Parenthood is such a full-on physical and mental challenge. Between work, partners, children, friends and family, it’s difficult to find time to clear your head and hit reset. Here, Anna talks honestly about that side of parenthood, and one little way she’s started trying to redress that balance after four years.
Two weeks ago, I went for my first run in over four years. Two pregnancies, two children and two maternity leaves later, I suddenly realised just how much time had passed since I’d done something physical other than run after the children or run for a bus to work.
Before I go any further I just want to say that this article isn’t really about running. It’s definitely not about losing baby weight, judging, shaming or set standards that others should live up to. Lifestyles are personal. Values are personal. Bodies are personal, and what works for one person might not work for everyone. Before I had children, I belonged to a gym. I would go running when the mood hit. I’d attend Bikram yoga classes when I had the time. I would say I was ‘actively active’, but I definitely wasn’t in a routine. And if I had the option to go for dinner or drinks in the pub, I would almost always choose that over sweating in a spinning class for an hour.
But two weeks ago, after putting the girls to bed and lacing up my ancient running shoes, I set out with a sense of anxiety and excitement. This was going to hurt, but I was doing something positive for me that wasn’t the usual sofa-based tv-watching-gin-sipping retreat from the day. Thanks to some old Bloc Party tracks, I managed to run for twenty minutes without stopping. And I did, genuinely, feel the benefit. My head was clearer. I felt stronger. And in a strange way, I’d surprised myself. It appears running after kids and carrying little bodies around actually can be a pretty good way to keep fit(ish).
The thing that surprised me most was the psychological impact of that twenty minutes. The fact that I’d made a conscious choice to break free of a four-year cycle of reasons why I couldn’t do any exercise. Something that had become so simple to throw to the bottom of the priority list, because of other commitments, tiredness, time restrictions, or even the physical toll that pregnancy and post-partum recovery took on my mind and body. In an odd way, that run was the first time since stopping breastfeeding and returning to work that I felt my body was mine again.
One week ago, on a Sunday night once the girls were in bed, I laced up my shoes and set off again, as the sun was setting. A different route. A different running track. A different feeling of anxiety in my body. Would I feel as good? Go as far? Regret not just having a glass of wine on the sofa? But I also felt also a new-found feeling of calm. Step by step, it seemed like maybe I’m finding more of a balance between who I was before children, and who I am now. I may not ever be an amazing runner, or the healthiest of parents in the world. But I will try out more small wins that help me feel more like me. And a regular run outside seems like a pretty good first step.
I’d love to hear from the other parents – how to you balance your individual needs with being a parent? Is it big things, or smaller things you do everyday? Drop your stories in the comments below!