Readers Roundtable: What’s “Mom” Got To Do With It?

imageHave you heard? A lady who has children did something impressive! You can’t miss these headlines, especially in the running world – hello #motherrunner!

Of course there are impressive dads out there, but there’s no hashtag, and rarely a “dad” headline. By labeling accomplished women, but not men, according to their parental status, are we reinforcing the outdated tradition of women being primarily responsible for the home and kids?

And further, does the “mother” label divide women? I know firsthand that motherhood changes running, but then again, so does grad school, a demanding career, illness, or any other major life change. How about those women who don’t have kids but feed the poor, kick cancer’s ass, build a life’s work, or write a stunning dissertation? When balancing running and life, is motherhood somehow more worthy of admiration?

By working to be inclusive for mothers, have we gone overboard and become exclusive of women who choose not to have children, or those who just aren’t there yet?

What do you think about the mother runner label? 

I'm a 20-year veteran of competitive running, USATF certified coach, mom of a toddler -- and still trying to set PRs. I write about training from 5k to marathon, motherhood and competitive running, and the elite side of the sport. The 5k is my favorite race (16:56 PR) but I've got a score to settle with the marathon.

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52 comments

  1. You know I’m about to write a dissertation here, so I’ll tl;dr it up front: the “mom of x does stuff” headlines are bullshit and need to stop (unless the stuff actually involves the kids, but usually it doesn’t. Cf. winning a race.)

    In no particular order, my list of reasons why this is bullshit:

    – Having a kid absolutely makes serious training a challenge, but as you pointed out above, so do many other things in life that aren’t considered headline worthy. The mother of x label just reinforces that women aren’t “supposed” to accomplish stuff when they have kids. Accomplishing stuff is a male purview. Stuff-accomplishers who fall outside this norm will be relentlessly labeled to keep them in their place.

    – “mom of x does stuff” also reinforces this idea of a mom who accomplishes stuff as some sort of lone fighter, achieving things against the odds because of course she’s not meant to have hobbies or interests of her own, let alone time for any of that…or a partner/family who would support it… The lone fighter mom image is supposedly inspirational, but I think it’s questionable whether this actually a useful “inspiration” for women. Surely we accomplish more together…? Are there perhaps forces at work for whom women accomplishing things together is not in their best interest?

    – Yes these headlines divide women – those without kids end up wondering whether their accomplishments are somehow less impressive because they haven’t reproduced. Again, whose interests are served here, when women are pitted against women? Hmm.

    – but I’m probably just bitter because I only have one kid, so I’ll never be as impressive as people with multiple kids :p

    1. Speaking as one without children…I sometimes do feel like my accomplishments are less. (I know that’s on me.) I see friends post about their runs on social media and how awesome they are at balancing their children and work and husband and other family, etc., etc., and I’m thinking, “All I had to do was get myself out the door.” I mean, I have a job, sometimes two, but that’s a predictable amount of time most days and I just plan around it.

      Even my coach, who joked as we were talking about my schedule and how much time I had to devote to training, said, “No kids, no pets…so, 80 miles a week sound good, then?”

      1. I absolutely disagree. Every person makes choices and prioritizes different parts of his or her life. Your accomplishments are what they are, and if your choices and priorities have favored your running career, there’s nothing wrong with that! It doesn’t give you an unfair advantage, it doesn’t make you less of a woman or less of a person. You have every right to celebrate every goal you meet no matter what stage or life you’re in or whether or not you choose to have kids.

  2. I think, Caraway, you state very well why it being a mom *shouldn’t* be a notable thing about someone who accomplishes something, especially something not traditionally seen as motherly or feminine like athletic achievements. However, I think the reality is that often being a mom and achieving these things is notable, sometimes for no other reason than it busts a stereotype. Also, it is difficult to be a parent – you have so much less control over your environment and the demands on your time. Runners World says you need 9 hours a night for optimal performance. Oh, ok. Tell my toddler that. Runners World says you need to eat EXACTLY this ratio of carbs to protein EXACTLY these minutes after a hard workout for optimal recovery. Oh, ok. I’ll get on that as I immediately stop my watch and jump in my car to get home in time to relieve the babysitter and then deal with the kid who peed her pants or whatever as soon as I walk in the door. It might be hours before I remember to eat in the face of kid stuff and other obligations. When you’re a parent, you have to drop EVERYTHING often to take care of them and their needs. Yes, you can work around that to a point … but to a point. It gets better as they get older, but there are definitely some years where I, anyway, have been flying by the seat of my pants and getting in good training and achieving anything with running feels like far more of an achievement than it is. But maybe I’m just telling myself that to feel better?

