Friday, September 2, 2011

Reflections on Running and Motherhood

Sunday morning dawns like any other Sunday morning (a non-racing Sunday, that is). Sunday is normally my rest day - at least I don't run - which means I can sleep in a bit, and I'm always home to wake-up my daughter. After a leisurely breakfast with the family, I'm off for a couple hours of climbing at the rock gym. My husband and daughter join me a bit later. My daughter climbs, swings on the ropes, slides down the slide, dances around, and just has fun as I do some easy cool downs. 

On this particular Sunday a large birthday party is in the making. The rock gym is a popular kid's party option. I recognize the birthday girl and her parents, though I can't quite place them. Over the course of the next 15 minutes, children stream into the gym. Before I notice, Sophia sees some of her friends - in fact, most of her neighborhood friends are attending this party of epic proportions. One friend invites her to join - but we do not really know the birthday girl - and Sophia has not been invited to the party. She gradually begins to sense that something is not right here. Why are all her friends invited? Why isn't she invited? For the first time ever, I feel like the worst mother in the world.

One of the moms, who is a friend of mine and the mother of one of Sophia's best friends, waves and tries to talk with me. I look her in the eye and say: "I hope you can understand that I need to get Sophia out of here NOW". She nods, understandingly, a tinge of pity in her eyes, as I whisk my sobbing 4 year-old away.


So what's the problem here? Why am I feeling like the worst mother in the world? Well, I am not your typical mother. Running sometimes, just sometimes, interferes with other activities - it sometimes means that my daughter and I don't do other things. Of course choices must be made constantly, but there is still this niggling concern that I'm somehow letting my daughter down and sacrificing her healthy and happy development all to allow me to squeeze in a couple more miles. Yikes, what could be more selfish, more unnatural!

I'm a fairly committed runner (if you tell me that I shouldn't go for a run I will kick you in the shin) and by some people's standards, I might be considered a 'bad' mother because I take important time for myself. Motherdom is full of martyrs. Though it's clear from the number of "mommy runner" blogs out there that I am not alone - yet, the question remains:  Can you be a committed runner and a good mother at the same time? Well, that all depends on how you define "good mother".

                 Sophia ready to roll. This is how we loved to spend our mornings.

My daughter is very aware that mommy loves to run - in fact mommy really has got to have her run. Perhaps it's the same for children of drug addicts - there's a kind of preternatural understanding that my daughter has. She doesn't question my desire/need to run - she sees this as natural - it's all she's known.  After all, she started running with me at 5 weeks old and I ran through most of my pregnancy.

Now here's the problem: One of the things (good) mothers do, that I'm really not so into, are playgroups. I would probably avoid them even if I didn't run, but running makes it tough to get to a 9 a.m. meeting without arriving a stinking, sweaty mess. When Sophia was younger, we were often out running together during playgroup time. Sometimes we would run to a playgroup, me pushing the blue BOB, Sophia reading and snacking and napping along the way. But I always felt that I somehow violated the other moms's sensibilities, or that I was a bit of a freak, an oddity - the other moms "Ooo-and- Aaaa" over my extraordinary feat of endurance and discipline - they often commented on how they could never find time to do such a thing -  I tried to fit in, but I just didn't.

I try to fit in, but I just don't.

I never really understood that this might be a big deal - at least for my daughter (I'm well aware of my own social awkwardness) - after all she's very social - she began school at 2 1/2 because she really wanted to go to school, and she has lots of friends. But on that Sunday morning I realized that running interfered with playgroup opportunities - and in American suburbia, playgroup culture is a big deal. Moms do "girl's/mom's night out", there's the group camping trips, and, of course, birthday parties. Sophia was not invited to this birthday party because I had neglected her playgroup social development. And here it was, for all the world to see. Oh, the shame of it.

Well, we all make choices. None of us can be and do all things, and so I must accept the choices I've made and make peace with them and understand that I am doing what I believe is best for my daughter.  I believe that I am setting a good example. I am taking care of myself and her. I want her to always care for herself as well as for those she loves. I want her to be strong, to pursue her passions, to decide how she wants to live her life. I do not want her to grow up to be a woman who sacrifices all of herself for others - that just hurts everyone involved.  I live according to my principles and values.  I'm not perfect, far from it, but I try my best - it's the best I can do - and I love my daughter to the moon and back.


