HEALTH + WELLNESS // Goodbye, Mother Guilt

 The secret to keeping your new year’s fitness resolution is letting go 

If you’re like most moms, it will take more than good intentions to stick to your fitness resolutions this year. Don’t sweat the holiday cookies you consumed; what’s really standing in your way is an overdose of something much more toxic: Mother Guilt.

You’re not alone if you feel torn between your duties as a mom and your own obligation to personal health. In an international survey of over 200 fit moms, 77 percent admitted to having felt a sense of guilt when choosing to work out over another task. More often than any other reason, these moms cite family time as the most guilt-inducing alternative. 

Overcoming Mother Guilt — maybe just locking her in the closet for an hour at a time — is essential if you want to carve out time to get fit. First you need to free up a little mental space so you are strong enough to make the appropriate compromises. 

lose the preconceptions & misconceptions

Start by identifying your preconceptions of motherhood; you’ll probably realize what you thought were parenting no-nos might actually have a place in your life. For example, maybe it’s not so bad to let your kids watch television if it means you can jump on the treadmill or tune into FitTV for an hour. Junk food might be okay if it gets your kids into the jogging stroller. Perhaps you can miss a soccer practice to go for a quick power walk or run. The point is to challenge what you’ve accepted as parenting truths and get realistic about what life is really like.  

take inventory

Take some time to write down what’s important to you, what values you want to impart on your children (hopefully health and fitness are near the top of the list). Then, take inventory of one or two typical days and see where you are actually spending your time. Like it or not, top entries for your day translate into your top priorities. Work to make health and fitness an actual, not just perceived, priority. Then, remember who is watching because, as always, we lead by example.

protect your priorities

Once you’ve established what your actual priorities are, it’s easier to fight to protect them. Allocating the right amount of time to each of your priorities leads to a certain type of contentment; the alternatives are resentment and (you guessed it) guilt. Saying “no” to something that isn’t a priority starts to feel good when you use the time freed to attend to something that is. You’ve likely fine-tuned your ability to say “no” to walking the aisles of Target with your kids. It’s time to put those skills to good use and clear a little clutter from your life.

remember, it’s a balancing act

Learning to say “no” is important because sometimes we have to say it to something that is a priority — including fitness. When life throws you a curve ball, make a decision on how you will react. If fitness doesn’t fit in during a particularly hard week, let it go. In making that decision, you stay in control — there is no resentment, no anger, no feeling as if you are the victim. Keep those priorities in check and realize it’s okay to experience temporary imbalances. Sooner or later, you’ll find equilibrium again and your fitness will return.

This can be the year you successfully adopt a fit lifestyle. If you’ve had a hard time maintaining a regular fitness routine in the past, try focusing some attention on the mental components first. Physical fitness requires mental training; knock Mother Guilt out of the picture and the possibilities are endless.

Laurie Lethert Kocanda is co-author of the forthcoming book Hot (Sweaty) Mamas: Five Secrets to Life as a Fit Mom (Andrews McMeel 2011). She lives and blogs in Minneapolis with her husband and two young daughters.

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