Being a mom of two young boys with only 20 months between them while living in downtown Chicago were some of the craziest years of my life. But of course, living in a big city had plenty of pros, including the diverse and supportive group of friends I made, one of whom was a classy woman in her 80s who dressed so well that at one point, Jackie Kennedy asked her to design a custom jacket. (Or so she claims. I’m not one to dispute local legends.) She and I had monthly brunches where we would talk about my dreams and she would tell me her new ventures. The most memorable meeting I had with her was when my first son was 6 months old and she asked me, “What have you been up to these past few months?”
Well, that was easy. "I just love being a mom!" I said. "It's so fun playing with my boy all day. We signed up for a music class, he eats oatmeal now...” All the typical new-mom gushing. Then she looked into my eyes, seemingly unimpressed, and asked again: “What have you been up to, Stephanie?”
Her question was at first confusing, and then mind-numbingly clear. Though being a mom was what I treasured most, I'd completely lost myself in the needs of my son. Yes, I wanted to devote my whole life to my family, but what kind of life would I be giving them if I didn't have one of my own? From that point on, I knew I had to make myself as much of a priority as my kid.
Unfortunately, I didn't make it too far into my journey before my life took a turn. When my kids were still very young, I became divorced from my husband of 10 years. I was now 30 years old, a single mom, and life suddenly wasn't going according to plan. With my world seemingly spinning out of control, I decided that I needed to find an outlet to give myself some structure. Years earlier, I'd written “run a marathon” on my bucket list, inspired by one of my runner friends, and decided that now was as good a time as any to finally work toward my goal.
That said, I had never been someone you'd call an athlete. I hated running, I didn’t know how to swim a lap, and I hadn’t been on a bike since I was 13 years old, but I did quickly learn that running was providing me with the structure I needed during a transitional time in my life, and for me it became a source of solace and therapy. After the requisite amount of training, I completed two marathons within a year of setting my goal, and had fallen in love with the sport of running.
I realized after the completion of my first races that simply by taking the time to do what I loved, I was able to love my children wholeheartedly. I didn’t love them less by taking time to pursue my own hobbies and dreams; I love them more because I am fulfilled as an individual. In order to give fully, you need to fully give to yourself.
With the encouragement of my training friends, my goals grew even bigger and I began to take on even more challenging races — first moving to triathlons, then setting my sights on a full-distance Ironman competition. Of course, the significant increase in mileage meant a significant increase in training, and learning to balance my goals with my duties as a mom meant a little bit of creative thinking. My kids were happy to rally by my side as I dragged my bike out to my driveway to ride while they played around me, and soon enough they were riding their own bikes alongside my runs and playing at the end of the lane in the pool as I swam my laps. I was determined to make it happen no matter the time commitment or odd hours I would have to train, routinely waking up between 4 and 5 a.m., knowing that my workouts were only a portion of my day's to-do list.
This race had become my passion, and I was committed wholeheartedly to the journey of 140.6 miles that lay ahead. In November 2015, I completed my first Ironman, and my children were who I ran to at the end of the race. They melted into my arms after a 14-hour day of cheering for their mom and watching me do the unimaginable. I want my children to grow up knowing they could do anything they put their minds to, and that there is no limit to how big they can dream. If mommy can do an Ironman, then the sky is their limit if they learn to set their own goals and work hard. These are the core values I wanted to teach by example.
My family isn’t traditional or perfect in society's eyes, but we are perfect for each other. We laugh, we yell, we get mad, share joy and encourage each other every day, and sometimes I am tired from training and on edge, or they are tired from soccer and have meltdowns. Big dreams cause big emotions and that is why we have each other: to hold and encourage to the end.
As moms, we're naturally inclined to always put our kids above ourselves, but putting them first doesn’t mean forgetting about yourself. You are an individual outside of being a mother. How do you want to live your life? How can you teach your children the core values that mean the most to you by example? You are worth the life you imagine and that doesn’t change because you've become a mother and have little eyes watching your every move. Let those eyes watch you go after your dreams. Chase down your passions. Pursue everything that makes you curious and let’s all work together to create a confident, dream-chasing generation who are willing to turn the impossible into the possible, all because they saw their mom do it first.
This post is sponsored by Baby Dove.