They don’t tell you about the guilt… All those ante-natal classes and the endless advice of strangers in the excitement of anticipated parenthood… They talk about birth choices, pain killers, nappies and baby clothes, yet what everyone fails to mention is the change that is most overwhelming for all new parents. The ensuing 18 (at least) years of factoring another small human into every single decision you make: whether to return to work, to go out for a drink with friends, even whether it’s worth making that cup of tea as you won’t be able to drink it without interruption. And throughout all these decisions runs the same thread of guilt; am I doing the right thing for that tiny miracle who now depends on me?
It is no different when it comes to running once a small person is also involved. I have lost count of the number of conversations I have had with Mum friends about the difficulty of fitting in running among the commitments of family life. Gone is the ability to look out of the window at that glorious blue sky and pull on your trainers on a whim; now fitting running into your life requires the logistical precision of a military operation, carefully timed around school runs, work schedules and ferrying children to a seemingly endless series of clubs. And, as in so many of the decisions once you have children, guilt continues to rear its ugly head. Am I being selfish to be out running in the morning and not there to get my children ready for school; is it selfish to disappear for a Saturday to run a marathon and miss a precious day of family time? In deciding to challenge myself with my Footsteps of the Fallen Run next year, the biggest obstacle has been overcoming my own guilt at leaving my children for two weeks, even though I know they will be well looked after by their Dad and grandparents while I am away.
However, despite the guilt I know that running makes me a better Mum. It provides that all important time and space for yourself that is so precious as a mother. Getting outside in the fresh air provides a rare moment of freedom from responsibility, a time to live in the moment and appreciate the simplicity of putting one foot in front of the other.
Running also provides me with an outlet to be ‘me’ and not just ‘Isaac and Emma’s Mum’. It gives me a channel for my own goals and ambitions and an opportunity to focus on my own needs. It makes me happy and is good for my health and self-esteem, something that ultimately benefits the whole family. It is so much easier to deal with the everyday trials and tribulations of family life when you are fortified by a good shot of those running endorphins in the morning. Becoming fitter and stronger also makes it easier to keep up with my two small bundles of energy and deal with the physical burden of childcare.
Running allows me to be a positive role model for my children, teaching them that being fit and active is a normal part of everyday life. They are learning about developing healthy bodies that are fit and strong enough to achieve their physical goals and about the importance of eating healthily to give their body the right fuel. There are no shortcuts in running, it is the ultimate demonstration of how hard work and sacrifice allow you to achieve your goals.
Yet, despite understanding all these rational arguments, I still frequently feel the stirrings of Mum-guilt. Only this morning, I was about to head out of the door for my 6am run, when I heard the ominous pad-pad of little feet on the upstairs landing… I felt extremely guilty as I left my husband to sort things out and shot out of the door anyway, but as I started my run in the cold air, smoky breath rising in clouds above my head and the sky pinking to a flaming sunrise, I felt the joy of living in the moment, focusing on the rhythm of my feet, my own body and thinking about the challenges I am setting myself for the future. There were no demands for my attention, help, or skills to referee an argument about who uses which colour cup; this was time for me to devote to myself and to become not only a stronger runner, but a better parent in the process.
I remind myself that feeling that guilt in every aspect of life is an unavoidable part of being a Mum. Ultimately, feeling guilty makes you a good parent, because it shows that you care! So Mums (and Dads), next time you struggle to find the right balance between running and family life, make sure you remember all the positive aspects that your run brings to the whole family too!