Last Updated on January 30, 2022 by Heather Hart, ACSM EP, CSCS
Moms, let’s talk about something that sometimes hurts. It’s more painful than inner thigh chafing, more agonizing than the thought of a lactate threshold test. (Ask my clients – those things are painful.) Hell, it’s even more stressful than getting caught in a long line of runners on a single track trail when you are trying to beat a time cutoff. It’s running mom guilt: the anxiety and remorse running moms often feel for taking time away from their family to train or race.
Sometimes, the guilt is self inflicted. Other times, it’s imposed by family, friends, or society’s expectations of mothers as a whole. Nevertheless, the emotional struggles running moms face can negatively affect a mother’s ability to reach her running or fitness goals.
My personal timeline as a runner and as a mom go hand in hand. I started running seriously 6 weeks after my oldest son was born. My kids were raised in jogging strollers, learning how to ring cowbells at the same time they were learning to walk. Mom going for a run at any given time of the day is nothing out of the ordinary for my kids. They know that a running mom is a happy mom.
Yet still, despite my running being a very regular and normal part of our family life, I have not escaped the runner mom guilt. The fear that my time away from my kids to do something so inherently selfish (in theory) will somehow harm my kids emotionally. The nagging voice inside of my head that says maybe I could accomplish something more productive for my family with my time, rather than spending 3 hours on a Saturday morning running.
I’m certain I’m not alone in these feelings.
The Truth About Running Mom Guilt:
But why does this guilt happen? And do running dads feel the same? In so many online forums, I’ve read discussions regarding the discrepancy between expectations of moms and dads, when it comes to racing and training. No one seems to bat an eye when a dad takes time away from his family to run or race, but when a mom does it, bystanders are quick to butt in with “but who is watching the kids when you run?” types of comments.
Indeed, people are quick to blame the differences in expectations between moms and dads on our society as a whole, and I can certainly see why: the expectations vary greatly, there is no denying that. That said, I truly do believe that some of the running mom guilt we tend to feel is self imposed.
You see, mothers are inherently selfless. From the day they look into the eyes of their first born child, a mother instantly puts their needs second behind their beautiful new child. It’s a primal instinct, displayed by mothers of all animal species. A mother will go without to make sure their kids needs are met…and sometimes will go without simply to go over and above what their child requires.
But while this selflessness is indeed instinctual, it may not always be for the best…for mom OR the kids. Case in point: exercise. Or more specifically, finding the time to do it.
5 Reasons to Ditch the Running Mom Guilt:
As a fitness professional, I work with new (and experienced) moms all of the time. Hands down the number one issue moms have when it comes to fitness, running, or training for a race, is finding the time to fit in their workouts. As to be expected (and as already mentioned) moms tend to put their family’s needs first. There’s chauffeuring kids to and from school or sports practice, never ending housework and chores, crying babies that can’t be put down, doctors appointments, and not to mention the fact that so many of us also work to help support the family financially. The list goes on and on. Mom’s needs come last, and if they don’t, there is often a lot of mom-guilt felt.
But it shouldn’t always be that way. Taking the time out of your busy day to put in a training run doesn’t make you a selfish mom. If anything, it can make you a BETTER mom. And here’s how:
You’ll be happier.
Ever heard the saying “when mom is happy, everyone is happy”? (Related: have you ever heard the saying “running is cheaper than therapy?”) Well, it’s true. (Both statements.)
Exercise, especially running, is a proven stress fighter and mood stabilizer (you know: “The Runner’s High”). You’ll be able to handle the next toddler or pre-teen disaster without literally crying over spilled milk. Running is also an amazing confidence booster. I know I can’t be the only mom who fears I’m doing absolutely everything wrong, and wondering how I’m even allowed to be in charge of these little people, when I have no idea what I’m doing. After a good run, however, I’m supermom once again, able to tackle mom duties confidently with my head held high.
You’ll be healthier.
You are there for your kids today, but do you think about being there for them in another 10, 15, or 20 years? The future is never guaranteed, so it is important to take care of your body NOW, before it’s too late. Regular exercise like running provides countless benefits. Lowered risk of heart disease (the number one killer of women in the United States), lowered risk of cancers, lowered risk of type two diabetes, lowered risk of osteoporosis…the list is endless. Sacrificing short periods of time away from your kids now to get exercise will help ensure you get MORE time with them in the future. Trust me, they’ll appreciate that gift more in the long run (pun totally intended).
You’ll be stronger.
When my kids were babies, I used to joke that I was glad I worked out regularly, because it made toting a toddler on my hip that much easier. These days, my pre-teen/teenage boys no not need mom to pick them up anymore. But you should see me carry ALL of the groceries up three flights of stairs in one single trip. I am physically self sufficient, which only makes me a better, more confident mom.
You’ll sleep better.
Let’s not beat around the bush: sleep is one of the most elusive necessities in a parent’s world, no matter how old your kids are. Regular exercise has been proven to help you fall asleep faster and sleep more soundly. And regular, restful sleep will make you happier, stronger (as your body recovers and rebuilds from your workouts during the night), and healthier. Do you see this great pattern going on here?
It’s good to spend time apart.
From a social and developmental point of view, it is really good for your kids to learn not only how to be away from you, but how to interact with other trusted adults. The saying “it takes a village to raise a child” was coined for a reason; everyone contributes to the growth and well being of your child differently . So instead of feeling guilty for spending time away from your kids, think of the quality Dad/Aunt/Grandparent etc. time they are getting instead. Distance makes the heart grow fonder, after all .
But, the one that is most important in my opinion…
Your kids are watching you.
It’s true, believe it or not. Even though it may not seem that way when you may have to repeat to your kid one hundreds times to turn off the TV and clean his room, your kids ARE listening and watching every little thing you do. When you take the time for yourself to go for a run, you are teaching your kids countless valuable lessons, such as:
- the importance of making time for yourself
- the value of self care
- the importance of exercise
Your kids will witness first hand the sacrifice and payoff that comes with setting, training for, and achieving a goal. Don’t just talk about these important life lessons with your kids, SHOW THEM.
And then let them follow.
Just because you are mom does not mean your wants and needs must always be at the bottom of the totem pole. Set a great example for your children by showing them that not only is your health a priority, but you as a women respect yourself enough to make YOURSELF a priority as well. I promise you, this is a valuable lesson for your kids…and a worthy sacrifice on everyone’s part.
Heather Hart is an ACSM certified Exercise Physiologist, NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), UESCA certified Ultrarunning Coach, RRCA certified Running Coach, co-founder of Hart Strength and Endurance Coaching, and creator of this site, Relentless Forward Commotion. She is a mom of two teen boys, and has been running and racing distances of 5K to 100+ miles for over a decade. Heather has been writing and encouraging others to find a love for fitness and movement since 2009.