      1. In the original post you asked, “By labeling accomplished women, but not men, according to their parental status, are we reinforcing the outdated tradition of women being primarily responsible for the home and kids?”

        I think the answer is yes. I’d like to see us all stand up for a woman’s right to not lose her sense of self when she chooses to become a mom.

          1. Something to think about. Everyone (generalizing) thinks they will do it differently, better, etc. That THEY have the secret to harmonious equal parenting, but then you have the kids and you’re so tired and there’s no time for anything and then you just all get lazy and fall into familiar patterns until it PISSES you off and then it’s better for about a month and then … And then they grow up and move out. Just me?

    1. Salty, I feel you on all of this. you’ve summarized perfectly the unique challenges of running as a parent. Especially the recovery thing is basically impossible.

  3. Of all the feminist rants and raves I’ve been on in my life, I’ve actually never considered this. THANK YOU for opening my ignorant eyes! I absolutely respect mothers, especially now that I am working as a nanny, and I find their accomplishments as humans overall impressive. But I feel the same way about my non-parental friends! I am so guilty of using the hashtag “motherrunner” when I gram for SR, and now I will think twice about it! Of course being a mother who trains and achieves her running goals is incredibly inspiring, and I don’t think those details should be ignored. But they should not solely define the woman as an athlete. — Sorry I wasn’t logged in properly the first time I posted this comment haha. Fixed it!

    1. I never thought of it until recently! I do love my mom running group and seeing other motherrunners because it is something I can relate to. Maybe we should also bring about #dissertatingrunner (hello Cilantro) etc?

    2. I don’t think you should drop the #motherrunner thing… there are moms out there who do deserve the recognition and want the inspiration. Add more #!

      1. I agree. And I do enjoy reading about women I have things in common with (running + motherhood) especially as a fairly new mom when it comes to the changed body after having a baby.

      2. Oh I won’t drop it! I just meant that I’ll evaluate why I’m using it. I always enjoyed using the hashtag since I’m not a mom myself haha. I mostly use it when the post directly deals with children, i.e. Catnip with her son post-race, or one of the runners pushing a stroller.

        1. Joking! I just mean to say that it’s not about a hashtag, hashtags are fine or whatever. It’s great that runners who have lifestyles in common get to share that! It’s that the community of running mothers is PART of the larger community of running women, rather than being that entire community.

          Those of us who don’t want kids, those who haven’t yet had the opportunity to have kids and (maybe especially) those women who can’t have kids want to be included in discussions about what it’s like to be a woman who runs! We’re your sisters!

          And for the most part, we love that you’re moms because then we get to experience your awesome kids without all the diaper-changing and stretch marks!

    3. I think as women without children, it’s easier for us to think of our friends the same whether they are parents or not. I think once you have kids, it’s more common to look at people differently based on that.

  4. As a woman for whom it’s pretty in the bag that I’ll never have children, I risk the wrath of people accusing me of jealousy or selfishness or ignorance whatever here, but… Why does it seem like having kids is supposed the end of your life? By now, we all know it’s not. Just like men, some women have kids. Just like men, some do not. Most are dynamic people with their own ambitions and interests outside of the home. Those who don’t…well…that’s probably more outside the norm.

    1. I think that’s the origin of the stereotype. Even when I was pregnant the first time I remember saying things like, “well, I hope to keep running but I don’t know. Maybe I won’t be able to ever again and that’s ok.” I anticipated that motherhood could make it impossible to run. It almost never does, but I guess it could. Also, kids are like water. They will flow into any cracks and crevices you have. If you need time for yourself you have to WALL it off. So, I think many people just let their kids flood them and they throw themselves into the whole parenting/homemaking thing or whatever. And it can be very exhausting mentally and physically too, so to think of doing something perceived as exhausting in addition to parenting seems psycho to many people. But man, I don’t honestly know how I would be as a mom if I didn’t run. The thought is scary.

