, and that I’m following through with them.” If your child is old enough and there is enough space at your dojo, this may be an option for you. For some parents, the interest in martial arts starts with their children, as I. C. explains, “My kids are a huge reason why I got involved in Jiu-jitsu in the first place. They started, I watched from the side lines and then decided – hey – this looks like fun. That was almost a year ago. Now, I get to participate in their classes; it has made us have something else in common.” Some dojos even offer family classes that allow parents to train at the same time as their children, as was offered at my Sensei’s dojo when I first started training.
5. Enlist Your Spouse’s Support. One of my students explained this point well, “It all comes down to the spouse/partner. Support = training. Seeing it as sneaking time away from your family = no training.” If your partner is not on board with your training, it will be detrimental to your family life. On the other hand, making an arrangement that works for both of you can strengthen your bond. P.C., one of my students with 2 young children, explains the arrangement he has with his wife, “I usually train twice a week and the other nights I take care of the kids so my wife can go to the gym.” M.M., a martial arts Dad, has a similar arrangement: “My wife and I do a lot of passing off. I’m finding it a lot harder with my youngest, 10 months, only because he needs one of us with him at all times. It takes a lot of juggling and a understanding wife.”
Are you a parent who trains in the martial arts? If so, what additional advice would you offer other parents who want to keep up with their training?
Thanks to all the parents who offered all their valuable insights that helped me put together this post!