Running on Empty

We are getting slower. When we started running together in the early 80s, we could run forever. It seemed like each mile was at the same glorious, effortless pace. We even had a name for it: when we were in the heart of marathon training, we would talk about our “forever pace.” Admittedly an exaggeration, but still. Now we run more slowly and with more effort; we run five or six miles rather than 10 or 20. The miles are less joyful. Indeed the fire in our eyes seems to have been largely replaced by the creaking of our knees.


It would be absurd to suggest that we are getting slower because we are training improperly or that we aren’t putting in enough miles. We are getting slower because we are getting older. Another inexorable fact: the alternative – – giving up on all exercise – – would be even worse. We have to accept that running is no longer about speed. It’s not about winning races. It’s not about improving. It's not even about staying at the same pace. We are getting slower year after year. There are other benefits—cardiovascular health, keeping the weight off, camaraderie. We run to stave off impending mortality. Or, as Woody Allen put it, “I don’t mind dying. I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” At this point in our lives, running isn’t about getting better. It’s about not getting worse.


You might think we need to travel a long way—26.2 miles?—to get from slogging slowly through the swamp to parenting in these tough times, but consider your relationship with your kids--specifically yelling at your kids. The justification for yelling at your kids or being mean to them in general typically goes something like this: "the kids have to do their homework, clean the rooms, be respectful. If I don't yell at them, nothing will get done." Frequently, there is another paragraph as well: "When they grow up they will have responsibilities and careers; they won't be able to tell the boss that they'll 'do it later.'"


While I am a proponent of housework and thank you notes, the path to these lofty goals makes a difference. Life is indeed a journey not a destination. “Give me a hand with the dishes” beats “I’ll take away your cellphone.” A shared purpose trumps external motivation any day. "We are a family" is better than "Do what I say because I say so!"


And what about fractured relationships? What if parent-child communication is already an emotional burn victim? What if every conversation escalates to shouting words that can never be unsaid? Maybe it’s time to move into “do no harm” mode. 


Parents complain: “I stopped yelling at my kid like you said. He still comes in after curfew. He still doesn’t remember to take out the trash. I thought if I stopped yelling our relationship would improve. It's not getting better at all.”


In actuality, I never said that the relationship would improve if you stopped yelling. What I tried to communicate is that if you stop haranguing, the relationship would stop deteriorating. At the risk of repeating: Not yelling at your kids doesn’t make the interactions better. Not yelling at your kids just keeps the relationship from getting worse. Just as there are worse things than a wrong number at 2:00 am, there are worse things than stopping just at the edge of a cliff. At the risk of beating the metaphor to death, there are worse things than an D in calculus. A young adult who doesn't call his parents more than once a year is the worst thing I can think of.


The 60-year-olds in my group are never going to run as fast as we did 30 years ago. But your relationship with your kids can always improve. Or at the very least, you can take steps to ensure it doesn't get any worse.

2 thoughts on “Running on Empty

  1. Barbara P Wyner

    Thank you, David. Your clarity about difficult issues shines through, as always. Working on these very issues in my own private practice with many parents and kids. Thanks so much. Best, Barbara P. Wyner, LICSW

  2. Adriano

    Dear Dr David.
    We (should) know all problems caused by the exaggerated use of electronic devices by our children.
    But I noticed something curious in my 2 daughter (13 and 17 yo) and also in my 3 sister’s sons (10, 14, 20):
    They fight much less then we used to do. All my colleagues confirm it. We limit a lot their cellphone use. We have long dinners without cellphone everyday…
    Is it a positive thing about electronic devices or am I missing something here?


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