Urban Dictionary defines “Mom Guilt” as, “Guilt a mother feels anytime she takes time to do something for herself, outside of work, that does not involve her children.”
Yep—mom guilt is a real thing, and it’s one of the top reasons women give for not getting enough exercise. For some reason, we tend to think that taking an hour or two for ourselves is selfish—even when it’s doing something that will improve our health and quality of life. Personally, I’ve never really bought into “mom guilt” because I know that I am a better mom when I get a little “me” time. But then I started training for my first triathlon last spring and things changed.
Between my two teen-aged boys, my husband, my full time job, and working out 4-5 times a week, my plate was pretty full already. But when I decided to hire a coach and tackle a tri---my life went into overdrive! My training schedule was strict and included two-a-day workouts, and weekends filled with long runs and bike rides. I was gone—a lot. I missed meals with my family—a lot. I was exhausted—a lot. After a few months of this—the mom guilt began to set in. So, I sat my kids down to have a heart to heart about my absence and what I learned surprised me.
First, my kids understood that this was a temporary thing. I had a goal and I was working my tail off to reach it. There was an end date in sight. Next, they told me they were inspired by the fact that I had learned to swim at the age of 45. It made them feel like they could try things that scared them and succeed. They were also becoming more conscious of their own habits. They were eating better and working out on their own. My oldest is now one of my favorite gym buddies and my youngest likes to join me for cycle classes. But my biggest takeaway was that they were fine and that they were proud of me. They cheered me on throughout the experience with “you’ve got this mom,” and “you’re gonna’ do great.” My oldest even helped out by joining me at the pool and timing my swim laps. And of course they were both there at the finish line, yelling and clapping.
So what I realized from the experience is this: our kids are watching us—closely. And while they benefit immensely from our attention and our presence, they also benefit by watching us value ourselves as individuals with our own interests and goals. They benefit from watching us try new things. They benefit from watching us get discouraged and seeing how we handle failure and setbacks. And, by patterning healthy habits and behaviors, we encourage them to make good choices in their own lives. So, the bottom line? Ditch the mom guilt and take that time to nurture yourself. Your kids will thank you in the long run. Here are a few things that have worked for me over the years when it comes to finding that “me” time:
The Baby Stage: Put them in a stroller and go for a walk or run.
The Toddler to School Age Years: If your gym has childcare—use it! If not, find a friend and take turns watching each other’s kids for an hour or so while you work out.
The Pre-Teen and Teenage Years: Find an activity that your kids will enjoy too. There are lots of family friendly organized runs, bike rides, and even triathlons that the whole family can participate in.