  5. I think the Warrior Mom/Super Woman who can accomplish ALL THINGS while breast-feeding twins, home-schooling her older children, growing all her own food in her organic garden, while also looking effortlessly sexy and put-together and being a CEO has become a go-to/over-used headline/attention grabber and also can further divide women. However, having been a non-mom, a working-out-of-home mom of one, and now a stay-at-home mom of two… babies wreak havoc on your body, and then on your personal time. They are all-encompassing, and once they are born there isn’t a moment where their presence is not in your consciousness, if they nap sometimes, or in your face- particularly when they are yelling for your attention (ie I just had to pause there to comment on some ABC-tracing skills then clean up an entire hot chocolate spilled all over the table/floor). So hell yes, when I achieve something big I give myself an extra pat on the back because I did it while simultaneously keeping children alive and well.

    Managing time after having children to still fit in consistent training is hard. Yes, it is hard to do when you are running a business, or in grad school, or whatever, but when you have the responsibility of the offspring, there is no off-switch or pause button, and your schedule is NEVER certain or just about you. I’ll admit right here it is easier to be a SAHM than when I worked full time and parented, it’s still hard but at least when the the kids are sick or the hot water heater goes out I have the flexibility to deal with it or change up plans. So, sometimes when you are in the thick of it, an inspirational story about another mom who did something for herself might be just what a mom needs to hear, or not.

    Also, moms are judged from the second you find out you’re pregnant: mid-wife vs ob?, are your going to use drugs during labor?, are you going to encapsulate your placenta?, are you going to breastfeed?, when are you going to get your body back??, what preschool? you eat GLUTEN?? don’t you feel selfish for spending so much time running???

    The divisiveness never ends… And due to our basic biology, the fact that we grow the babies and then make the milk will always skew parenting/baby care toward the woman, I think. Only we, as women can choose to not let the bullshit divide us. We are all at different places in life, with different priorities and challenges.. If you’re not a parent, when you see those Super-Mom articles, then the intended audience for the article just might not be you. And that’s ok. When I see those Super-Mom articles about home-made bento box lunches and all the freaking art projects that I never do with my toddler, I skip past them & accept that is just not me. If you’ve achieved something big while simultaneously doing chemo, starting your own business, feeding the hungry, or just while standing on your head– WRITE YOUR OWN HEADLINE. Being a mom isn’t my defining characteristic, but it is a big part. We are all worthy of admiration, whether we are parents or not. (How’s that for an early-morning essay?! lol)

    1. I like your essay! 🙂

      I know this sounds stupid, but I was not at all mentally prepared for the fact that biology essentially required me to be the primary parent for so long! I was under the illusion that it *could* be equal. NOPE. 2+ years later and I’m still feeling the effects of pregnancy & childbirth, not to mention nursing.

      1. Yep! As I said above. Of course we all (here anyway) almost certainly thought it would be different for us, the reality of the situation makes it next to impossible for it to be truly equal. For me, I think the worst thing is to be the primary mental care-taker – meaning I am CONSTANTLY putting mental energy into ensuring my kids are cared for. I could choose not to, maybe. But that’s not really feasible. I’m not sure that’s something that can truly be shared without leaving a kid in a 160 degree car or something.

  6. As a childless female adult, but also as a woman who does WANT kids…I go a lot of different ways with this topic.

    Speaking as a childless female adult, it gets annoying when it seems my accomplishments are diminished because I don’t have a kid(yet). I’m selfish because I devote my spare time to running right now, instead of putting that effort into having a kid sooner. My mileage and race times, mean less than women who do the same thing- but have kids. Kids are not the only responsibility in the world. Do I have less responsibility than some right now, sure do. But that doesn’t mean I don’t work. It doesn’t mean I don’t have personal obligations. A home to manage, and dogs to take care of. Meals to cook,errands to run, and a life to keep in order. Sometimes that means running at different times or shuffling things around when something comes up. But DO NOT tell me that my running is less, because I’m not a mom. Are Shalane or Desi less of a runner than Kara or Deena because they don’t have kids like the other two? NO. Granted, I’m not on the level of any of those runners- but the concept is still the same.

