Yes, I Take My Toddler To The Gym

“Good job, mommy. Now just do one more!” commanded my toddler. I was doing sit-ups in TRX class and my three-year-old was at my feet, giving me a high-five every time I came up. Later, as the class moved on to planks, she scrambled right beneath my raised body. (FYI—if you ever need to hold your plank just a bit longer, bring your kid along; the prospect of squashing her is real motivation.)

Here’s the deal: If I’m at the gym, chances are my toddler is at my side. This is partly a logistical decision—childcare is hard to find in the mornings (when I prefer to work out) and my gym doesn’t have childcare—but it’s also a choice. Before you judge, hear me out.

Sometimes my daughter sits on an exercise mat and watches me take part in a group class. If I’m exercising on my own, then I’ll bring her to an open gym area where we run sprints, do burpees, and generally make working out something to look forward to. Basically, I’m showing my daughter—from the start—that an active lifestyle is important and that working out can be a lot of fun.

Related: How Motherhood Forced Me To Get Serious About My Health

I joined the gym when my daughter was almost a year old. At that time, she’d sit in her jogging stroller, chomp on a muffin, and read Elmo books while I did the machines. As she got older, we packed a gym-only backpack that was full of play dough, crayons, and other activities to keep her entertained during my group exercise classes.

I’m showing my daughter—from the start—that an active lifestyle is important and that working out can be a lot of fun.

Her gym-only backpack usually keeps her occupied, but sometimes she decides to join in by mimicking my moves. (My current fitness goal is to be able to do mountain climbers half as well as my toddler can!)

Related: Shop training accessories and get your workout on.

I was apprehensive when I first arrived at the gym with a baby on my hip. My community center, where I work out, has a track, an open gymnasium, a fitness room with machines, and a group exercise room. That means that there is generally plenty of space for my daughter and me to exercise without infringing on anyone else’s space.

I try to be respectful, and I expect that other gym-goers will respect the fact that my daughter’s presence is not affecting their workouts. Only once in two years have I had to leave a workout early because of my daughter’s behavior. It was during one of our first group classes, and I was worried that any peep out of my daughter’s mouth would disturb the other participants.

“You didn’t have to leave,” the instructor later told me, but I was worried about disrupting everyone else. That’s because no one wants to work out to the tune of a whiny tot. I get it. At the same time, though, I’ve come to realize that no one’s gym mojo is actually being disrupted by my daughter doing crunches next to me.

People now recognize and greet my daughter at the gym. Her chatting puts smiles on their faces, and I’ve realized that she doesn’t actually have to be silent and perfectly still to be welcome in this public space.

I want my daughter to recognize exercise and activity as a source of strength and empowerment so that she is always able to connect with her body in a positive way.

Many of the moms I know complain that they can’t get to the gym because they have no childcare—which makes me sad. If we’re going to raise children to embrace healthy lifestyles, then we need to make gyms places that welcome families. (Of course, many parents relish gym time as time away from the kids, and I totally understand that, too). Still, I believe parents should be encouraged to bring their kids along if they’d like to.

Related: Read more inspiring health, nutrition, and fitness transformation stories.

Growing up, I didn’t have exposure to the gym like my daughter does now. I didn’t step foot in a gym with any regularity until I was an adult, and even then my trips were born out of necessity—because I thought exercise was something you’re “supposed” to do, or because I wanted to lose a few pounds.

I’ve come to realize that no one’s gym mojo is actually being disrupted by my daughter doing crunches next to me.

Eventually, I figured out that exercise is something I want to do. It makes my body feel strong and able, and I find it empowering regardless of my size.

I want my daughter to recognize exercise and activity as a source of strength and empowerment so that she is always able to connect with her body in a positive way. If I can begin teaching her that now, I think it’s worth the small inconvenience of taking her with me to the gym.

Today, as we were walking out of the gym, my daughter sprinted ahead, arms flung wide.

“It’s fun to spread your wings and run fast,” she sang out.

“Yes!” I agreed. “It is.”