Contributed by Claire Louge, Executive Director, Prevent Child Abuse Arizona

A few months ago, I had a checkup with my new primary care provider, who asked me a series of routine questions about my health habits. When she asked about exercise, I told her I ran about four miles, two or three times a week.

“How long does that take you?” she asked.

“About 30 minutes,” I replied.

“Well,” she said, “for heart health, you should be exercising at least 45 minutes.”

I raised my eyebrows. She went on to her next question. I chuckled to myself.

As a working mom of an active toddler, I’m glad when I can get in any exercise. I’m proud that I can run several miles. I consider it an achievement when I can make it to the gym twice a week, let alone at all.

The reason I’m sharing this story is not to debate the merits of a full 45 minutes of cardio. It’s also not to bash my primary care provider. It’s to reflect on a practice we see with parents: it’s common for parents to hold themselves – and their children – to an often-impossible standard. And though well-intentioned, that can do more harm than good.

When we hold everyone to an ideal, we tend to ignore the real obstacles to achieving that standard. Telling children they should simply ‘get over’ those obstacles is the opposite of empathy: it assumes that the only thing they need to do is try harder, and it may ignore that the standard isn’t realistic for the person in front of us.

Think of all the standards we’re held to as adults. We’re supposed to get eight hours of sleep. Three healthful square meals per day. Work 40-hour weeks. Have clean homes. Do 45 minutes of cardio three times a week. Pay our bills. Connect with our communities. Shower. Look nice. Vote. Fix what breaks. Care for ourselves. Care for our families. The list goes on.

I don’t know a single person who achieves all the standards we all know is there. Do you? Probably not. That’s because meeting all these standards is humanly impossible. That’s because standards are things that can be achieved under ideal conditions.

I don’t need to tell you that conditions nowadays are rarely ideal. No matter how hard we try to provide ideal conditions for our children, things come up: they don’t get enough sleep one night (or a few nights in a row). They eat too much sugar at a party. They had a rough experience at school one day. We carry so much stress these days and can pass that on to our kids.

Standards are there for a reason: to guide us to being healthier, happier versions of ourselves, and to keep ourselves and others safe and well. They may be evidence-based. That’s great.

But standards can also breed shame, dishonesty, and disconnection. We need to meet children where they are, in the conditions that they’re in. We need to meet ourselves where we are, in the conditions we’re in. If we want to guide towards an ideal, we need to affirm and encourage progress toward it, rather than celebrate it only when it is achieved.

As members of a family (and of a community), our role is not just to point out what would be ideal. Our role is not to tell people to simply overcome the obstacles to getting to the ideal. Our role is to support people to use their strengths to remove obstacles to meet the standards they want to achieve.

So, the next time someone tells you that you should be running 45 minutes for heart health, remember that we’re all running different races in this complex world. Let’s strive for progress, not perfection, and work together to clear the obstacles on the path to our own standards of health and happiness.

Editor’s Note: look for the Strong Families, Happy Kids column in every issue of Prescott Woman Magazine. It’s designed to support parents with actionable tips and strategies they can use to create optimal environments for their children to thrive. To learn more about Prevent Child Abuse Arizona’s mission and resources visit