Home Couples & Family Psychology Mom Guilt: Exploring the Experiences of Being a Mother and Training for and Running Marathons II: Results and Discussion

Mom Guilt: Exploring the Experiences of Being a Mother and Training for and Running Marathons II: Results and Discussion

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A single bird soaring above the water


Self-compassion was a theme that emerged related to participants being compassionate to themselves in instances of perceived inadequacy or challenge. This sub-theme emerged when participants spoke of dealing with identity challenges, motherload, and guilt. Although Charlotte struggled to leave her child to train, she reminded herself that she chose to run for enjoyment:

At the end of the day, no one’s holding a gun to my head and telling me ‘you have to go out and do this’-this training or that running-I’ve chosen to do this, I’ve picked this. We’re lucky to be able to do this.

The theme of self-compassion was represented by three sub-themes: (a) common humanity, (b) self-kindness, and (c) mindfulness.

Common humanity. The participants spoke of compassion for other mothers who were struggling with the same identity and role-related challenges. Participants spoke of feeling a sense of unity and found comfort in recognizing that they were not suffering alone. Amy described that not only was avoiding putting a lot of pressure on herself helpful while training for her half marathon, but also was knowing that people she trained with had similar experiences: “You hear the other moms talking about the things that they’re juggling, and you know, we’re all doing the same thing.” Although not mother-related, Charlotte recognized that other people she raced with were “going through that same struggle” during a race.

Furthermore, common humanity was represented by friends coming together to support one another, rather than experiencing these challenges in isolation. Instead of being self-critical, Leigh and her friend put a positive spin on having children who were sick: “My kid was sick a lot and a friend of mine, her kid was sick a lot; we both went back and forth saying ‘it’s making us stronger.'” Andrea practiced common humanity by discussing the idea of guilt with the other mothers in her running group: “A lot of us do feel that mom guilt and we feel like we compensate. It’s not that we feel better if we do more of the work, it’s just we compensate.” Here, Andrea recognized that she was not the only mother who felt the need to compensate for the time she is away from her family.

All participants acknowledged that being a mother came with challenges. Two participants pointed out that mothers needed to take breaks: “Moms have to make the time for themselves. They can’t be with their kids 24/7. They need their own thing” (Amy) and

There’s also just being a mom and needing some time to yourself and having your own time. It’s even more important when you’re a mom because so much of your life is devoted to being everything to your kids, so having time to yourself, to work on yourself is really important. (Suzie)

Self-kindness. Many participants expressed an understanding toward themselves in believing they felt worth the work for their training. This self-kindness created space for self- care and time to themselves. Charlotte acknowledged that she deserved time and activities for herself: “I’m like, I’m worthy of this. I deserve this. I can still be a really amazing mom and do these things.” Natalie also spoke to the self-care aspect of self-kindness and recognized that it can be difficult finding time to train as mom, but adopted a positive mindset: “Whatever little trick that you can do to make it like a time of self-care or a time of a lot of enjoyment or socializing.” Jennifer also commented on the importance of finding time for yourself: “I always found that running was ‘me time’ or it was like a scheduled appointment with myself and I think that’s important to a mom; to make sure they take time for themselves; self-care is important.”

Mindfulness. More than half of the participants expressed using mindfulness as a mechanism to be gentle with themselves, and worked to complete their training and competitions in positive mind-frames. Mindfulness was expressed by participants through appreciating that running was an optional leisure activity: “l get to be out there, and l get to hit that wall and l get to feel all of those things” (Charlotte). Similarly, Maria explained how mindfulness enabled her to show self-compassion after a long day:

I picked up the kids at 6:15. By the time I brought the kids home, it was 6:30, but I’m like ‘I can go and try and rush a run right now, but I haven’t had the proper amount of nutrition in me,’ I’ve been on the go, go, go at work today, but it’s giving myself the permission to then go, ‘okay, I’ll just go out tomorrow.’

Participants used adjectives such as ‘fortunate’ or ‘luck’ to describe their gratefulness for running and the flexibility they had within their work and family lives that allowed them to be able to train regularly. When Leigh experienced mental and physical challenges during training, she reminded herself that: “I’m pretty aware that I’m lucky to be running.”

Natalie acknowledged that parenting was the most difficult part of her life and she tried to remind herself that running needed to be enjoyable:

I remind myself it’s supposed to be fun and if that means today, if I want to cut it a bit shorter or I want to stop, I try to appreciate it and make it fun for myself, if I can. Like, stop and take pictures of the sunset or sunrise, bring my dogs for the last little bit, or make sure that I’m listening to funny podcasts. I try to make sure I always frame it as a positive thing and not something that I have to go out and do.

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