Mom Guilt: Exploring the Experiences of Being a Mother and Training for and Running Marathons I: Lit Review and Methodology
Being a parent means having a minimum of two identities – individual and parent – among several other possible identities. The multiple identities that mothers carry is a popular topic within the literature regarding parents and mothers (e.g., Bean, Fortier, Post, & Chima, 2014; Glynn, Maclean, Forte & Cohen, 2009; Mazer, 2012) and is so because the more roles a mother carries, the more stress and tension she may experience (Brown, Mishra & Bauman, 2000). Excessive stress and tension can negatively impact an individual’s well-being (Yaribeygi, Panahi, Sahraei, Johnston, & Sahebkar, 2017). Thus, research in this area is needed because understanding how to support the well-being of mothers is important for their own individual health as well as for the health of their children.
Women’s identities evolve when they become mothers-from focusing on themselves as an individual to focusing on their offspring. Previous research and media have indicated that mothers often alter their career goals to better accommodate the lives of their children, revealing the extent of sacrifice mothers make as part of their family role (Coakley, 2006; Macfarlane, 2017; Minsky, 2006). As their load of responsibilities increases, mothers have less time to focus on their individual needs and wants. Mothers often experience increased responsibility post- partum, as they are often the predominant caregivers of their children (Doucet, 2006).
Consequentially, the priority of physical fitness lessens as the demands of child rearing increase (Goodsell & Harris, 2011). It is important that practitioners are educated in this area and have appropriate resources available to support mothers in maintaining and/or improving their physical and mental well-being to sustain their roles and responsibilities in a healthy way.
The term motherload has been used within the literature to reflect the “load” of responsibilities that mothers must endure (Bean et al., 2014; Macfarlane, 2017; Mazer, 2012). Demands associated with being a mother may include, but are not limited to cooking meals, providing transportation, and organizing social events (Coakley, 2006). As the demands of motherhood increase, it is possible that mothers may decrease the focus they give to themselves in favour of their families (Currie, 2004; Johnston & Swanson, 2006; Minsky, 2006). The term “load” is one that is included in many descriptions of what it is like to be a mother. For example, Verhoef and Love (2009) define “role overload” as the pressure of having too many tasks and not enough time to complete them, which may act as a deterrent to physical activity.
Mothers have many ideals to live up to, in order to fulfil their roles in society. For example, Pedersen (2012) used focus groups to investigate the idea of good parenting and found that “good mothering is distinct from good parenting” (p.242). Mothers’ descriptions of what it meant to be a good parent included reliability, structure, and disciplinary consistency. Reliability was related to being someone who could be relied upon. Having a routine, including a consistent bedtime, was used to describe what it means to provide structure. Finally, disciplinary consistency was described as repeating the same or similar types of discipline and setting boundaries (Pedersen, 2012). These three themes emphasize how much responsibility is required from mothers on a regular basis, even if they also have other duties.
In a cross-sectional study of 716 participants, Glynn et al. (2009) investigated factors that play a primary role in mental health and concluded that role overload and/or other socioeconomic factors were predominant. Role overload is defined as the state of being overwhelmed by one’s total perceived responsibilities (Glynn et al., 2009). Glynn et al. (2009) found that role overload is a larger determinant of mental health than the typical expected social determinants of mental health (e.g., job security and income). Based on these findings, Glynn et al. (2009) recommend that future research consider the impact of perceived social roles and obligations on women’s experiences.
Further, Kostiainen et al. (2009) investigated self-rated health and psychological stress in three spheres: (a) employee, (b) partner, and (c) mother. Results indicated that the role of being employee had the largest impact on self-rated health, while psychological distress was most impacted by partner roles. Participants who were found to have the most roles (i.e., three or more) were found to be healthier than those who had one or fewer of the identified roles (Kostiainen et al., 2009). This research sets the stage for the current study in understanding the current state of the field in this area.