Reconciling parenthood with "risky" fitness hobbies
June 20, 2016 7:13 PM   Subscribe

My wife and I are getting serious criticism from her parents about activities that are extremely important to us -- endurance road cycling (me) and long-distance running (her). They believe that as parents to a 4-year-old, we are being irresponsible to continue these extra-curricular passions. Are they right?

This came to a head when we had them for Father's Day dinner yesterday. I had spent the earlier part of the day on a long bike ride in record heat. I wore plenty of sunscreen, drank lots of water and had no problems, but upon hearing how I'd spent the day my MIL got terribly upset. We were able to calm her down, but when she got home she sent an e-mail thanking us for dinner but calling us out at length for these hobbies. Additional fuel was provided by a recent DUI-related bicycle fatality and a bear attack (survived, thankfully) on a runner in a place my wife loves to run.

This was a recent escalation in an ongoing effort by MIL and to a lesser extent FIL to make us feel guilty for exercising. The in-laws have never played a financial role in our lives, but they are great grandparents and (very) occasional babysitters for our child. Other than this particular issue, we have, and have always had, a good relationship with them.

We feel that these activities provide us with physical and mental health benefits that improve our marriage and relationship with our child. We understand that both have some risks but have always generally accepted them. We've also put up with the in-laws' criticism for years. This most recent communication has us really wondering if we're way off base, however. Are we? Do parents of children have an ethical or moral responsibility to take extra precautions in life? Is a decent life-insurance policy (we both have one) enough to make up the difference?

If it matters, we both try as much as we can to mitigate risk with appropriate safety gear (helmet, bear spray, etc.). We have also considered and tried other outlets over the years, none have been as enjoyable or practical as our current practices.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! to Health & Fitness (62 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
Are they right?

No. You can trot out some statistics about how non-risky your hobbies are if it's helpful but I think otherwise you can just say "Look we appreciate your concern but these are considered choices we've made and the topic is not really open for debate" and then do the old boundaries thing "We can change the subject or I'm going to end this conversation" Don't work to calm her down, do not engage, don't reply to those aspects of her email in any way. This is way outside of the normal "I am concerned about something dangerous" real (I expected to open this question and find you were skydivers or high altitude mountain climbers)
posted by jessamyn at 7:18 PM on June 20, 2016 [51 favorites]


No. You are fine. It sounds like you are managing things, and you both feel that these things are important both personally and for you marriage, so you should keep doing them. Hopefully, the good old "That will not be possible" repeated ad nauseum every time they bring it up will eventually lead to them laying off.
posted by rockindata at 7:19 PM on June 20, 2016 [1 favorite]


Something I heard recently that has really stuck with me: Not everyone's top priority is living the safest possible life.
posted by aniola at 7:19 PM on June 20, 2016 [49 favorites]


They are not correct.

You know what else you shouldn't do? Drive a car.

You could also get hit by a bus on foot. Or you could literally, randomly drop dead. it's totally overblown. I grew up with my parents commuting super long (and therefore also dangerous) drives and also riding horses, which has literally nearly killed my mom three times. Everyone is currently alive. Y'all need to do what y'all need to do.
posted by Medieval Maven at 7:19 PM on June 20, 2016 [18 favorites]


honestly when i saw the title of your question i was assuming the hobbies were like, rope-free mountain climbing or base jumping or bullriding or something. your in-laws are being ridiculous and you can 100% free of shame laugh in their faces when they bring this up.
posted by poffin boffin at 7:20 PM on June 20, 2016 [118 favorites]


I think I'm towards the overcautious end of parenting, and even I think your in-laws are being silly, as long as you're taking reasonable precautions. (Like, there have been a number of bike-car accidents on rural roads near me lately, so I worry about visibility in general and rural road riding in particular when my husband distance-cycles but there are great bike trails one can use instead!)

As a not-fit parent myself I think your lower risk of dying of heart disease than mine probably vastly outweighs any marginal safety risk you incur from exercising!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:21 PM on June 20, 2016 [15 favorites]


Cycling and running are not the kind of activities that carry such an extreme risk that parents shouldn't do them. Even what you describe as endurance cycling, and your wife running in places with (apparently) bears, seems well within acceptable parameters to me.

