Female runners are amazing creatures. Our ability to accomplish unthinkable feats of endurance is only limited by our imagination. Perhaps because we are designed to have children and therefore bear intense pain to gain our most precious rewards, women are able to suffer in a way that I don’t believe many men can quite understand. This allows women to accomplish goals with remarkable strength and success.
I have been spending a lot of time thinking about this lately since I am away from my family while I pursue a leadership goal. While I am motivated, proud, and passionate about the goals I set, it can be hard to not feel guilty all the time. I do not think this guilt is limited to mothers, but I do believe it is exacerbated for mothers because of cultural expectations that mothers be the primary caregiver. While juggling motherhood, a career, and a time-consuming hobby (like ultra running), the guilt can pile up quickly.
I feel guilty for taking time to go running. I feel guilty that I am not the kind of mom that puts my kids ahead of everything else even my own needs. I feel guilty that I get up before my kids and I am not there when they wake up. That dad or grandma meets them when they get up because I am out running. I feel guilty that I work all day and my hobby involves running 12-15 hours a week.
But I have a confession….No matter how guilty I feel, I still do it and I don’t want to change. What is wrong with me?
FACT – There is nothing wrong with me. In truth, I am a better role model for my children because I pursue my dreams relentlessly. I am teaching them how to chase goals against all odds. I provide examples of self care and self love. I show them that balancing life doesn’t always mean perfect equilibrium. Rather, a life full of passion and dreams is often unbalanced at different time and in different ways and that is okay.
To help mitigate this imbalance, I have developed some strategies. While it’s not perfect, it works for me and my family:
Rise early and run before the kids get up – Except on my long run days, I am almost always home shortly before or after they wake up. This strategy makes it easier to maximize my time with them and not be thinking all day about when I will get to run.
When WITH the family be WITH the family – Usually evenings after work are my family time. I get my workouts in early so we can play board games, eat dinner together, or watch a family movie at night. But the rule of thumb is when I am with them – be present. Put away the smart phone, leave work at work, and engage.
Mix socializing with running – I don’t have many friends who aren’t runners because most of my social time is done on the run. Finding time for friends and a hobby that takes a lot of time is almost impossible. But combining the two makes both friendships and running a lot more fun.
Employ a bike riding companion – While my boys can’t go for a 6 mile run with me, they can ride their bikes along side. It is a great way to explore together and helps them get exercise and build healthy habits of their own.
Explore ways to make it a family affair – There are lots of ways to involve kids in the running community. We find fun runs like a Slip’n’Slide 5K or a Foam Glow 5K to do as a family. Or during races, my kids help crew me or my husband or volunteer at aid stations. They love offering a helping hand and they are learning about service to others. And nothing is sweeter than having my kids hold my hand while I cross a finish line.
Marry an ultrarunner who doubles as a stay-at-home dad – This might not be possible for everyone, but I am extremely blessed with a spouse that understands and supports my compulsion to run AND stays at home as the primary caregiver of our kids. It doesn’t lessen my guilt, but it does reassure me that my guilt is entirely in my own head!
At times, I get the sad eyes and request, “Mommy do you really need to run again” and once or twice I have a skipped a run if they genuinely need me. But more often than not, once I lace up and am out the door, the boys are off enjoying their own adventures. I have learned that I am always with them even when I am not there. I ask myself what version do I want them to see – the sad bitter person who threw aside my own needs and dreams or the strong woman who overcomes great odds to accomplish amazing feats? It is a question that is easily answered.
The journey continues…..