The Mom Guilt is Real

By Jill O'Mahony

(Jill and her friend Carolynn with their children and trophies after a race in Hong Kong)

I wasn’t a runner when I had my daughter, but I started the couch to 5k a few months after she was born. I was cleared to run and she was old enough to be in an infant insert inside our clunky jogging stroller/bike trailer. I would get home from work, change, set that contraption up and go out for 5km or 30 minutes just to have some ‘alone’ time and it soothed my soul after a day at work. It was easy then, there was no mom guilt, she was with me.

Fast forward a few years and we’ve shifted to Hong Kong and I’ve been shown the delights of the trails. They swiftly become my happy place, what keeps me in the right mental state. I didn’t work when we first relocated and the idea of having a helper was so bizarre a concept we didn’t even explore that option. So my husband would work all day and I would be home with a small human all day. I was like a puppy dog waiting at the door when he returned. I wasn’t comfortable as a stay at home mom. I felt guilty then that I didn’t love every second of it. I was constantly being told how fortunate I was to be able to be home, to not necessarily have to work. I felt ashamed that I didn’t relish being a stay at home mom. I love routine, I love to work, I loved having a job be part of my identity, and I also need my alone time. I found the alone time on the trail and I was lucky enough to find a great job once my daughter started school.

(Jill with supportive mother friends & family hike in Australia)

The mom guilt now took a different form. If I made the choice to run for an hour after work, then I wasn’t making the most of the time I could spend with my daughter. However, if I skipped the run, I was a snarky, snippy mom that I didn’t want to be. It’s always so hard to find the balance. I sought company on the trails and would invite other moms along in the hopes that we could commiserate. Some would jump at the opportunity for an hour or two on the trails to alternately complain about life or possibly talk through problems, either way, these runs left me feeling like I solved something and ultimately felt ten pounds lighter.

Other times I would invite friends who would respond with things like “I’m spending time with my kids/family this afternoon” I don’t think anyone ever meant to make me feel guilty that I was not doing that, but words matter. A simple “I can’t” would have left me feeling lighter than a comment that implied I wasn’t choosing to spend time with my own family. I wish that we thought more about our responses to other women, making sure to frame them in an encouraging or positive way. Being more careful not to invite shame or guilt into the conversation. As women we frequently feel we aren’t living up to the expectations of society. We struggle to feel like we are taking care of our families, our work and ourselves.

I’ve grown more confident over time, I know what I need and I will do what I can to ensure that I have my ‘me’ time. Everyone needs it to some degree, and it can take on so many forms: yoga practice, a coffee out, reading a book alone. Everyone needs to refill their own cups.

My daughter is older now, she’s 7. We had a bedtime chat the other night about when she was little and used to tell people that daddy works and mommy runs. How she used to be so excited when I would come home with a new medal. You should see HER collection. She’s old enough to realize that I am a better mom when I’ve gone out for my run. I love that she can see the difference a short burst of exercise or a long run can have in me. She’s old enough to tell me its OK if I go for that run, she knows I will be present when I am back. A wiser mom once told me that kids might not notice the times you aren’t there, but they will notice the times you are there. So I’m resolving to be better at letting go of the mom guilt and societal pressure. For me, I am a better mom and person when I run. There is no shame or guilt in that.

(Jill with her daughter Annabelle)