Moms Shouldn't Feel Guilty If They Ditch the Kids to Work Out

Photo of mom holding child's hand

Mommy guilt. That creeping, all-encompassing feeling that you’re doing something wrong, that in fact you’re a Bad Mother, for taking time for yourself. But exercise, just like spending alone time with your husband or partner, or having a girls' night out, is necessary for mental health. If mom’s happy, everyone’s happy, right? So why do we sometimes beat ourselves up and feel guilty for taking time to work out?

Here’s what it usually comes down to:


The mommy guilt sometimes comes from putting yourself first. It’s an uncomfortable position to be in for most mothers. We’re so used to meeting the needs of our children before our own. Think of the early months when their sleep schedule trumped ours, or when they let you know vehemently when it was time to eat, and then to the later years when the kids’ classes, sports, and activities dictated your weekends. 

Here’s what you need to know about working out, though: When you take the time to exercise, you’re actually putting your kids first. How? By keeping yourself healthy so you’re around for them for a long time. Staying strong and fit so you have the energy to keep up with them. By setting a great example of health and fitness, doing your part to combat the rise of childhood obesity. Most importantly, by staying sane and happy, which means the time you spend with them will really be quality time.

Mommy guilt can also be about fear of being judged. When I’m out without my son, people I know in the neighborhood will greet me, and often ask, "Where’s your little boy?" Sometimes I have to take a deep breath to not defensively reply, "He’s fine, I haven’t left him home alone!!" or, "He’s with a sitter, who I pay while I’m at work, and I tacked on an extra hour today, but it’s to go grocery shopping, not to do something for myself!!" But those neighbors are just asking to be friendly. More like, "Hey, how’s your son doing?" than suspicion and condemnation that you are (gasp!) going to the gym instead of reading Fox in Socks for the 15th time in a row (and YES, Dr. Seuss, my tongue is numb).

There will always be some people who do judge. It’s not nice, but it’s kind of a given, so why don’t we just let go of the guilt and enjoy that we have an opportunity to take time to work out? Anyway, if you weren’t exercising regularly, those same people you think are judging you now would just be judging you for not working out!

I struggle with mommy guilt when I go running on the weekends -- mostly because that’s my time with my husband and my son, and I feel like I should be devoting myself to family time. Lately, however, it’s been getting way easier for me to rationalize why it’s such a good thing for me to get out for a run. Then last weekend, as I headed out the door, I heard my son calling, "Mama! Mama! Mama!" over and over again, as his Dad reassured him, "It’s okay, buddy, Mama’s just going for a run -- she’ll be back soon!" And you know what? Instead of feeling guilty, I had a little smile on my lips. It feels good to be loved so much you’re missed when you’re gone for an hour.

Do you feel guilty taking the time to work out?


Image via Carly Pizzani

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