  1. I 100%, I mean literally, 100% understand where you are coming from! I too often look at my kids and wonder where and how much I am short changing them with my own running goals and social awkwardness. I think your doing the best you can, the best you feel for your little one. Don't let the neighborhood, or world tell you differently! Keep your focusing on making your OWN family happy and healthy and then move on from there. I say, cheers to you!

  2. I have so been here. But your last paragraph says it all. You have to live what you believe and running is important part of who you are. Our children learn more from what we do than you might imagine. I am lucky to have older children (15 & 17) as well as a 5 year old. My older children look at me in a way other parents' kids do not look at them. They are not embarrassed by me in the way I thought they would be. They are proud of the things I do and what I stand for. I don't know if I noticed this in them when they were younger but I have certainly noticed it in my youngest. One of my favorite stories day I had done a long ride through the rain.I was literally soaking wet when I went to pick him up from school. I was embarrassed because I knew I looked horrible in front of these moms. Then Zane comes out and looks at me, looks at the other moms, looks back at me and says "Why didn't these other moms go for their run, mommy?" I was so proud to know he has been raised to believe that fitness is part of life. Thank you so much for sharing this with us.

  3. Technically all that social time with other kids also takes time away from mommy/daughter time. So, don't beat yourself up over it.

    Also, don't let someone else's insecurities stop you from running to play groups. If they can't understand that you love running the same way they love some other activity, then the fault is on them.

  4. Thanks for the comments! I don't intend to sound like I'm beating myself up over this. I'm not. It was a momentary thing that just gave me a little zing and got me thinking very clearly about why I do what I do with my daughter. Not that I hadn't thought about it - I have many, many times, and I make my decisions very consciously. I'm used to feeling odd around the other mothers - I fact, that seems to be my role now ;) Sophia ran a race this week and she showed such joy, determination, strength, and courage. That's all I need! Thanks for reading.

  5. Awesome post and thanks for sharing!

    Oh yeah, those playgroups...I tried one mommy and me group in the earlier years of my darling daughter's life. I didn't fit it. The moms just wanted to chat about "silliness" while kids ran crazy. Hmmmm....did I shortchange my daughter by abandoning that attempt? I hope not. She gets social interaction in preschool and has been in daycare since she was 4 months (although she just recently started going to school 5 days a week versus 2).

    Perhaps I am just justifying why it is okay to not do the playgroup as she gets exposure to peers. But I can't overlook her being "mad" at me since I didn't take her to my last race and her non-stop support of my running. Last night she went on and on detailing how she will cheer me on for the marathon, that I will do fine, that she will give me high fives at the end, and will be waving her American flag. (P.S. to me, find that flag!)

  6. I am pretty sure the fit, secure, confident, and independent daughter you're raising will forgive you for not getting to go to all the birthday parties. Those sorts of contrived social functions are certainly not critical to a child's development. Keep up your good work.
    I have 4 kids. My wife and I both have to work. There is no way we could do everything we'd like to for them. It is a dilemma parents have faced from the beginning of time. But kids eventually understand, and the ones that turn out the best aren't the ones who go on to credit all the playgroups they went to as the reason for their success. They credit the love, work ethic they were taught, and support from their parents, and we have those to give in unlimited supply.
    Enjoying your blog.

  7. Thanks Terry - and I agree - an both my husband and I have to work as well, but I find that people understand that (sometimes) more than our commitments to other areas of our lives. Many mother's (on Mamapedia) assumed that I didn't spend time with my daughter - that I just ran and had/have an addiction problem! I spend oodles of time with my daughter - but people tend to see things as all-or-nothing. I've been accused of being selfish, obsessed, and even negligent because I run. I'm okay with that. But somehow parents who spend all their time shopping, fixing-up the house/yard, watching TV sports...those parents are not seen as selfish. I beg to differ.

  8. I have a 19 year old...and I've been there. I think you are doing a good thing, and, like you, I feel very strongly that taking time for my self, makes me a better mother. Besides, in your case, your child has another parent who can spend time with her, it's not as though she's being neglected. I think that DADS should step up to this more. You don't really hear fathers beating them selves up for pursing hobbies.

