There is something nearly all moms have in common. What? Mom guilt.
What is mom guilt?
Mom guilt is that pervasive feeling that you’re doing something wrong; that you aren’t being the best mom you can for your kid(s); that you are doing something that could “mess them up.”
My mom guilt happened immediately. I remember when my first, Eleanor, was only days old and I would feel guilty if I wasn’t giving her ALL my attention. She couldn’t even see, but I felt bad if I was on my phone or not reading something super stimulating to her.
I remember how terrible every attempted run was when she’d scream for me and my husband would unsuccessfully try to calm her down but she only ever wanted ME. Those runs were short and full of negative self-talk that I was being selfish to leave my baby so I could have time to myself (to feel normal after nursing her around the clock).
Related: Self-care tips for busy moms
Today, my mom guilt crops up with every decision I make. My son melts down because he doesn’t want to go to school. Am I an unempathetic mom because I send him? Am I a pushover mom if I keep him home? My daughter didn’t do well on her spelling test. Am I a disengaged mom because I didn’t push her to study more? Am I a helicopter mom because I helped her too much? A news story says toxic chemicals were found in organic baby food. I didn’t make our kids’ baby food because I wasn’t good at it and was working with little time. Am I a bad mom because I didn’t make their baby food? Am I a bad mom if I spent the time doing that instead of spending time playing with them?
Why do we have mom guilt?
We have mom guilt because we’re always in demand. Therefore, someone is always going to get the short end of the stick.
Our kids need us. And when they say they don’t need us, that’s when they need us the most. There is always something that needs to be done. And we have high expectations placed on us to do everything well. We need to be engaged, present moms while running a household, being a good partner, working, running, taking care of ourselves. Pretty much each role we play could be a full-time job in itself. And, we often find ourselves feeling like we are failing at everything and beating ourselves up about it.
(We are not alone. Just days after posting this, an academic study of mom guilt in marathon runners was published in the journal Leisure, highlighting potential coping strategies).
So, how do we stop mom guilt? How do we shed this feeling of stress and inadequacy and own that we are doing the best we can, and that’s more than okay?
I asked experts, fellow mother runners, and professional mother runners for their advice—and it’s good.
10 Ways to Get Rid of Mom Guilt
Think of yourself as a bank.
My mother runner friend and health and wellness coach, Rebecca Weinand, advises that in order to give to your kids and be the mother you want to be, you have to invest in yourself. And investing in yourself doesn’t withdraw from something else (like your kids). You’re just adding to the bank.
You’re investing in yourself so you can have more funds to pull from when the kids need to make a withdrawal from you. The danger comes when you try to give, and your balance is zero.
Run with other moms.
Indeed, the Leisure study by Dr. Corliss Bean found that having self-compassion is a key strategy in moving past mom guilt. By recognizing that others have this struggle and discussing it with other mother runners, you’re able to recognize you’re not alone. Additionally, running with other moms creates an extra community of support to help you deal with the negative feelings of guilt. Honestly, that is how I got the idea for this website. I started running with other moms and it helped my mom guilt so much to know I am not alone. Thus, I wanted to provide that support for others and The Mother Runners was born!
Remember you’re setting a positive example.
Rebecca also told me that taking time for ourselves to run is an important life lesson for your kids. A lesson in seeing it’s okay to do something you love, for yourself and by yourself. A lesson in how to set goals and work hard to reach them. A lesson in a healthy lifestyle. A lesson in learning healthy ways to manage stress and anxiety. A lesson in being their own person even if it’s different than what the rest of the family does. And a lesson in how we can all support one another in being who we are as individuals. As The Mother Runners’ co- coach Laura Norris says, “I frame it as, what behavior do I want my daughter to mirror?”
Getting your kids involved, whether it be by running with you, talking about your training, or going to races, helps the guilt. Dr. Bean’s study found that involving mother runners’ children as a source of support helped them to “not only feel less guilty for their involvement but also provided a way for reciprocal support in modeling a healthy behavior for their children.”
Remember running makes you a better mom.
Pro athlete and Ninja Warrior, Rose Wetzel, ditches mom guilt by remembering that “running makes me a better mom – happier, healthier, with more energy for my kid. When I come back from a run, my kid is rewarded with a mom that is more fun to be around. I run for me, and I run for my kid, too.”
Indeed, most mother runners employ this tactic. One mother runner shares, “I remind myself that’s okay to pick my son up 30 minutes later so that I can run and be more present with him.” Another mother runner shares, ” Every mile makes me a better mom.”
If you don’t take care of yourself and have “me time”, you’re likely to grow crankier and resentful as the day, or weeks, go on. Personally, as an introvert, I need that alone time daily or I get very unpleasant as the day progresses–getting frustrated every time I try do something for myself only to hear “MOM!!!!” repeatedly.