I doubt you'll be able to convince your in-laws, but if it helps you at all, I would say that it's good for kids to see their parents have interests and passions. It's also good for both of you to maintain your interests and passions. Before long, your 4-year-old may want to join one or both of you, and that's going to be a lot of fun. Overall, I'd argue that the risks you're taking are outweighed by the benefits and potential benefits to each of you as individuals, to the two of you as a couple, and to the three of you as a family.
posted by not that girl at 7:21 PM on June 20, 2016 [4 favorites]


You absolutely have a responsibility to take precautions. Like wearing a helmet on your bicycle, hydrating well, and wearing reflective gear in the dark. And letting your kid wear your medal after a race. Nothing should stop you from safe exercising.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 7:22 PM on June 20, 2016 [33 favorites]


While surfing the internet and imbibing my first coffee of the day this morning, I read about two people who'd died of heat-related illnesses in Phoenix over the weekend. Both were reportedly fit and exercised regularly. So that's the first thing that popped into my head.

But. Kids are happier when their parents are happier. And you can't mitigate every risk (like, yeah, driving!). And even though you are parents now, you still have your own lives that need to be lived and nurtured and cared for, separate from your identities as Parents Of Child(ren).
posted by rtha at 7:26 PM on June 20, 2016 [2 favorites]


This is nuts and you don't need to indulge their commentary in any way. Politely but firmly cut them off when they start up in person. If it's via email or phone message just ignore it. Ultimately, it's going to have to be your wife (since these are her parents) who says something like: We have noted your disapproval, and we no longer wish to discuss these issues. Then you've got to stand firm. If it happens in person, you have to be willing to get up and leave the event. Or get up and invite them to leave your home. Or you'll be hearing this for the next 20 years or more.
posted by BlahLaLa at 7:26 PM on June 20, 2016 [3 favorites]


These are still very low on the risk scale of 'dangerous hobbies,' and to agree with everyone else, your inlaws sound kind of bananas in regard to this topic. Draw a boundary around it, and just don't engage on this topic.

Every once in a while we catch flack from both sets of parents that I commute by bike, and haul the kid around too, and increasingly, he's riding with me. There are a few cycling deaths in our city a year, and each time one happens is kind of when that stuff flares up. We're lucky in our case because its not a hobby, its just how we get around, and my usual retort is to offer to let them buy us a nice new car (which clearly isn't going to happen, nor do we want one). It usually shuts the criticism down pretty fast, friendly manner.
posted by furnace.heart at 7:33 PM on June 20, 2016 [2 favorites]


Yeah, no, that's not a reasonable thing to be anxious about. Maybe if you tell them that you have health insurance, disability insurance, and life insurance -- or whatever the equivalent where you are, if you're not in the US -- they'll relax? (Probably not, but it might help.)
posted by The corpse in the library at 7:37 PM on June 20, 2016 [1 favorite]


I think you are setting an amazing example for your child and teaching them about fitness, endurance, conquering fears and laziness, persistence, perseverance, joy, and dedication.
All of these amazing benefits far outweigh the risks and you will raise a bold and courageous child with strength and resourcefulness. Old people get anxious because they sink into their comfort zone until everything real in the world seems scary. It's nice of them to be concerned but they are completely missing the point.
posted by winterportage at 7:45 PM on June 20, 2016 [18 favorites]


Vegging out in front of your TV/computer for dozens of hours every week - a hobby many supposedly responsible parents are very fond of - is probably more risky than the cardio exercise you're doing. People die of coronaries all the time...I think you're fine.
posted by The Toad at 7:47 PM on June 20, 2016 [11 favorites]


Do you have wills? Have you looked at whether life insurance is appropriate given the state of your savings, your mortgage and similar financial obligations? You should--not because you ride your bike but because you've got a young family.

Everyone has different risk tolerances and there's no objective right or wrong here, but I don't think you're doing anything irresponsible. I also don't think there's anything to be gained by engaging their concerns or trying to prove you're doing nothing wrong or being adequately responsible. You don't really ask how to manage the interference from your in-laws but in my case, I'd just deflect.

The anxiety--I think--is something maybe your wife should worry about. Irrational anxiety is weird and if my in-laws objected loudly to my bike commute, I'd worry more about that than trying to convince them I was safe and responsible in traffic.
posted by crush-onastick at 7:47 PM on June 20, 2016 [5 favorites]


I also thought your "dangerous hobbies" were going to be, like, free diving or BASE jumping. As long as you're exercising some modicum of caution (high visibility gear, telling someone where you're going, carrying a phone and water) I really can't see what the problem is.

Driving on a daily basis is likely to be much more dangerous, and the health risks of a sedentary lifestyle are the same.

