Mom Guilt: Exploring the Experiences of Being a Mother and Training for and Running Marathons I: Lit Review and Methodology

Mom Guilt: Exploring the Experiences of Being a Mother and Training for and Running Marathons I: Lit Review and Methodology

Marathon Training within Families

Parents can face obstacles to marathon training and competing (Goodsell & Harris, 2011), yet limited research on this topic exists. Thus, the final section of the literature review will explore research that has been conducted on mothers who run and the influence of families on marathon training. Families who have members training for an endurance race face additional obstacles because marathon training in and of itself is time consuming on top of other parenting and familial obligations and responsibilities (Goodsell & Harris, 2011). To date, research about mothers who are runners has focused on elite athletes who became mothers and how they managed both identities as well as handling the many other priorities of living in today’s society, including working, being a spouse, having a career, and being a mother (Glynn, et al., 2009; Kostiainen et al., 2009). Elite was defined as having participated in World or European Championships and/or qualified as an elite distance runner before pregnancy (Appleby & Fisher, 2009; Palmer & Leberman, 2009). Study participants were considered if they were mothers and were signed up to train for and complete a marathon event, within the data collection period.

According to Palkovitz and Copes (2008), individuals take on child-centered attitudes when becoming parents. This change in attitude and focus can have ramifications for parents because adjusting to child-centred priorities can compromise one’s own well-being. Specifically, in a qualitative study conducted by Mailey et al. (2014), perceptions of physical activity among working parents were investigated. Parents perceived a lack of time to be the greatest challenge in maintaining fitness levels, which resulted from the increased number of responsibilities that arise with parenthood. The authors also found that some of the major barriers to their participants’ physical activity levels were guilt, lack of support, and scheduling constraints. The current study aims to further investigate the experiences of mothers who run to gain additional understanding of what it is like for mothers to train for and participate in marathons.

Having children can be a barrier in many areas of life, including career, physical activity participation, training, and racing (Goodsell & Harris, 2011; Held & Rutherford, 2012). Goodsell and Harris (2011) qualitatively explored how a family member’s involvement in training for a marathon affected the family unit and home life. Goodsell and Harris (2011) illustrated that family members often supported their family who had marathon training and racing endeavors.

Results further indicated that families promoted marathon training by cooking dinner while the family member completed their training run. Conversely, families were seen as inhibiting training when children were sick, causing parents to lose sleep and decrease their own health.

There is evidence to support that being a mother can negatively impact training (e.g., Goodsell & Harris, 2011; Kostiainen, et al., 2009; Macfarlane, 2017). Activities, such as pregnancy and breast feeding, can impose restraints on women resulting in running remaining a male-dominated sport (Goodsell & Harris, 2011; Skafida, 2011). Goodsell and Harris (2011) recognized that, although females may experience freedom from breast feeding to train for a marathon through the support of family, they still experience oppression due to the social context of being a mother (Guendouzi, 2006; Skafida, 2011). Therefore, understanding strategies that may work for women throughout early motherhood may help to minimize this challenge.

Being a parent can have a large negative impact on training and racing. As with any task, peak performance is often more achievable with adequate sleep. As identified in earlier sections, parenting demands may result in disrupted sleep patterns, which in turn may result in a lack of time for training, and detrimental physiological impacts on training (Palkovitz & Copes, 2008). As pregnancy progresses, women can experience limitations to their activities as they become more fatigued (Palkovitz & Copes, 2008). Mothers of young children often experience higher levels of fatigue as their children age (Palkovitz & Copes, 2008). Pressures and societal expectations placed on mothers are compounded for those who also have fitness goals (Palmer & Leberman, 2009). Women are often pressured to balance familial responsibilities and personal priorities, and the pressures are increased once they become mothers (Maher & Saugeres, 2007). The power imbalance between personal goals and family priorities and how levels of physical activity are maintained is of interest for the current research. Mothers are often more affected by becoming a parent than fathers, partly because they take on more child and home care responsibilities (Equal Opportunities Commission, 2006; Guendouzi, 2006).

The types of coping mechanisms an individual uses can have a positive or negative impact on their mental health and well-being (Kaiseler, 2010). There is an abundance of literature about the differences between the coping mechanisms of men and women. Kaiseler (2010) completed a systematic review of 16 pieces of literature written from 1990 to 2009 that analysed those differences. Kaiseler’s (2010) analysis found that males used more problem- focused coping strategies, and females used more emotion-focused strategies than male athletes. The current study contributes to this literature by focusing on gaining additional understanding of mothers’ experiences.

The Present Study

In the past five years, women’s participation in marathon events has increased by 33.35% (Jakob, 2018). Based on this increased rate of participation, it is important to understand mothers’ experiences related to training and participation in marathon events, to help foster support and well-being for this population. The purpose of this study is to understand the experiences of mothers in training for and competing in a marathon event. Moreover, understanding the phenomenon of marathon running is important because of the growth of these types of events (e.g., Aisch & Schwencke, 2015; Hurst, 2014; Jakob, 2018). Finally, this research may also provide insight into the psychological health benefits of physical activity, and specifically marathon running for both mothers and individuals (Edwards, 2006). This is particularly important for mothers because, according to Statistics Canada, only 14% of women get the recommended amount of exercise (2011), and women who have children exercise less than women who do not have children (Varhoef & Love, 2009).

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