Why I No Longer Have Mommy Guilt About Exercising

945106_667223056638236_616353049_nMy life was crazy busy when my kids were very young.  Working out was the last thing on my mind during those days when I was chasing a toddler around the house while nursing a newborn (and yes, by my second child I had perfected the art of nursing while standing, walking, cooking, shopping–you name it).  I hardly had time to finish any of my meals before I had to clean up a spill or grab an escapee from a high chair, and I was routinely awake for more than 20 hours a day.  I was always exhausted and haggard. Although I was at my lowest weight since high school, I was not in much of a shape and lacked muscle tone.  My stomach still jiggled like jello. I looked like a shrunken version of my shriveled, postpartum self, somewhat resembling a prune.

It was a far cry from my running days which stretched from my high school cross country team well into adulthood.  I loved training, racing, and occasionally winning, back in my prime.  Running was so freeing.

Fast forward a few decades, and I found myself pushing two babies in a double jogger, vainly bribing them with cheerios to stay in their seats for at least one city block so I could somewhat get my heart rate up.  Running became anything BUT freeing!  However, running without the kids meant I had to hire a sitter or wait until David got home, and then I would be beset with guilt about leaving the kids for my 30-minute run. So, I just basically gave up on exercising altogether.

The day of reckoning came without any warning: my back went out one day.  I was swinging my toddler son around, and all of a sudden I crumbled to my feet and couldn’t get up for three days.  Just as I got over that painful episode, I tore my calf muscle when I tried to go out one day for a rare run.  The doctor told me it was your typical “middle-age, weekend warrior syndrome.”

That’s it, I said.  I’m going to start going to the gym!

I began attending the local 24 Hour Fitness club, taking full advantage of the wonderful child care program they offered onsite.  I stopped feeling guilty about working out, because I was there with the kids, not away from them.

Before long, I was going to fitness classes and moving with music which, I discovered in my middle age, I totally enjoy.  I regret having made fun in the past of “those gym rats” who weren’t exercise purists like us runners.  But no matter.  I was no longer exercising to win; I was exercising just to survive.  I needed to be strong for the kids, and I wanted to live long, healthy lives for their sake. And I had to stop feeling guilty about doing so.

So, here are a few things I learned about moms and exercising:

1.  Just do it!  Don’t feel guilty about taking care of yourself.  The kids need you, and you will be in so much better mood after a workout.

2.  Do whatever you enjoy.  If you’re able to go out for a run, and that’s your favorite form of exercise, then go for it.  If you like to dance in the living room, walk with a stroller, take a class, or play tennis, choose whatever works for you.  Set yourself up for success, not failure.

3.  Schedule your workouts ahead of time.  If you don’t have it in your calendar like any other appointment, you probably won’t make it.

4.  Work out with a group.  I’ve met some great friends through these classes, and these people keep me accountable.  We text and check up on each other!

5.  Do it for your health, not vanity.  We all still have stretch marks and permanent pregnancy flabs, but we aren’t trying to win a beauty contest.  We’re here to get strong.

My kids no longer need child care, but I continue working out at the gym.  And I don’t feel guilty anymore about that, either!

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Do you have guilt about exercising and taking time for yourself?  Tell me about it!

Keeping the End in Mind — Lessons on Motherhood from the Gym

iStock_000015205697XSmallThe middle aged lady snuck in late to the weightlifting class.  Obviously a newcomer, she tried to hide in the back, but the class was completely full.  A nice person in the back directed her to the front where there was the last open space between me and the mirrored wall and kindly fitted her with the lightest of the weights on a barbell.  I helped position her riser and showed her how to grab the apparatus with her trembling and ring-less hands.

She wore a long-sleeved everyday shirt and wore baggy sweatpants over her grannies which kept peeking out with every bend of her body which, though not overweight, carried not one extra ounce of muscle.  Gray roots belied her tired blond which was pulled back into a pony tail with a scrunchy.  She had a kind smile and kept apologizing for her very presence.  “I’m sorry to bother you,” she repeated, as I gave her tips on form while the class continued with various weightlifting drills to music.

Recent divorcee?  Midlife crisis?  I wondered, as she began to exercise, perhaps for the first time in 30 years.  Or ever.  She responded surprisingly well to the instructor’s cues.

“I bet you were an athlete growing up, weren’t you?” I asked during one transition between sets, partly to encourage her but mostly out of curiosity.

“No, I was always a wimp,” she laughed through her Tootsie glasses.  (And if you just understood what I meant by that, then you are almost as old as she is).

I bet her kids and husband — ex- or not — never helped her get in touch with her inner athlete.  You go, girl!

Although she tired easily and could not make every repetition, she didn’t quit.  When the instructor called for increasing of weights for certain muscle groups, I encouraged her to keep her barbell as is…at 2.5 pounds on each end.

“Don’t want you to get injured,” I said, but I also didn’t want her to get discouraged. It’s so easy to go too hard on the first day, then never come back.

Somehow, the topic of pie crust came from the instructor on the mike who asked for a show of hands if anyone had actually made it from scratch.

This lady raised her hand.

I bet she spent all her life giving of herself to her family, always putting herself last.  She stayed up late each night doing laundry and making pie crusts from scratch, for goodness’ sake!

I pictured her, maybe in one or two more years, showing the results of her consistent efforts at the gym — new definitions on her arms, abs, and thighs.  I pictured her with a cute, updated haircut with color that better matched her skin tone.  I also pictured her in a more form-fitting and revealing athletic outfit from lululemon like the many regulars in the class.  I pictured her a confident woman, an empty-nester, enjoying life and contributing to society in ways she could not while her kids were little.  I saw her whole and complete.

And that’s when it dawned on me — God pictures us whole and complete already, too.  Not saying that being athletic and in shape is the definition of being whole, but He sees us already as the complete person He has meant for us to become all along.

He took a stuttering, bumbling, hot-tempered man like Moses and an overly-spontaneous fisherman like Peter and used them to change history. The Lord always kept the end in mind as he patiently worked with them. The same God can also take a fumbling, stressed out, insecure, and imperfect mom like me and make something out of my life, because He already has the end in mind.  God already sees in me a confident and competent mother to my children.  Maybe not a Tiger Mom, but at least a Panda Mom.

“Thank you!  I’m coming back on Thursday,” she said enthusiastically as the class ended.

I sure hope so.  You have no idea how much you encourage me today, so thank YOU.

I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

- Philippians 3:14