I think you and your wife need to find ways to politely tell your in-laws to stuff it.
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 7:47 PM on June 20, 2016 [3 favorites]


Wow, I thought for sure you were going to say something like base jumping...running and biking? really? No, you are fine and also teaching your kids about living a healthy life. Consider not sharing these activities with your in-laws.
posted by Toddles at 7:51 PM on June 20, 2016 [3 favorites]


This is so weird that I'm wondering what's going on with your in-laws. Are they anxious? Controlling? There's got to be something going on here, because this doesn't make any sense.
posted by snickerdoodle at 7:58 PM on June 20, 2016 [15 favorites]


My husband and I both participate in some sports activities (martial arts, biking, running) and we consider that it's the best possible thing we can do for our family's long-term health. Heart disease and stroke are more silent but they are killers.

He did give up his motorcycle because we felt that was not a good choice for his daily commute in Toronto traffic while our kids are young, so it's not that we're single-mindedly opposed to giving up fun.

I think you do have a duty to take sensible precautions in terms of safety. I run in a bright fluorescent yellow top. It's ugly and uncool (not that all of them are) but oh well, cars can see me. I am conservative about making sure I'm hydrated and so on. Etc. My husband likes to push himself a bit harder, but we are pretty careful to do any real pushing at separate times at least so that someone's always on the ball.


Both my parents had strokes before they turned 70. I consider their sedentary lifestyle riskier.
posted by warriorqueen at 8:07 PM on June 20, 2016 [4 favorites]


My risk tolerance has gone down since having a kid. And I have to admit to thinking uncharitable thoughts about the friend who took off heli-skiing when his wife was a few months post-partum. Avalanche + helicopter + any regular injury would be especially annoying + indulgent. However, those thoughts are my own and their life is their own. I suppose I might think a little differently if you were both off at the same time doing a very risky hobby. But you both sound healthy and happy and aware of the risks of these hobbies and you take turns which is great. People get themselves worked up about all kinds of unrealistic scenarios. Frankly, I'd get on the same page in terms of boundaries, make sure you have a will and then just stop talking about these hobbies with them.
posted by amanda at 8:10 PM on June 20, 2016 [5 favorites]


Well, an actor in the Star Trek series just died in a freak car accident while standing in his own driveway, so really, anything is possible :-) Anecdata, but I have a husband with a serious health condition and asked him once about his expected lifespan. His answer was that, as in the general population, some people with his condition live a long time. Others die early. Who can say? And I suspect that's true about any sub-group in society.
posted by JoannaC at 8:12 PM on June 20, 2016 [2 favorites]


Yes, driving a car is an incredibly dangerous "hobby" that most parents indulge on the regular-- bringing their children with them, even! Your hobbies sound intense but quite mundane. I think the in-laws have some anxiety or control issues.
posted by stoneandstar at 8:15 PM on June 20, 2016 [1 favorite]


Running and biking? Really? Not risky in the grand scheme of life.

You and your wife need a united front that this topic is off-limits to your MIL.
posted by 26.2 at 8:15 PM on June 20, 2016 [2 favorites]


No your activities are not crazy. And I would bet your in-laws are miffed because they view your activities as frivolous, and they know that sounds silly to say, so it comes out as the even sillier "dangerous."

Tell them that you're fine and the kid is fine, and stfu (but, you know, politely).
posted by zippy at 8:25 PM on June 20, 2016 [3 favorites]


Good on you for finding them the time to prioritise exercise, they are way out of line, so far out I wouldn't even be that nice about it.
posted by smoke at 8:27 PM on June 20, 2016 [1 favorite]


I'm an ER doctor so I see people getting injured doing things all the time. I have to admit a lot of time this does make me a little more anxious than the average person about things - but about things that are legitimately unsafe (that many people just don't perceive as a big deal), like... well, mainly anyone riding any sort of cycle without a helmet, or people who stick their hands into snowblowers (believe it or not, a lot of people do this) or try to 'mess with' snakes. My children will not be riding ATVs or handling guns until they are adults, and they won't be participating in a 'children's demolition derby' (didn't even know this existed until I worked in the midwest). And my dad is never allowed to try to clean the gutters on his house, over my dead body. Mandolin vegetable slicers are a common unsafe device I never plan on owning. However, I completely agree that your inlaws are out of line here. What you're doing is being active and healthy, while taking appropriate measures for safety. They say that sedentary behavior is the new smoking - we're going to find out more and more bad health outcomes it's related to.

I chat with a lot of other doctor moms, and many of them have been so traumatized or frightened by what they've seen that they say "I'll NEVER let my child [use a trampoline, go skateboarding, go skiing, have a sleepover]." That's not a school of thought I subscribe to. Yeah, if you stay at home and never do anything cool, you will be relatively quite safe from traumatic injuries. But what kind of life will you be living?
posted by treehorn+bunny at 8:32 PM on June 20, 2016 [25 favorites]


Echoing what others have said. I know people who have actually competed in both running and cycling events after having kids. My sister-in-law ran four marathons after having kids, and her ex-husband qualified for Boston. Rhey only things that happened were some routine injuries and a kid who loves to run.