    Qualifying someone’s “runner status” by their speed is obnoxious and we all know it. Slow, fast, whatever- you’re still a runner. Qualifying a runner by their kid count is the same thing if you ask me, being a mom and a runner doesn’t make you more of a runner than someone who isn’t a mom. What about women who wan’t kids and can’t have them? Does that mean they will never be “as good” as those who do? What about women who CHOOSE not to have kids? There is nothing wrong with that, and that shouldn’t make them any less than someone else. We all have our own paths we choose, we all have our own visions for our lives- stop comparing one to another and creating a divided line that doesn’t need to be there. You’re a woman, cool….me too.

    This isn’t all to say that I don’t have mad respect for women who run, but also have kids. I have family and friends and know some incredible women who manage to do it all- and I admire that and sincerely hope I can pull it all off with even half as much grace as the amazing women in my life do. Being a mom does change things, it does create different responsibilities, I will NEVER discount that. I want kids, I really do- but right now it’s not happening for me. That day will come, and I’m sure that there will be times I will absolutely pat myself on the back for getting something done- at the same time as caring for my children.

    But, I don’t think I would ever want someone to describe me or any other woman solely by their status as a parent/non-parent. My mom is an incredible woman. Yes, she is a mom. She is also a high powered business woman who is doing incredible things. She is also an amazing wife to my dad. She is also a person and human being. Her accomplishments are amazing in their own right, as many women’s accomplishments are. We don’t need to add “mom” to it, to try and make it amazing…it just is. On the same token, being a mom is a freaking big deal on it’s own. You don’t need to add any qualifications or clarifications to that to make it any more badass.

    1. I think it’s fair to say that if running is important to you in your life pre-kids that you should go for it to the extent you can before you have them, because you really don’t know how they will affect your life. Just because so-and-so can do it, doesn’t mean you can and just because you can with one or two or … doesn’t mean you’ll be able to with x. I’ll also say that I don;t judge my running performance differently before or after kids. I’m just as hard on myself as ever 🙂 So, your accomplishments pre-kids should most DEFINITELY not be discounted. Like Cinnamon said upthread, we all make choices but it’s not like we allow other choices to discount our accomplishments so this should be no different!

  7. Oooh, this is a good one.

    I’d like to start off by saying that I would rather just be “Fast.” Not “Fast Mom” or “Fast for a Lady With Kids.”

    But, I’m becoming more comfortable with those labels. I envy the days where I could go out for a Saturday morning 20 miler, then spend the next few hours recovering. Now, if I want to get in a long run, I get up ridiculously early so I do not disrupt the entire day for the rest of my family, come home and immediately take a shower and delve into whatever family activity we have for the day.

    If someone achieves something in running, through circumstances that made it harder for them to get there, then they should be recognized for that. I immediately thought of Christine Clark, the 2000 Olympic Trials Marathon winner. She surprised everyone- coming from dark, frigid Alaska, training mostly on her treadmill, by herself. Yet she PRd by 7 minutes, beating a field of women from better training environments, better training conditions, and likely with training partners. That made her win even more significant. I actually just Googled her to read the details of her story, and you know what? She was also a mom of 2, and her coach said she had a breakthrough because her kids were older so she had more time to train. http://www.runnersworld.com/workouts/how-chris-clark-broke-through

    Everyone deals with hurdles and obstacles to running. But honestly, even more so than demanding jobs, grad school, combat deployments, nothing has affected my [[long-term]] running more so than becoming a mom. You can work around other roadblocks to your training, but you really have little control over being a mom. From the 9+ months your body is overtaken with this little human growing inside of you, to when this little person is born and is completely dependent on you for survival, that immediately becomes your main priority. Everything else immediately takes a backseat, including running.

