The first time I started marathon training was in January 2020. I was well into it when I decided to stop because of the pandemic. Something I never shared at the time was a letter we found from my then 7-year old daughter. Actually my dad found it and it said something like “Mummy is always running.” Admittedly, before we found this letter she had asked questions like – “Do you have to run today?” “Why do you have to run all the time?” So I guess her note wasn’t a complete surprise but seeing those words written down shook me. I sat on the couch and cried. So many emotions swirled around in my head, the most prominent being guilt. Was I selfish for running? How could I have made her feel this way? Was I not spending enough time with my kids? Had I become a bad mum? Should I stop running? How do I stop something that has so improved my health and happiness? Guilt, anger, sadness, confusion – I felt it all.
How To Deal With Running Mum Guilt
Remind Yourself Why You Run. Before I started running, I’d reached a point where I was unhealthy and it was affecting my physical and mental wellbeing. Being unhealthy was not helping me and it certainly wasn’t helping my kids so something had to change. Even though I was always with my kids, I wasn’t always present – I had started getting quite impatient, I was sometimes quite resentful and was generally not very happy with who I was becoming. Running changed that. It made me feel healthier, happier and stronger as a person and as a mum. A run (and break from the kids) usually leaves me feeling rejuvenated, energetic and cheerful. I can honestly say that running has helped me be the mum I always wanted to be.
Have A Conversation With Your Child. For my daughter to have written that note, there was clearly something that was bothering her. I knew how important running was to me but dismissing her feelings was just not an option. So although it was hard, I needed to have a discussion with her. Some of the things that came out were that she wanted me to play more board games with her like my mum used to do, she didn’t like it when I ran for too long and she didn’t like me running when we were on holiday. It was a very mature discussion and I had to stop myself from being too quick to defend myself. I listened for most of the discussion and asked questions to get a better understanding of what she was feeling. At the end, I thanked her for being so open and honest. I then took some time to explain why I run but I also promised to play more with her and to adjust my running times so it didn’t feel like I was always running.
Find Options That Work For Both Of You. Up until this point, I had prided myself on being an expert at the balancing game. But clearly my daughter’s note was a sign that I needed to adjust something. I was doing most of my runs in the late afternoons as my mornings were for getting the kids ready for school, packing lunch boxes and then getting myself ready for work. But I decided to change my routine so I could go for a run as soon as the kids set off for school with my husband. This means that now many of my runs actually take place when they aren’t there and it frees up my evenings for more quality time with them. If I’m forced to run in the evenings, I put more effort into organising fun activities for them to do while I’m out. And if ever there is a time either one of them needs me, I simply skip my run. For my weekend long runs, they are usually with their grandparents which has also helped to nurture those relationships.
Include Them Where You Can. I’ve found it’s so important to include fitness as part of your family lifestyle and discuss it in more depth here. At least once a week, I take the kids for a cycle while I run or we go for a walk together, often in the neighbourhood but sometimes we venture further afield to the Sebele Agricultural Grounds, trails around the Block 10/Airport area as well as Oodi and Kgale which are great hills for hiking. More recently, I’ve included them for the first 2km of some of my runs. It serves as a nice warm up for me and is good exercise for them. At the end of these sessions, we always feel happier, healthier and closer as a family.
Always Remember You Are A Positive Role Model. Our kids don’t always appreciate what goes on behind the scenes – getting them ready for school, school and afternoon activity runs, checking homework, helping with school projects, organising playdates, preparing healthy meals, all while working to pay for it all. So it becomes easy for them to complain that we’re not doing enough! But one of the key responsibilities we have beyond all the practical stuff is to be positive role models in their lives. Keeping fit and healthy is one area where we can show them by our very example how to do it. Being active is then seen as normal and not some foreign concept. And running is not just about the running is it? They see all that comes with it – the commitment, the hard work and determination to get it done, even on your worst day. These days if I skip too many runs, my kids are the first to ask when I’m going for a run again.
Unfortunately, guilt is something mothers all over the world struggle with. We are harshly judged by society, work colleagues, friends, our children, family and sadly even by other mothers. But perhaps, we are our own harshest critics. In our pursuit of being super-mum, we’re often left frazzled, unhealthy and unhappy. But to be good mums, we have to take care of ourselves. So when guilt creeps in, keep reminding yourself why you run, how it makes you feel and how it benefits both you and your children. But also make sure that you have regular conversations with your kids where you are also open to taking feedback from them.
Spending some time on YOU, keeping yourself fit and healthy, both physically and mentally, doesn’t make you selfish, it makes you a better mum. If you’ve been struggling with running mum guilt, I hope my story and these pointers help you in some way.
Do you get running mum guilt? What ways do you deal with it? Let me know in the comments!
I’m joining Kooky Runner and Zenaida on their link up, Tuesday Topics. I’m also joining the Runner’s Roundup with Mile By Mile, Coach Debbie Runs, Confessions of a Mother Runner, Runs with Pugs, and Laura Norris Running! Be sure to read their blogs and catch up with other runners from around the world.