I also know a guy who raced pro cyclocross while leading road group rides, putting in 200-mile-plus weeks after having a kid. Oh, and he opened his own business around the same time.

Take normal precautions and you should be fine.
posted by kevinbelt at 8:33 PM on June 20, 2016


To further answer the moral question you posed about parenthood, however, I do feel that parents of young children specifically should feel morally justified in not taking on serious life-threatening risks to try to help others. This came up in my profession with the Ebola epidemic. I do humanitarian work, but I never even considered responding to Ebola. Different people may have a different moral calculus on this, but I have a 3 year old and a 1 year old who need me, and there was no way I would be responding to that epidemic. However, I think that's a completely different league of risk than what you are doing.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 8:37 PM on June 20, 2016 [15 favorites]


I was also expecting an actual high risk sport. Your in-laws have some kind of risk assessment malfunction if they think cycling or running are likely to leave your children orphans.
posted by fshgrl at 8:54 PM on June 20, 2016 [3 favorites]


I suspect also that what they really mean is "frivolous" - takes a lot of time. Otherwise I'd probably start sending them articles about how dangerous heart disease or junk food or driving or whatever they like is :-) but I tend to respond to passive aggression in kind.
posted by Lady Li at 9:08 PM on June 20, 2016 [10 favorites]


Honestly, you're endangering your health and welfare far more if you DON'T participate in this type of activity. The people who spend their hours riding the couch instead of the bike seat or jogging trail are going to be in ill health and die a lot sooner than folks who have the brains to keep active and somewhat fit.

That's on average--but thinking about large group averages is pretty much the best you can do with trying to predict the future. And just for example, the health benefit of bicycling outweighs the risk of injury by something like 10-100X.

This is not a controversial conclusion. Numerous academics have rather carefully studied the issue in different ways and come fo the same general conclusion. Here is one study of many. Quoting from a second:
The conclusions of all studies supported that of the British Medical Association: there is a large net health benefit of increased cycling, since the risk of fatal injury is greatly outweighed by the reductions in mortality afforded by increased physical activity. Air pollution risks and benefits had smaller impacts in either direction. Benefit to risk ratios ranged between 9 to 1 and 96 to 1.
So a question to ask your meddling parents-in-law, is why they are not STRONGLY SUPPORTING you in an activity that has a clearly established benefit ratio of somewhere between 10 and 100 to 1? WTF is wrong with them? That is the real issue here.

(Though obviously in the interest of decorum, don't push this side of it too far. Honestly, people who are completely sedentary rationalize their actions, just like the rest of us do, and making this type of excuse--to themselves most of all--for why they never leave the house to do any type of physical activity, and why they are completely depending on automobiles to travel distances both short and long is one of the ways they do it.* You're just getting caught in the crossfire . . . )

Also, one of the most important things you can do as a parent is model a healthy and active lifestyle. As you and your spouse obviously know, these things are important not just for your physical health but (almost more important) for your mental health. When your children see you doing this as a regular, normal part of everyday life--and quite visibly NOT freaking out about the risk, because every activity that you do including sitting on your ass in front the TV set, has some risk--that is going to have a huge positive impact on them.

Honestly, if any parents should be browbeaten as "irresponsible"** it would be those who model inactive, sedentary lifestyles, thereby passing those bad habits along to their children virtually guaranteeing their children a shorter, unhealthier, unhappier lifespan.

So, to be blunt, parents-in-law need to STFU and keep their (completely inaccurate) opinions strictly to themselves.

*Somewhere over 30,000 Americans are killed in automobile crashes annually, and somewhere over 2 million injured. This is many, many times higher than the number of people killed bicycling or running. And almost everyone killed bicycling, walking, and running is killed by someone else driving a motor vehicle. So whenever you drive, you are endangering both yourself and others. Yet if you go to load your little darling in the car seat and take them for a drive, you will never hear the shrieks of anxiety about how you are recklessly endangering them blah blah blah. A lot of Americans (and people in other parts of the world, too) just have something of a cultural blind spot about this. Bicycling, walking, running are perceived as strange and dangerous, whereas driving is perceived as normal and safe. In fact, the risk of sever injury & death due to crash are in the same general ballpark for both--and the driving option doesn't have the 10-to-100-fold health benefit that bicycling-walking-running have.

