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


Participants discussed several motivations for running, including checking something off their bucket list and having a hobby outside of their homes. However, the most prominent sub- themes included being motivated to run: (a) for one’s own physical and mental health, and (b) to model the importance of health for their children. Amy was motivated to continue to train when she was feeling guilty: “You have to remind yourself that it is for the greater good.”

Physical and mental health. A theme that emerged across several participants was the aspect of running that contributed to their physical and mental health. When asked about how she thought being a mother impacted her training, Natalie replied: “Positively. I know how important it is for me to have something for myself and to run, in terms of like my mood.my self-esteem and sense of fulfillment.” Having the opportunity to have time on their own was noted.

Charlotte’s husband encouraged her to take breaks to clear her mind and take time away from their son: “My husband will be like, ‘you need to go for your run, you need to get out, you need to clear your head and have a break from [child’s name].’ We called it a [child’s name] break.” Amy described the importance of having something for herself that also benefitted her family:

It’s just nice to have the thing that’s mine, right? I’m doing this for me, it’s for my health, I know that it’s making me a healthier person than I was before running. That’s going to be better in the long run for all of us.

Jennifer seconded the importance of the time she had to herself to train: “I’m so busy with everything else or everybody else’s schedule, it’s sort of like, you’re training, it’s like an appointment with yourself and you feel good and just hash it out on the pavement.” Feeling mentally well also emerged as an important component of mothers’ training because it offered them an opportunity to decompress and reflect: “The endorphins, you can’t really escape them, but it gives you that time to be on your own and to distract your mind with something else. Or gives you the opportunity to even reflect on something else” (Maria).

Running was also used as an outlet to work out problems or clear the minds of the participants. For example, Suzie stated:

As you get older, a lot of the reason why I think it is pretty common that a lot of people run is because it’s a good way to clear your mind and work out the problems that you’re having in your job and your life and you can think about whatever is going on and that helps to clear your mind, helps you figure out what you need to do to get over whatever challenges you’re dealing with in your life.

Some participants spoke of how they used running as a mechanism of weight loss. After having her first child, Maria noticed: “I gained a ton of weight. I looked at my physical fitness level where I’m like, ‘Whoa, okay, I need to get in better shape. What’s going to help me get in better shape? Running.'” Andrea spoke of a similar experience: “I just had the kids and for me, initially, it was just a way to get back into shape after having babies.” For Charlotte, the focus was not weight loss, but weight maintenance and mental health: “Keep my weight at a weight that I like to be at. Also, it’s a mental thing for me; it’s my escape. If I’m feeling stressed, that’s how I feel good.”

Finally, some participants also spoke of the importance of listening to their bodies, which contributed to their overall health. When their physical or mental health was suffering, they were less motivated to train. However, participants emphasized the importance of this toward their overall health and well-being, as sometimes running was not what their bodies needed. Charlotte advised that running mothers needed to listen to their bodies and be mindful of their needs:

Listen to your body; if you’re feeling like you need to sleep versus go out for that run, do it, because your body’s recovering from having a baby, your body is making milk, your body’s doing all those things; that’s a race in itself, right, that’s training on its own.

Challenges were interwoven within every theme and sub-theme, but illness and lack of sleep were challenges that impacted the participants’ physical and mental health. Although illness and lack of sleep are not unique to runners, these challenges were unique to the participants because of the impact their children’s illness and sleeping patterns had on the participants’ mental and physical health. Illness and lack of sleep impacted the participants’ training because they were mothers. For example, when asked about the challenges and barriers to training she experienced, Natalie reported one was when her child “has a fever or is teething, sometimes I don’t feel like running because we’re not sleeping because he’s been up.” Maria spoke to her concern of being caretaker if her children got sick the week before her event: “If the kids caught a cold and then I had to be the one helping nurse them back to health and that’s right before my run, there’s a good chance I’ll get an illness from them.” Charlotte recognized that lack of sleep may impact her event: “What if my body can’t hold up or if I don’t have a great sleep?”

Model the importance of health. Participants discussed being motivated to be positive models for their children because they believed it was important to emulate healthy behaviour. Amy acknowledged that she wanted to model a healthy lifestyle and show her children that “exercise is important and to try and work towards [being healthy].” Jennifer seconded that she wanted to be a model for her children:

You lead by example. If [my children] see me trying to be healthy or exercising, it becomes the norm. They’re busy with their sports as well, but.my kids will be there when I finish the run to see the accomplishment of it. That you’re working towards something, hard work pays off.

Another way participants modelled the importance of health was by bringing running into family life. Two participants spoke of wanting to show their children the positive side of running: “We’re trying to bring running into the family life.it’s a good thing and we’re using it as an active lifestyle piece, encouraging the kids to get involved so that they can realize that it’s a positive” (Maria), and “we’re doing a family [run] in August; it’s just a little film fest run and I’m bringing the kids and trying to start to get them to see what it’s all like. I think it’ll be fun” (Andrea). Two participants described how they wanted to get their children more involved with running by introducing them to running: “I’ve got them out to do a couple 1k things to see if it sparks any interest for them” (Amy) and, “I’d like to get them involved in [running] maybe in the next year. They’re seven now and they’re probably at a good age to get them involved” (Andrea). Maria reflected that running may become a family activity: “We signed them up for a little 1k[ilometre] and [name of child] started cross country and they still like doing it. It becomes a little bit of a family activity.”

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