Not too long ago I ended up in a puddle of tears on the couch of friend and psychologist Leigh-Anne.
I was exhausted and in a total state of burn out; battling insomnia and broken sleep with a miserable teething baby (who I was still nursing), struggling with stress at work, and parenting a “two-chebag”!
I was spread too thin and felt like there was just not enough of me to go around (and that’s saying something after two kids!). There was very little left of me for my husband and nothing left for myself at the end of the day.
It is well documented that regular exercise can have the same benefit as antidepressant medication and prioritizing exercise time was one of the strategies advised by Leigh-Anne.
But when she said, “you should start making some time for exercise”, what I heard was, “You should embark on a couch potato to marathon runner transformation attempt and blog about it”.
Despite taking her advice to extremes, it worked. I made some hard decisions and shifed my priorities. I started exercising out on the farm daily. Aside from the endorphines (happy hormones) it releases, I love the time outdoors in the sun and fresh air. The effect on my emotional well-being has been remarkable. It cleared my mind. So, naturally, “mom-guilt” came along to occupy that space and taint my new-found freedom.
Mom-guilt is corrosive. Literally. It breaks you down. If you don’t learn to grab hold of it and stop it in its tracks it can almost become a reflex! It does not appear to be some clever adaptation to make you a better mother and yet it is a burden all moms seem to bear.
This is possibly because it stems not from our DNA but from outside pressures and expectations of society, media, family and friends. As much as I was loving the new lease on life that exercise had given me, it felt selfish. It felt like I was taking away from my kids what was rightfully theirs: myself!
I asked for Leigh-Anne’s personal perspective on mom-guilt and some of the points she raised really resonated with me. So in her words, and mine, here are some of the truths you can tell yourself to quash feelings of mom-guilt before they start:
Running makes me nicer.
I am without question a better mother to my children and wife to my husband when I am taking time to look after my own mental and physical health. Always remember, “you can’t pour from an empty cup”.
It’s a way of reconnecting with my old identity
If exercise was part of your life before kids then it’s important to prioritize time for it after kids.
Before kids my husband and I entered, trained for and completed a half ironman. He, because he sensed he had untapped potential as and athlete, and I, because I have such intense FOMO! It was a great year spent out in the open running in the trees, riding mountain bikes and swimming in dams and the ocean. The health and fitness of this year was a very stark contrast to the next as I fell pregnant two weeks after race day and went from peak physical fitness to needing help climbing out the bath (side bar: hyperemesis is not for sissies). The running I am doing now is helping to bring back some of the youthful exuberance of my pre-babies self.
Parenting is all about modeling behaviour.
Your kids are watching your every move (toileting included) and they will learn to value health and physical fitness because of what they have observed in you.
Leigh-Anne sited the example of her daughter who has recently blossomed into athletic success at school. She hopes that this is, in part, a nod to all the years of watching her run. (My physio brain has its own suspicions that it may also be due to her outrageously long legs and slight frame- her mama can claim credit for that too!)
Sacrifice screen time to make space for your running
Reading on your phone devours time! I’m enjoying being made aware of my screen time habits with the new prompts and summaries on my Iphone. Ditching some screen time will mean you can enjoy more beneficial “me time”, like going for a run, without sacrificing time that would have been spent with your kids.
The real risk of mom guilt is that guilt (I feel guilty that I didn’t…) can so quickly become shame (I’m a bad mom because I didn’t…). We have to constantly remind ourselves that we are ENOUGH. You are the best mother your kids have ever had! Be real. Don’t hide or put extra pressure on yourself to maintain a facade for the benefit of those around you and to your own detriment. Let go of perfectionism. Look after your kids and love them unconditionally. And love yourself enough to look after yourself too.
Mama on the Run