**Not that browbeating and calling parents irresponsible is a good strategy in any case, but if you're going to do it, you might as well do it based on an accurate interpretation of reality . . .

posted by flug at 9:25 PM on June 20, 2016 [14 favorites]


Like others, initially I thought you were talking about being a base jumper or something! You're a runner? That's great, you're modelling good healthy habits for your children. My husband is a surfer and at one point, three times running, at each spot he surfed at, someone was taken the very next day by a great white shark. (We're in Australia, there were a spate of attacks.)

I started to freak out a little. Then I told myself that thousands of people surf every day and nothing ever happens. I don't want my husband to give up something he loves, so we do what we can. He tries not to surf in sharky conditions, (whatever they are) and we have wills and life insurance. Then he goes off and has fun. There is risk in everything, and as long as you accept that and do what you can to offset it, you need to live your life. Tell your parents to mind their own business.
posted by Jubey at 9:36 PM on June 20, 2016


It's already been well said. They are unreasonable and are beIng controlling.
posted by jazh at 9:47 PM on June 20, 2016


I have good friends who are a road cyclist (him) and a runner (her), both doctors from Ivy League universities, and the best parents you can imagine. Their kid is ridiculously precocious and awesome. So yeah, those parents are off base.
posted by Special Agent Dale Cooper at 9:50 PM on June 20, 2016


Have your in-laws always been like this, or is it a new thing? If it's new, you might consider asking them to see their doctors. (As if you can get elderly relatives to go, gah, but still.) The early stages of my grandmother's dementia manifested as extreme, irrational anxiety, and after my cousin was killed in a freak cycling accident, we reached a point where we could not talk about any form of transportation with her at all.
posted by gingerest at 10:00 PM on June 20, 2016 [4 favorites]


You and your spouse aren't doing the same thing, so you're not both likely to get mowed down by a car as you exercise. So I would just ignore the parents. I know that's hard to do, but in truth, any risk you're taking is probably offset by the better health. And it's not likely that there's going to be yet another bear attack.

That said, when we had children, I stopped riding on the motorcycle with my hubby. I wanted one of us to survive. (We both did, but he had a pretty serious accident and decided that he too probably should give that activity up.)

Everything is a risk. You're not doing anything reckless or dangerous or out of line.
posted by my-sharona at 10:01 PM on June 20, 2016


Are they right?

No. And they should mind their own business.

You could get killed driving. Or crossing the street. Or at work, tripping over a box. Or at home, slipping in the shower. Everything in life is a risk.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 10:10 PM on June 20, 2016 [1 favorite]


To me, the best thing you can do to help raise well adjusted, healthy children (the goal right?) is to model good behaviour, good habits, good relationship skills, etc. I think your 4 year old, while still young, gets it. I think the risk reward ratio is skewed way in the favor of reward for the risk. Your 4 yo sees tow healthy adults pursuing healthy habits, pursuing a passion and respecting their individualism. Your in-laws see the risk without consideration for the reward. Most of the time they are seeing the reward without considering the risks. As pointed out above, everyday events like driving your car have as much if not more risk. Your in-laws are attempting to impose their own risk reward analysis on you.

So, are they wrong? Not wrong about their own assessment of risk reward, but wrong to try ot impose their own views on you. You need to make your own assessment, but deciding to continue with your exercise hobbies is well within a reasonable range and if you want my opinion, it is a great thing you are doing for your child and yourselves.

Keep on truckin'
posted by AugustWest at 10:25 PM on June 20, 2016 [1 favorite]


I generally do believe parents have a responsibility not to take extremely high risks that are unnecessary, like BASE jumping and free climbing **. It's debatable, and there are good counterarguments, but that's the side of the debate I'd choose to defend.

** Edit: "while their children are young."

BUT what we're talking about here is the opposite: an activity with a risk much smaller than many risks that are regularly tolerated, and that increases your short term quality of life and decreases other long term risks.

So far, I've just agreed with everyone, but where I might differ is in the advice not to engage at all. Sure, you need boundaries. But rather than slamming the security grate down in their face, I might -- depending on their history and you all's relationship -- pay them the respect of succinctly explaining your view and reframing the discussion around your relationship with them... the store is in fact closed but you hope they'll come again tomorrow. I'd maybe do it as part of a serious conversation that leads to the gentle conclusion that you aren't willing to discuss it anymore, perhaps followed up with the bullet points in an email. Tone will be important. "Because you've mentioned this a number of times, we've given this some serious thought. There are three reasons we are planning to continue... I hope this helps put your mind at ease. Ultimately, we have to make a decision that we can live with long term, and we may have to agree to disagree, and in the future, we don't want to continue having the same discussion. We love you guys and appreciate your love and concern."