    So I love hearing stories about people who have overcome things and continued to run, or accomplished running through difficult times, and I respect that. But having kids changes your life more than anything else (and will continue to do so forever, or for at least 18 years!), because they are completely your responsibility. Which means you can’t just ditch them to go train like you want to!

  8. Another point for justification here…. I know some pro female runners who have 1 kid. A handful who have 2. But I have been racking my brain, and cannot name a single pro female runner (or really any pro female athlete) who has more than 2 kids. Can anyone?

      1. So I was thinking about this and I basically agree with Parsley and you. I think the thing is that I know what it’s like to be a competitive running mom and I have a pretty good idea what it would take to be at the top of the sport with kids – either you have a TON of help or you’re really lucky or you’re a super hero. But that being said, why do we have to say one is more impressive than the other. I think we run into problems when we try to compare the worth of each other’s accomplishments. What value does that provide? Can’t we just say this person – in her entirety – is awesome and call it a day. I mean, Desi’s accomplishments are plentiful and completely awe inspiring as are Colleen DeReuck’s. To say one is better than the other … I mean how can you say and what’s the point? Plus motherhood is just one of many many many differences between them. Is that the defining difference? Maybe. Maybe not.

  9. No! They’re awesome!

    It just makes someone like Colleen DeReuck, who has 2 kids, and is 51, that much more amazing (for multiple reasons!)

  10. I’m not at all trying to say one is more impressive than the other, or comparing each other’s achievements, etc. My point in all of this is that everyone encounters obstacles during their careers that makes training hard. And generally… media coverage of when that person accomplishes something highlights that (ie: runner qualifies for X while going to Law School; runner wins race after overcoming X disease, etc.). And the most common obstacle that affects women seems to be motherhood! And I was saying personally, motherhood is now the biggest obstacle that has affected my running.

    So Shalane is awesome for many reasons, Desi is awesome for many reasons, and Colleen is awesome for many reasons, two of which I think are her age and her kids.

    1. This comment, you said that motherhood is the biggest obstacle that has affected YOUR running–which I believe is totally fair assessment of YOUR OWN situation. Where your previous comment stated that you felt “I love hearing stories about people who have overcome things and continued to run, or accomplished running through difficult times, and I respect that. But having kids changes your life more than anything else (and will continue to do so forever, or for at least 18 years!), because they are completely your responsibility. Which means you can’t just ditch them to go train like you want to!”

      — I don’t think it’s fair to pass judgement on how someone else obstacles (which you may not know about) affect their running more or less than other things. There are plenty of things in life “you can’t just ditch to train”

      1. Ouch. Reading it all through, I don’t think that Parsley is “passing judgment” at all. She is stating her personal experience. I did not read it as she thinks she is superior because of her accomplishments + kids. From what I understand, she just was stating that she has had many other JUSTIFIABLE obstacles, and kids have been the largest one.

        Kids are a huge obstacle. Not only from the caretaking standpoint (I have an extremely accommodating spouse), but my personal worst is the “guilt” I feel when going out for a long run, or running super early and heading straight to work (and not getting to see them until nighttime). Missing family time always just chips away a little bit at my heart and makes me sometimes question if training is worth it.

        All that said, everyone has a different situation. Kids or no. Family, friends, illness, career, school, pets, etc. Nothing makes anyone deserve a gold star over someone else. Mom vs not-Mom wars are not necessary. We all have our things.

        My husband was just telling me a story about one of his co-workers the other day. Her husband played NBA basketball for several years while attending medical school to become a surgeon. He just graduated and quit the NBA for his residency. That story boggles my mind more than juggling kids + running! I cannot imagine the logistics and dedication you need to travel and play 9 months out of the year with the NBA and graduate med school with top honors. It just goes to show that anything is possible, female, male, mother or not.

        1. Talking about personal experience is one thing. But to say that motherhood trumps all is another. Like I pointed out, Parsley’s first comment was more the later and her second comment stated it was HER personal experience which is a more fair assessment in MY opinion. We all have things in life, but it’s not fair to say that one person has more or less struggle to get training done. Obstacles don’t need to be justifiable. Kids are not the only unditchable things.

