To Build Your Parenting Muscle, You Have To Break It

Years ago, I stumbled across an article called “How Microtears Help You to Build Muscle Mass.”

It details the process of building muscle. I found it fascinating, and it’s always stuck with me. I’ll paraphrase: when you work out by lifting weights, you tear, or break down, your muscles. After the muscle heals, it’s bigger and stronger.

Sound familiar?

It’s almost uncanny that if you read this article with parenting in mind, it could describe the same thing.

Okay, I’m going to write a few sentences, and you tell me if it’s about building muscle or parenting…

1. The heaviest days exhaust me, but I know it’s making me stronger.

2. I could’ve never withstood this kind of intensity when I first started; it’s crazy to think how far I’ve come from years ago.

3. Sometimes, I fail. Some days I can’t bear the weight of it. But I know that resilience can only be built through occasional failure.

4. If it hurts, you know it’s working!

Of course, I’ve intentionally written all four of these sentences to go either way.

All of this double talk to get to the point:

Do you feel like parenting is wearing you down? Breaking you? It probably is.

But take heart: it is tearing down the weaker version of you. Parenting will wear down the selfishness and impatience that you may not have ever realized existed inside yourself. It will break bad tendencies or at least show you the ones that need to be broken.

If you feel tired, weak, or exhausted, perhaps this is the first step to gaining real strength. And by strength, I mean a number of things. Patience, resilience, empathy, perseverance, problem-solving, and accountability.

But here’s something crucial I’ve learned as I continue to build my parenting muscle: rest is just as crucial for growth as output.

Straining your muscles every single day will lead to breakdown with no growth. Growth can only come from a balance of rest and work.

As much as I feel like I’ve mastered the principle of building muscle, I fail spectacularly in the rest department.

Have you ever heard the saying, “Pick a day to rest, or your body will pick it for you”? As true as I know it to be, I struggle to slow down.

When I look at our calendar each month, I think to myself, “I hope next month is a little less busy,”… as if I don’t have any control over how busy we are.

In a culture that glorifies the maximum number of hours you can work a week, it can feel difficult to “justify” rest.

The laundry is waiting; the dishes are dirty… why are you resting on the couch when there’s work to be done?

In a culture that marvels at “how she does it all,” it’s tempting for someone like me, who views efficiency as currency, to try and do IT ALL. And many days, I do.

But “doing it all” has not brought me fulfillment. The opposite, in fact.

Do you know what’s fulfilling? Laying on the couch with my kids, watching a movie or talking about their lives, with nowhere to be. Yet these moments are few and far between.

You can’t build your parenting muscle without downtime. You can’t be a strong parent if you and your kids are so busy, leaving no time for talking, bonding, and being present without distraction.

What’s the point of building this parenting muscle if I simultaneously burn it out? What’s the point of feeling accomplished at the moment when you look back and can barely remember the moment?

To build your parenting muscle, you must break it first. You must break it many, many times. You must also rest to build it back up.

Parenting is a refinement to the soul, as lifting weights is a refinement to the muscles.

Raising children is a refinement of our character, as time for rest is a refinement of our physical and mental health.

I’m not the first person to realize the beauty of strength produced from weakness. The fruit of your labor may be right around the corner or a long way off. But if you feel weak, don’t despair. You might just be building muscle. 

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