Here are the various reasons that I'd do it: I've been surprised at times by what respectful dialogue can accomplish, so I'd want to try it first. I think it sends a signal of respect and caring, reciprocating the time they put into their email. It reduces the chance of them escalating internally ("they know it's dangerous but do it anyway"). It presents your logic in a way that they can look back at. When they represent the dialogue to others and get asked "what do they say?" they might manage to repeat a point or two. They might even gradually begin to understand.

But you know them, and if this is going to lead to WWIII, then it may well be best to go straight to setting boundaries. Good luck! These things are stressful.
posted by salvia at 10:50 PM on June 20, 2016 [5 favorites]


I agree with everyone else that you have better life expectancies with your hobbies than without and you should keepdoing them. But I don't think the whole "Flip them the bird and laugh in their faces" approach is a good idea if as you say they're otherwise regular, reasonable people. They're worried about you and your kids. They're overreacting, but... well, if my parents were like "Hey, today we're taking your kids to that park where a girl got savaged by a bear yesterday. I guess the bear thing is a minus but we really like the benches there," I would be anxious too, even if I knew intellectually that the chance of another bear attack was small.

I'm not saying you have to validate their over-the-top anxiety, but I think that a more understanding "I hear that you feel X, here's how we see it (explanation of why cycling and running are actually better than not cycling and running goes here)" dialogue might get you to a happier place as an extended family.
posted by No-sword at 1:36 AM on June 21, 2016 [3 favorites]


You overshared with your inlaws about the extent of your Father's Day activities. As the old vaudeville "doctors" used to say, "Schtop doing dat!"
You could have answered "oh, I went for a little bike ride this morning" and left it at that.
Leave the word "endurance" out of any future discourse.
posted by BostonTerrier at 3:26 AM on June 21, 2016 [3 favorites]


I'm going to be a bit of a Devil's Advocate here. Your in-laws obviously love you and the family and they don't want you to die, full stop. So in their minds, you're doing things that are EXTREMELY DANGEROUS and that is frightening to them. You can, "Yeah but cars," to them but they have a point and really want to make sure you're safe.

I mean, a bear attacked someone where your wife regularly runs. That would be a wake up call to many people about their running route. (There have been a load of bobcat sightings in the woods where I run so I'm avoiding that area until there are no more sightings.)

I think you should stick with what you do but be thoughtful that if there was a recent attack in that area, you'll avoid it for now until there are no more bear sightings. It makes no sense to keep running a route where someone was attacked by a bear; they've got a point. If they're getting a sense that you're digging in your heels (and they're your wife's parents; no doubt there's some history of her being a tantrumy kid who made bad choices) for no reason, they're going to be upset.

In speaking with them you need to make it clear that you ARE cautious and thoughtful in training and take very serious safety precautions. Tell them about those precautions. Explain why this training is so important to you, thank them for their concern and tell them the subject is closed.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 5:45 AM on June 21, 2016


Actually, being physically active is not nearly as risky to your health as not. Exercise. Set a good example for your kids and live longer, healthier lives to give you more time to go running with your grand kids.
posted by plinth at 6:08 AM on June 21, 2016


Thank you all for the much-needed perspective!
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 6:09 AM on June 21, 2016


I clicked through thinking you were going to say you were skydivers or base jumpers or something. Running? Biking? Of course there is some inherent risk, but there's risk just in going outside. As long as you're taking proper precautions, which it sounds like you are, I don't think your in laws have anything to fuss about.



(as an aside, "mom was killed by a bear doing something she loved" is a way better story for kiddo to tell than "mom toiled her life away in a job she didn't like and died unhappy")

(i know, i am a horrible person)
posted by misanthropicsarah at 6:36 AM on June 21, 2016 [11 favorites]


I agree their reaction is extreme and there is no reason that either of you should give up cycling and running, respectively. On the other hand, I wonder if the issue is more cycling "in record heat" and running where there was a recent bear attack. They might not be so much concerned about cycling or running but decisions made around that activity. They also may be making the leap that an iffy decision indicates that you make genuinely risky decisions while participating in these activities. It doesn't sound like that's the case at all, but I can understand how someone would get there and it's not about being anti-exercise or anti-fun. It sounds like you are both responsible adults who enjoy your chosen physical activities and you should continue to do so. Before you jump on your bike or slip into running shoes, however, perhaps you should consider waiting until it's cooler outside or running a different route. If they start witnessing/hearing about behavior such as, "Due to today's record heat, I had to wait until the temperature dropped 10 degrees/cut my ride short/used my stationary bike," they might dial back the concern. Good luck!
posted by katemcd at 6:45 AM on June 21, 2016 [4 favorites]


My inlaws were upset with me for the same exact thing. I had two points to tell them:

1) It is riskier if I don't exercise, using my father in law and his serious health issues from not exercising as an example.
2) I told them that letting my kids ride in a car with them with their horrible driving habits and history of near-death accidents/close calls is far more dangerous than my road cycling.