    I think you are doing a good thing, showing your daughter that she can be different, not fit in, and STILL BE HAPPY. I also don't fit in in the "play group" scene (I was a teen mom, and now, a single working mom). My daughter (9) complains some times that she wishes we were "like a normal family" but then we do something like, attend a Renaissance Festival in costume, or LARP, and she remembers that being different is fun too.

  9. Back-reading your blog and came upon this article.

    At odd times, out of the blue, while driving somewhere or other, I've asked my wife if I've been the Dad our children needed me to be. (The 5 of them are all in their mid-20s, live outside the home, each very unique, each have happy hearts.) She tells me I have been and it reassures me -- for a bit. But I'll ask it again -- internally more than externally. Maybe it's the nagging question that will plague me until my children lay me to rest.

  10. Ken - I believe that's natural for anyone who really, really cares. I believe most parents do the best they can do given what they are and are not able to control. It is so difficult to know how you effect your children. I just try, as I said above, to set an example for my daughter - to show her an example of a good life - to try to live a good life, one filled with passion and energy and values and love and joy. Above all else, my daughter knows that I love her to pieces - and that I would and will do anything I can for her (which sometimes means not doing what she wants me to do ;) What more can I do? I think we all look for someone to tell us that we're okay, that we're doing a great job (parenting and otherwise) - but the fact is that we have to know within ourselves that we did what we could and do what we can. I think, if we really look inside, we know when we've fallen short - and of course that too is part of the whole process.
    You sound like a good, caring, concerned father to me ;)

    Have you asked your kids your question?

  11. Caolan -- Directly asked Ruth, at the bottom of the stairs to the chapel on her wedding day; we had 10 minutes of "us" time, waiting to walk her down the aisle. "Of course, Dad," she says with a smile, "Now watch what you say or I'll cry and my makeup will run." We giggled and I kissed her.

    And you're right, when I really look inside, or better yet outside at my children and who they've become, I know the answer to the question. You sound like a mom your daughter will admire.

  12. Great post. I always run on Sunday mornings, and I often wonder if I shouldn't spend time with my family on that day… But it's the only day of the week I can squeeze my long run in!

    Mom's Home Run

  13. Caolan -- I love this post. I think we all have different drivers, yours is obviously running. I also think that the best we can do by our children is to show them that we are true to those passions, those things that drive us (which is what you've said), and in that, they learn so much about values, being true to yourself, and valuing your own spirit. One of mine is people. I love being with people. I'm that Moms' Night Out/Girls' Night Out Mom. My husband is the same way. We love the dialogue. We love the interaction. So at the end of our busy week when we are saying that we are exhausted and it's been a crazy week, and then in the same breath we say, "Let's have a dinner party" and end up with 10 people over the next night, we're being selfish because we aren't spending time with our kids in a "family night" sort of way. But we are also showing them hospitality, we are teaching them about the exchange of ideas and how to accept another's view of the world. I guess my point is that I agree with you wholeheartedly about what is important to teach our kids, regardless of how we teach it: follow your passion, be true to yourself, honor yourself by making time for the things that fill you up, and share your love of whatever those things are with others, so that we may all learn from one another and honor each other for our uniqueness.

    Now. GNO? I'd love to chat more with you! :-) I'd meet you where you are by saying "Let's go for a run together" but that would be an epic fail on my part.


  14. Caolan

    I also know exactly what you are talking about. I think there is something to be said for balance. As mothers, we often put our kids needs/wants/desires ahead of our own. But, if we give and give and give and give, we'll empty our own well. Sometimes, we need time to ourselves. I see my run time (whether it's a long run by myself or a stroller run with the girls) as invested time for me. I feel like a better mother after a run. I feel like I have more patience and am better equipped to deal with the frustrations of being a parent. Plus, I think you make a good point at the end: kids need to learn balance. Sometimes, I put the kids wants first. But, sometimes, they get to chill in the stroller BEFORE we play at the park, since Mommy wants to get in a run!

    PS: We're in HW too - I think we met at the Another Mother Runner party. If you're ever up for a run (and our schedules coincide!) let me know!


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