The recent Wall Street Journal article, “Don’t Hate Her for Being Fit” was designed to strike a chord among a certain type of mom: “superfit moms” are now a demographic trend big enough and distinct enough to be marketed to, at least according to the piece, and it certainly did. Who are we, these superfit moms? Well, you kind of know one when you see one: she’s the aerobics instructor at your gym who you can’t believe she just had another baby, because she looks so “good,” she’s your neighbor who does Ironman triathlons yet has kids in preschool.
My husband cut out the article and brought it home for me, because I guess I belong in there somewhere. I do some races, I teach fitness (Spin classes and want to become a trainer) I work out six days a week, sometimes twice a day, I did a triathlon, my daughter is intimately acquainted with the gym day care.
“Most fit moms have enough money so they don’t have to work at full-time jobs, but not so much that they have full-time child care. They juggle their families’ multiple daily routines, coordinate tight schedules of school, camp and activities and still squeeze in a predawn run, yoga at nap time and an after-school bike ride.”
That does describe my situation. I, too, found that I got into the best shape of my life after having a baby. Whether it was the free time from not working a 9-6 office job, or the newfound determination and lease on life, and even happiness, that I found from life as a full-time mother and part-time freelance worker from home, I’m not sure, but four years ago I never would have imagined fitness would be such an integral part of my life.
Over the last two years as I became more serious about fitness, I noticed I started gaining a reputation as one of those “superfit” moms among other mom friends, but I didn’t notice any negative judgment, no sense that they thought I was able to keep up my two year stretch of never missing a workout because I had some special level of privilege they didn’t have. The unspoken understanding seemed to be that it was obvious I enjoyed what I was doing, it worked for me and my family, and I achieved it the same way they achieved their own balance and crazy juggling between the work, hobbies, and family time they prioritized. I just did it, and they could, too, if they wanted to, but they choose for other reasons to commit to a different level of intensity around exercise. Just like some of my mom friends bake delicious desserts from scratch for their kids’ parties and I get a Costco cake. It’s just what we like, just what we do.
But the Wall Street Journal article, if the comments and reader reactions are to be believed, elicited a different kind of judgment about these mothers: they must be privileged to a fault, their husbands are dumb saps, they must have armies of nannies and housecleaners helping him achieve these ridiculous feats of self-indulgence. They must be lucky.
Are they lucky or privileged? Am I lucky? Well, yes, of course I am, in a million big and small ways. I’m blessed beyond belief in my life, but I believe many of us are, if we look at it the right way.
Belief: These women are privileged and have an unattainable lifestyle because they can “afford” not to work full-time out of the home. All women who can afford to stay home can also afford babysitters, house cleaners, other paid help, or make little to no financial sacrifices to stay home.
Reality: Yes, being home with young children is a great luxury many women cannot afford. As tiring and isolating as life with babies and toddlers can be, the daily grind in a job you don’t enjoy with babies and toddlers to pick up after that full day can only be harder. There are many little luxuries to life at home with kids, not the least being that you get to spend time with those kids. You can take them to the park on a nice day instead of getting your TPS reports stamped. That’s a priceless privilege. But it’s not only a function of great wealth or income status. I know many mothers who can’t necessarily “afford” to stay home, yet they can’t quite “afford” to work full-time either.
If I had gone back to the job I left when I had my daughter, I’d make something like $200-300 per month after taxes and day care. If I can find a way to make a few bucks from home, I’ve lost barely any income. And I’m happy, and my family is happy. If I had a career I loved, and missing several years would put me off an important long-term track for advancement and later income, that’d be an entirely different story. But the idea that stay-at-home motherhood is reserved for only the most economically-privileged mothers among us, well, that’s just not true. Many middle and working class families cut spending and income because they believe having one parent home full-time is the best choice for them.
Even more of a reality: Having children is a choice. Everyone who had kids is neither lucky nor unlucky in how they afford to make it work, because we all decided to take on this responsibility in the first place.
Am I lucky that my husband makes enough money so that I can stay home to care for our babies and still pay for food, the mortgage, and an economy car? Or did we make some good decisions that allowed us to have children at a time in our lives when it would be possible to do this? Does the answer lie somewhere in between?
Am I unlucky that we don’t have much left over after the mortgage and basic expenses to travel, or buy a nicer car, or do expensive home improvements, or pay for a ton of babysitters? Or did we make a choice to buy the house we did, make financial decisions that have led us to our current situation?
Am I lucky that my daughter is socially well-adjusted and has never had horrible separation anxiety so that she’s always happily gone into the gym day care? Or am I unlucky that my husband has a 1.5 hour commute and doesn’t get home until 7 p.m. or later, which is the reason I have to rely on the gym day care so much?
I’m both. We all are. We are all lucky, and unlucky, and smart in our planning, and stupid in our own indulgences.
Commentators criticized the women in the article for buying expensive workout clothes, or spending time at a yoga class. How much do they pay for cable TV? Do they have no hobbies they devote time and money to? Most of the women profiled found a way to make money off their passion, through teaching classes, or training others. None mentioned housekeepers.
I clean my house. I cook, but I don’t cook a brand-new meal from scratch every single night of the week. Some of my friends do. They make sure they are home at 4 p.m. to start cooking a meat and potatoes meal for their husbands so they can eat as a family at 6 p.m. when their husbands come home from work. That’s a priority to them. Sometimes I like to cook, sometimes we eat leftovers or a super quick vegetarian pasta meal so I can get a run in.
I’ll wake up at 4:30 a.m. to get a run in before my husband has to leave for work. I’ll trade babysitting with a friend if I need to do a certain type of training I can’t do at the gym (outdoor swim or bike ride). I plan my days around my workouts. No one is neglected. I also do freelance work from home without any paid care. I’m not doing an Ironman triathlon any time soon, but there’s no reason I can’t get as fit as I want to get, even with my own particular limitations and demands.
I know plenty of SAHM mothers who don’t exercise at all. Some even have enough money to have babysitters on top of being home with no paying work. I know plenty of high-powered working mothers who work out every day at 5 a.m. before a full day at the office, and even train enough for endurance races or other demanding events.
I’m lucky that my legs work, that I’m not injured. I’m lucky that I’m able-bodied. I’m even lucky that I was born somewhat resourceful. I’m lucky my parents taught me the value of hard work. I’m lucky I have no children with special needs or health problems. I’m lucky I have a great kid. I’m lucky I can call my dad in a pinch if I’m stuck without babysitting. I’m lucky I live somewhere nice where I can go run outside, safely.
I’m lucky that I like to work out I work hard because I’m not a gifted ex-college athlete who comes to it naturally but through sheer determination I’ve become someone who enjoys intense exercise. I’m lucky that my husband supports me and my goals My husband and I work hard to make sure we mutually support each other as partners and part of the reason I fell in love with him and decided to marry him and have a family with him was because he was the type of person who would make a positive, supportive partner for life.
The next time I feel like comparing myself to someone else’s situation (Wow, I wish my husband was a teacher and came home at 4:30 p.m. so I could go train outside for two hours before dinnertime or damn, I wish my parents gave us a down payment on our house so we can take our income and use it for nice cars and vacations, or ugh, it’s so easy for HER, her mother-in-law lives with her and watches her kids whenever she wants for free so she can work part-time) I need to stop, mentally slap myself and remember that I’m lucky. I’m the luckiest person I know.
How are you lucky? Or, better yet, how do you work hard?