They haven't bothered me since.
posted by TinWhistle at 7:06 AM on June 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


Is it possible they are not actually worried about you guys getting hurt and are using that as an excuse to cover up judgment about spending time away from your kid?
posted by sutel at 7:31 AM on June 21, 2016 [5 favorites]


This is not exactly the same situation, but I have a loved one who is really into mountaineering. Yes, it's not as risky as BASE jumping, but it's hardly risk-free.

Here's the thing about moderately risky activities: from the perspective of someone who doesn't understand the sport well and isn't there making those risk calculations with you, it might as well be BASE jumping. When I'm terrified and would rather that my loved one stop, it's not because I don't understand that they love it. It's just because of that voice in my head saying that there's a risk that they won't come home.

So - honestly, to you, the one making risk calculations when you're out there - how risky is it, really? If the answer is "not very", how can you communicate that better to your in-laws? Maybe explain the precautions you take, or even take them out with you somehow? Can you control the flow of information about risk factors vs. preparation? It's a really hard thing to perceive risk as someone not actively participating in the sport. And if they perceive it as dangerous, well, they're asking you to stop out of love. You really don't need to turn this into animosity.
posted by R a c h e l at 7:35 AM on June 21, 2016


I wouldn't be concerned about the hobbies, but practicing common sense doing those hobbies is the smart thing to do. There is a reason people are advised to limit physical activity when the temperature get as high as they've been in the southwest the last few days. Personal anecdote: A family friend in his late 40's in seemingly great shape died of a heart attack on a long distance ride last year when it was in the 90s leaving behind a wife and two very young kids. Maybe you ride late in the day or early in the morning to mitigate the risk or wait a few days for safer temps. It's not just about hydration. Exertion when it's really hot is hard on your body.

As for the bear attack, wear a bear bell or pick a different place to run if you're alone. Again, it's not about not exercising, but being smart about how, where, and when you practice your hobby.
posted by cecic at 7:50 AM on June 21, 2016


Is it possible they are not actually worried about you guys getting hurt and are using that as an excuse to cover up judgment about spending time away from your kid?

When I first read your question, this was my assumption too - that their criticism wasn't based on safety or risk, but rather that these are hobbies that require significant time investment and take you away from your children, and that they are were essentially accusing you of being selfish.
posted by werkzeuger at 7:51 AM on June 21, 2016


I'm glad "risky" is in scare quotes in your title. This question is something I've been thinking about a fair bit; I have an 8 month old, and my calendar year is spent whitewater kayaking, mountain biking, and backcountry skiing, so I've been thinking about this risk tolerance question a fair bit. I've noticed that my appetite for scary whitewater has abated a bit, but for me that means I'm no longer running solid class V rapids, but I'm still running class V- and below. Given my skill level and the teams I kayak with, I view the level of risk on those runs as being equal to or less than driving a car, but there's undeniably still risk there. But I'm certainly willing to take that level of risk in light of the benefits it gives me - fitness, camaraderie, and out-and-out happiness. I haven't received the level of push-back you've received from your in-laws, but if I did, I would point out that given their lack of understanding and experience in these sports, I'm a better judge of what is risky and what is not within the realm of the sport. But it sounds like you're headed down that path already, and you've received lots of other good advice here.
posted by craven_morhead at 7:55 AM on June 21, 2016


I'm all for a clear and compassionate conversation first, but this is often a thing that won't go away unless you set some limits.

You may come to a point where you have to make clear to them that the subject is closed. That's okay. They're already overstepping.
posted by uberchet at 7:57 AM on June 21, 2016


I agree you should continue and they are being ridiculous. But I would say that, if I were in their shoes, I would find a well-constructed argument more convincing than a shutdown of 'we don't discuss this issue.' There are many excellent points in the thread and you could say something like:
"We have listened to your concerns and discussed this at length together. We believe we are doing the right thing for our family, and this is why:
- set a good example of fitness and pursuing individual interests; research shows kids whose parents are active have [XYZ positive outcomes]
-maintain good physical health, reduce risk of longterm lifestyle-linked illness
-maintain good mental health, allowing for better partnering and parenting
-level of risk is actually low, to prove it here are stats on [driving, heart disease risk, etc]
-we take good care of ourselves and make all precautions.
Now, we are done discussing this."
Admittedly this tactic appeals more to evidence-based thinker types, but I think it might go a long way to just say "we've thought about what you said, and we've done the research, and here is where we have landed," just to get the whole thing out of the realm of gut feelings and overreactions to one-off, extremely rare events like accidents and bear attacks. A firm shutdown can still come at the end, but the reasoning may help defuse some of their anxiety-driven arguments, and it will show that you cared enough to listen.
posted by Miko at 8:01 AM on June 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


