(AKA….why running is so good for Stay-At-Home-Mums).
As you read this, we are in Maui and it’s gorgeous!! But I wanted to press publish on a post I’ve been working on for a while, about how my relationship with running has changed over the past few months and, in particular, how important it has been to me during the most recent phase of my life. This has been something I’ve been thinking about for a while now, I hope I manage to put it into words properly.
In November 2009, I left my mid-management job in a big company to have the Dude. We moved to California and since then, I’ve been a stay-at-home-mum (SAHM from now on). I have LOVED being a SAHM. I had precisely two days when the Husband got home and I thrust him the baby and had to get away. Two grim days and 5 whole years of happiness. It helps that my little man was a pretty easy baby and has grown into a chilled, happy, sunny little boy. It also helps that I only had one child – two or three kids under 5 and I think it would be incredibly difficult. So I’m saying I had it easy. I loved being the one to take the Dude places, to teach him words, to explain the world to him, to snuggle up on the sofa and cuddle him when he was sick. It has been the best thing that ever happened to me.
However, it does change a girl and change her self-image as well. Initially,it’s kind of weird. There are the obvious changes – sweatpants instead of pencil skirts. Clearing up poo and shoving your boob into someone’s mouth instead of writing presentations and managing budgets. Life being both a perpetual weekend and NEVER being a weekend again, all at the same time. However, as time when on, I started to feel thick. Stupid. I forgot the big, clever words I used to use daily at work. And although I firmly believe that bringing up a child to be a kind, compassionate, well-adjusted young person is the most important thing you can ever do, I have to admit that it knocked my confidence a little.
All of a sudden, I was financially dependent on the Husband. All of a sudden, when people asked me what I did, I mumbled about being a SAHM. When the Husband would get home at night, my conversation would be about what the Dude did, rather than anything I’d done. And bit by bit, my confidence ebbed away. In fact, when I started looking for a job a few months ago, I honestly found that I could not imagine ANYONE giving me a job and I was TERRIFIED to get back into a work environment again.
As you know if you read here, I’m 8 weeks into studying Early Childhood Education to be a preschool teacher. And in those 8 weeks, all those feelings of inadequacy that I talk about above have faded away. My brain has slowly cranked back into gear. My evening conversations with the Husband are about genetics and brain development and the California State Budget. My confidence has soared. And, somehow, I also feel like I’m a better parent.
At the same time, running has taken a back seat. Mainly because of time pressures and because I purposefully haven’t got a goal race lined up until my courses are finished in June, but also because what running gave me during those five years is suddenly less important. But I wanted to note it all down and almost pay tribute to running because it has been really meaningful for me since the Dude’s birth.
Running made me ME again.
Particularly in that difficult first year of parenthood, running was the only thing that made me feel like me again. When you have a child, your whole identity changes. It’s weird. But when I was out running, whether for hours on the trails with friends or a quick half-hour in town, I just always felt like the girl I was before I became a mother. I wasn’t someone’s wife or someone’s mother. I was just me. It made me feel free and young again.
Running gave me time to myself
One of the shocks of motherhood (particularly as an only child) is that you are NEVER alone. Now it’s pretty magical to look down and see your baby, it really is, and particularly at first, my arms physically ached to hold him if he wasn’t around. But I love time alone and, to some degree, I need it. So being out running gave me that space and it was really precious.
Running gave me a sense of achievement
Clearly my biggest achievement since 2009 is bringing up a really nice child that I adore – and that’s mainly due to genetics and finding a fabulous dad for him. But running definitely gave me a sense of achievement that has been really important for me. Every PR, every long run, every new trail explored all brought me a quiet sense of pride. I might not be launching any projects, I might not be getting promoted or a pay-rise…but I was still achieving things. I don’t think I can overestimate how important it is for people to feel like they are achieving something, it’s so crucial for self-confidence. And running gave me that!
Running brought me friends
You know you are. And I am so grateful for you.
Running gave me a sense of identity
Running is part of who I am. One of my friends told me that she puts me in that ‘Super-sporty’ category of FB friends. Now I am not super-sporty but I do know that running has become part of who I am. If you asked me who I am, I’d say I was a wife, a mother, a daughter, a friend, a Christian and very definitely a runner! Angela wrote a fantastic post a while ago about what being a ‘runner’ implies, and I’d strongly advise you to read it. This was the bit that resonated most with me.
- I like the idea of being a runner because I associate runners with lots of qualities I value: strength, toughness, stamina, health, discipline, etc. I’m very proud of being a runner and I like the idea that knowing I’m a runner makes people associate those qualities with me (at least in my mind).
- I like what I’ve learned & continue to learn from running (patience, staying calm under pressure, mental toughness, appreciation for how amazing your body is in all its imperfections, etc.).
- I like way I feel physically after a run (looser muscles, the feeling of having worked hard, lower stress levels).
- I like the way I feel mentally after a run (refreshed, accomplished, hard-working & disciplined).
- I like the way I feel long-term because of the fact that I run regularly (relaxed, healthy, fit, strong).
- I even find little pockets of pleasure sometimes during a run (the smell of freshly cut grass or the air after a rainstorm, a cool breeze, nice weather, interesting people watching).
I could not have said this any better.
As I said, since I’ve started studying, I’m finding a new sense of achievement and identity. The old me (that competitive, academic me) again has surfaced again and I LOVE it. But now running serves new purposes. It is brilliant at helping me relax and de-stress. I’ll often start runs thinking I should be studying or revising or working on our group presentation but by the time I get back, I’m so much more chilled and happy and calm about it all. I wonder if I’ve even got running back into proportion again. Instead of it being the Be All And End All, it’s now just something that I really love. That’s probably healthier.
I’m so excited about the future at the moment – studying, starting teaching and all the running adventures ahead of me. Running is a wonderful sport, I’m so grateful I’ve been a runner for the past five years!! How lucky we are to be runners.