Prioritize your priorities.
We can’t do it all–even if we would like to. I want to be an amazing mom, dog mom, wife, daughter, friend, sister, etc. I want to build a successful business. I want to have a clean house. I want to qualify for the Olympic Trials. But I can’t go for gold in all of these things at the same time. There is a season for each. So, as my kids are little, they require most of my time and energy. The other priorities have to get in line behind them. One day I will have time to go on regular dates with my husband and work many hours to build my business. But not today. And that’s okay. Training for the Olympic Trials qualifier will happen in the near future but not today.
Nutritionist Kristy Baumann recently left her full-time job to build her own personal coaching business. While being a mom comes first, building her business comes second, and running is now taking a backseat so she can excel at those roles.
Anne M., of @margsandmarathons, has done an amazing job of balancing big running goals with her family and career roles. She suggests keeping a list of your priorities in life to maintain balance. Whenever you are feeling that mom guilt, look at that list.
Related: How to Set Running Goals in 2021
Listen to your guilt.
In the book, Emotional Agility, author Susan David advises listening to our guilt because it could be telling us something. Do you feel mom guilt because you believe your kids are watching too much screen time or you aren’t spending enough one-on-one time with your kids? Look at the facts and then reassess. If you’re running after work and school when you could be playing with your kids, what other options do you have?
Most mother runners prefer the early morning runs so that they don’t impact their family time. Indeed, that’s what former pro runner Sarah Brown does. Sarah aims to get her exercise done early in the morning before Darren leaves for work and her kids wake up. She has found that “If I can do something for myself that makes me feel good, then I can be better prepared for the things that motherhood brings that day.”
Other mother runners aim to get their kids outside every morning to ensure their needs are met so they can meet their own (guilt-free!) later in the day.
Look at the facts.
My mom guilt hits me whenever I’m not doing something directly with my children. I’m cleaning the house and my son is pleading that I play with him. I’m taking a shower and my daughter is watching her iPad. But, then I look at the facts. I played with my son for two hours at the park. Or, my daughter needs some relaxation time after school and gymnastics. The world does not revolve around your children, and they should know that. I often quote one of those Llama Llama books: “Llama Llama, what a tizzy. Sometimes mama’s VERY BUSY.”
Admittedly, there are times when I look at the facts and realize that I need to stop what I’m doing and refocus on my priorities. There are days when I’ve been busy and preoccupied and not fully present with my kids. Those are the days I have to really force myself to compartmentalize–forget the to-do list and focus on what’s most important to me: family. (If you want to know when you should actually feel mom guilt, check out this post by Carla over at theoldermom.com. Her 5 legitimate reasons will help you assess the facts.)
Psychologist Dr. Becky Kennedy advises trying to spend at least 10 minutes of completely engaged time with your kids in which you just sit with them, no phones, and let them direct the activity. This fills their cup and will likely replace your mom guilt with gratitude.
Related: 15 obstacles to exercise mother runners face & how to overcome them
Create a schedule.
That brings me to another point. It’s easy for priorities to get overrun by other less important priorities. There are so many times when I intend to sit on the floor and play Hatchimals or whatever with my kids, but then the dogs track mud throughout the house or the phone rings, or…
Have a set time you fully engage with your kids. This could be a small chunk of time daily, perhaps before you start making dinner. Or, it could be a regular weekly “date.” We don’t do this often enough, but my husband and I will split and spend one-on-one time with each of our kids and then switch it up the next day. Obviously, this works well because we have two kids, but you get the idea.
Also, scheduling time for your runs helps with mom guilt, according to Dr. Bean’s study. Mother runners who scheduled runs to have the least amount of impact on family time (like early mornings) felt lesser mom guilt.
Examine your expectations.
I fall victim to the epic to-do list. I always want to make sure I have a productive day, every day. This can lead to being distracted and stressed, and feeling like a failure. To avoid these negative feelings, write down your priorities and be honest about how much time you have to accomplish them. Build-in buffers to account for distractions. Ironically, as I was writing this sentence and getting ready to go run 17 miles, my son woke up early and sleepily climbed into my lap. I’ve (finally) conditioned myself to be okay with pushing tasks to tomorrow. The article and the long run can wait. Snuggle time won’t be there forever.
Create a “No Mom Guilt” Motto.
I have socks my friend gave me that say “You’re a good mom.” It’s kind of silly but I actually wear them a lot and appreciate the reminder. When mom guilt seeps in, tell yourself “I’m a good mom.” Sure, there will be times you make mistakes (wonderful teaching moments for your kids to learn that no one is perfect and saying sorry is important!) and there will be times that your priorities need to be rearranged. That’s normal!
If you’re reading this article wondering how you can be a better mom, then I can already tell you—YOU’RE A GOOD MOM.