I would be irked at you for doing it in record heat, yeah. But it's not really my business and you would be smart to not tell me you were doing it in record heat. Because then I would have an opinion about it. See what I mean?
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 9:55 AM on June 21, 2016 [3 favorites]


Oh, for christssake. Don't go bounding down trails closed due to bear activity in 120 degree heat without a huge bottle of water while licking from a giant block of salt. Otherwise, these activities are as safe as driving on the freeway to work. My in-laws pull this shit, too. If you become 100% completely risk averse or stop becoming interested in new things, what does that say to your kids about how they should live their lives? Also, you are a fucking adult and not just a baby rearing machine. You get to have a little bit of something for yourself.
posted by Foam Pants at 11:12 AM on June 21, 2016 [6 favorites]


hell no they are not correct. they're projecting their fears onto you and your wife and next time they try meddling in your fitness you bean dip the shit out of them. You may choose to fib about it or downplay your exercise out of respect to them but imo you're better parents if you are fit and active.
posted by RichardHenryYarbo at 11:56 AM on June 21, 2016


Agree with everyone else, but, do you think your inlaws might feel more comfortable with your wife's running if she was with someone else? (I'm assuming she's heading out for trail runs alone.) I suppose that's not entirely unreasonable, depending on where she is running?
posted by john_snow at 12:03 PM on June 21, 2016


Agree with everyone else, but, do you think your inlaws might feel more comfortable with your wife's running if she was with someone else?

I think both these activities would be safer with a buddy. I have known both runners and cyclists who had incidents where if they didn't have a buddy or a nearby good samaritan they could have been more seriously injured or killed. However, the difficulty of maintaining these kinds of athletic training regimens when you have young kids is finding that window of opportunity where you can do the thing and be covered for childcare. That doesn't always (rarely!) coincide with having a buddy. So if you were waiting for your buddy all the time, you'd never go.
posted by amanda at 1:21 PM on June 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


Additional fuel was provided by a recent DUI-related bicycle fatality and a bear attack (survived, thankfully) on a runner in a place my wife loves to run.

People have died everywhere you can imagine, including inside their own homes when a car barreled through the wall from the former... And in rural areas the latter is not unheard of in your own damn yard(including insert other "woah in a persons yard?" dangerous wildlife depending on your exact location). I've known people who lived in areas where both were seen or the former occurred right nextdoor.

So like, by that logic you shouldn't go outside at all or inside or exist at all ever, because after all a bear could walk in your sliding glass door.

Add me to the chorus of people who thought you meant like free climbing on huge faces or freediving in caves or something.

I've had relatives like this and holy shit give it a rest.


Is it possible they are not actually worried about you guys getting hurt and are using that as an excuse to cover up judgment about spending time away from your kid?


This is literally so over the top that i got this vibe too. Some kind of weird generational(or community-based) normative judgement that you're not parenting hard enough, or right, or something.
posted by emptythought at 1:40 PM on June 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


I think to continue to do what you love and what makes you happy is a wonderful example to give your child.

So, make sure you're taking all appropriate safety precautions, make sure all of your contingency plans are in place (will, life insurance, etc), and then stop fueling the crazy fire by not talking about your extra curricular activities in front of the inlaws. Tell them you've taken up exercising on a treadmill instead and then change the subject. What they don't know won't hurt them.
posted by vignettist at 1:56 PM on June 21, 2016


Thanks again for all the comments -- we both feel a lot better about the whole thing. We have wondered if the concern is more about time spent with our kiddo, but we both feel like we've done our best at balancing meaningful time with her with friend/family time, exercise and other activities. Our daughter has had adventures accompanying us to events like ultras or century rides, and coming along for the occasional spousal rescue mission (flat tire, bonk, etc.).

Re; the suggestions for buddies, due to complicated schedules I'd say my wife runs with friends about half the time and I bike with friends about a quarter of my rides.

My wife and I have fretted about each others' brushes with danger as well, but we've gotten used to it the way I imagine partners of people who engage in much more dangerous pursuits like climbing, flying, etc. do.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 9:26 PM on June 21, 2016


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