Strong Is Beautiful

I grew up in a matriarchal extended family with a thick military heritage. As the able-bodied eldest sibling of a brother with involved special needs, I had a somewhat unique upbringing. There were rules and consequences, expectations and protocol, duties and obligations. Inner and physical strength were prized. Beauty and emotional expression were afterthoughts. To be strong, to be able to withstand and persevere, to be resilient and sturdy was paramount. To shoulder any burden and smile beneath the weight was ideal.

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I recently told my 5-year-old daughter that being a female member of the family means she is strong; stronger than many. I told her that feigning frailty or valuing femininity over strength is not ideal. “Sometimes you’ll need help. Sometimes you’ll cry. That’s ok. You can like feeling pretty. You can have your feelings. That doesn’t mean you should intentionally act or choose to be weak. You can do more than you think. You can handle more than you realize. You’re strong. Remember that. Being strong IS beautiful.”

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Today on the beach my nearly-30lb toddler nursed himself into a nap. So, I stood rocking his sleeping body for 30 minutes. His limbs limp and heavy, the ocean hush lulling him further into slumber, my back supporting him, my arms cradling him, my heart was full. My muscles strong.

I breathed in his sand-dusted hair, listened to his gentle snore, and felt his comforted weight. I was grateful. Grateful for this moment. Grateful for my upbringing. Grateful for my strength. Without it I would not have this effortless, loving moment. Without it I would lament physical strain instead of savoring the experience.

Because of my strength, I could soak in this memory. Because of my strength, I brimmed with love. Because of my strength I could be the mother I dreamed to be.

Active Parenting

For the past few months, I have made the conscious decision to actively parent my children. Not in terms of involvement — I already treat motherhood as if it’s my full-time, ’round-the-clock job — but in terms of physical activity.

Instead of feeling bitter and guilty for not being able to cram a workout into my nutty day, I make my nutty day my workout. If I can fit in some extra squats, planks, ab work, and such I will, but I don’t feel defeated if I can’t. I work my body in other ways.

If the kids are playing outside and I am presented with the option to sit or stand, I stand. If I am granted the opportunity to play with the kids or remain uninvolved, I play. If I am asked to give a piggyback, I bounce to up the fun and workout intensity.

This habit has not only made playtime more fun and helped me manage my weight, but I also feel more contented at the end of long kid-wrangling days. It has increased my appreciation for my body too.

I most certainly have things I would like to adjust about my body, things I’m still working on, and things I’ve learned to accept, but my strength and endurance are aspects I honor. What’s better: those are the exact elements I can control.

As I continue my active parenting efforts, I feel my body’s strength and endurance increase and that makes me proud. Not of myself, but of my body. “Did I really just play chase with three kids around a playground while nursing my baby in the carrier? Yes, yes I did!” “Did I really just bounce-skip up that hill carrying a 20lb baby and a 30lb preschooler? Yes, yes I did!” “Did I really just give double-piggyback rides to my 3-year-old and nearly -5-year-old 10 times across a pool? Yes, yes I did!” How could you not appreciate your body for allowing you to do that?

Not only am I happier feeling stronger and more accomplished, my kids are enjoying the playful parenting. (I’m still strict, but I can play too.) I feel contented knowing I’m making sustainable strides towards a happier, healthier life, and simultaneously enjoying and building memories with my children.

If decades from now I am able to play tag with my grandkids, if I’m able to carry all of my groceries inside without a second thought, if I’m able to live life without physical limitations, what a gift that would be. That is my goal. Until then, I’ll plan to have fun along the way.