We are all preparing to tune into the 2016 Rio Olympics in support of our favorite Olympic athletes from around the world. There’s something about watching the best and brightest of us all coming together to chase their dreams and goals that’s incredibly unifying. For 16 days, the world sets aside its differences for the glory of friendly competition, for the joy of sport. As parents, as humans, there are some important lessons to take away from our elite athletes, but chiefly that we’re not so different after all.

You don’t have to be good at everything

You’ll see that Olympic athletes are incredibly specialized. Michael Phelps knows that he’s not a rugby player, so you don’t see him competing on the pitch. Gabby Douglas isn’t a star sprinter or marathoner, so you’ll catch her on the uneven bars or the mat rather than on the track. And on and on and on. It’s completely fine to be really good at one or two things, or even sort of good at  several things, but we cannot all be everything to everyone. And it’s completely ok. We each have our strengths and weaknesses as parents, as adults. By working together, we form a great team that can accomplish amazing things.

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Life is a “marathon” of epic proportions

We often say that parenting is a marathon. And in this case the marathon is an Olympic sport too. But, what all of our Olympians have in common is that they put day after day after day in to get to be an elite athlete.  Not every race achieves a record or a medal. Some days, even Olympians fall. As parents, we all have good days and bad days. As hikers, good miles and bad miles. And, parenting is tough work. So what matters is that we stick with it, and keep going forward. (Not that we have the choice as parents!) But truly every day is a fresh opportunity to change the world, to teach our kids our values, to motivate them to keep hiking and to keep doing whatever it is they enjoy even if a few hard days hit periodically.

Diversity is a lot of fun

What better opportunity to learn about other people, other cultures, other foods (yum!), and how other people see the world than the Olympics! Parenting groups are often pretty homogenous – whether in ethnicity, in parenting philosophies, in goals. And that’s ok, because it’s natural to group together with people who share your way of thinking. But wouldn’t it be completely boring if we were all the same? We can’t always agree on everything… and that’s ok! The key is getting together to learn how other people do things, to learn how other people grew up, to understand that there are often multiple paths to the same goal.

So, as the world turns our eyes to Rio, maybe it’s a great time take a page from the Olympians book, and step out of your comfort zone to do something you might not normally do, and meet some new people. If you’re not outdoorsy, join a Hike it Baby outing. If you ARE outdoorsy, then consider spending a day with a parenting group at a Museum. You’ll gain some new experiences for yourself and your child and possibly meet some really cool people!

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We’re more similar than different

I just said that diversity is awesome, and when we discover that, we also learn that we’re all more similar than we are different. As parents, some of us work, some of us stay home. Some of us babywear, some of us don’t. Some of us co-sleep, while others push for independent sleeping from a young age. Some of us breastfeed and some of us formula feed. In the end, we all want the best for our kids. We all want them to grow up in a safe world and to be decent human beings. We want them to be happy and healthy.

And I think that’s the biggest single thing we can learn from the Olympics. It’s ok to recognize our differences, as long as we also are able to recognize our similarities. We are all just humans, on one earth, doing our level best to survive… and meet our goals, whether they be giving our children the best opportunities we can or pursuing Olympic dreams.

Photo Credit: Alhy Berry, Krystal Weir

Erin PenningsErin Pennings is a marketer by trade, and a work-at-home mom to an adventurous small boy who believes firmly in hitting the ground running and the walls climbing. Follow her adventures, fun feats, and tasty treats at SalmonAtSeven.com. Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook – @SalmonAtSeven.

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