          No, the mom vs. mom wars are not necessary at all. But as a non-mom(currently) I can say I have had plenty of flack over the years because of that fact, and had accomplishments diminished because someone else did the same thing because they’re a mom- why does that even need to happen? I also think that mom’s take flack because they run. society makes women feel guilty for taking time for themselves to run/train when like you said- your inner mother already makes you feel guilty as it is. Why does society need to pile onto that?

          1. Just because you’re not a mother (yet) does not mean you deserve less accolades for your accomplishments. A time is a time. It’s black and white. You earned it fair and square.

            Kids are definitely not the only unditchable things. I am well aware of that, hence my statement above that we all have our things. Kids are not the only roadblock whatsoever.

            I see your points and agree with you. I was just trying to point out that I interpreted Parsley’s input differently. And that’s ok. It’s the internet, so I could be understanding it incorrectly. Who knows?!

  11. I’ll never be one to say “wow, she did that AND she’s a mom to boot!” but…as someone who trained before kids and after kids all I can add is that it does change things. We can choose to make it work or not make it work. No gold stars needed for mother runners but there are just certain things that folks who don’t have kids can do with their running lives that moms can’t (alluded to in earlier comments). To me, however, I will always be happy that I have “sacrificed” areas of my running/training for the sake of making space for kids in my life. Best trade off ever.

    1. I don’t see it as a “sacrifice” for your kids, I see it as a choice. But that is how I try and view everything. I don’t sacrifice doing XYZ so I can run, I CHOOSE not to do XYZ so I can run. One day, I will choose to have kids (I really do want them, but I’m not there yet) and I will then choose to change priorities. Like you said, we can choose to make it work or not work.

  12. The two points that resonate with me about motherhood and running are the “lack of control” and the “mental demands”. I do think we should celebrate mother runners because it’s hard. But as other commentors said, many things can place challenging demands on runners. And we should celebrate those too. Because remember, we runners (or cyclists or triathletes, insert physical activity requiring serious training) are still the minority population. So many more people don’t do regular exercise, let alone train for events to perform and measure.

    As motherhood or caretaking of any kind (I suspect with aging parents many of us have those demands or will have those demands in the future) is unique in that you are responsible for another life. Balancing caring for your multiple lives and striving to be physically better with your own is HARD. Not every day. But it’s unreasonably hard on more days being a parent.

    As an executive as well, I know that work can give me a lack of control and mental challenges too, but the caretaking role never goes away. I celebrate all that choose to train to improve and that may mean many labels. If those labels empower and foster positivity, great. And, if they encourage others who think they can’t be runners while being doctors, bankers, attorneys, moms, dads, graduate students, etc., then bring them on.

    #momrunner, #ceorunner, #bostonrunner, #wanttobefasterrunner

    1. I love your point about “If those labels empower and foster positivity, great.”- SOO true. If having a label encourages those things, of course it’s a good thing. You SHOULD celebrate all of those things. I don’t have a problem with the “mother runner” label at all. Hell it’s one I want one day. But my issue is when people (in general, not anyone specific) act like having that label means their accomplishments mean more than those without the label. Why is it a contest, ya know?

  13. The contests should be left to the races….
    It’s unfortunate that some people use labels like school cliques–exclusionary and elitist.
    I hope forums like Salty Running can promote empowerment and celebration while making us all better runners.

    Thanks for bringing up such an interesting topic.

  14. I love this conversation! It’s given me a lot to chew on, on both sides. I just wanted to add that there is another reason why people may choose to use the #motherrunner hashtag besides giving themselves an extra pat on the back. Personally, I use it for the same reason I use #RunATL and others – to identify myself as part of that community so that I can find (and be found by) others in my communities. There is a lot of value in connecting with those who are going through (or have gone through) similar life situations. Which is also why I literally LOLd at #dissertatingrunner – I’ve been one of those too and it is INTENSE!

    1. I think that is a GREAT way it is used. In that case it isn’t being used to upstage non-parents, it’s used to connect with those WHO ARE. That is such a positive method- love it!

  15. I think being a parent requires a tremendous amount of self sacrifice, time, and stress. For me personally, I choose to be childless because I know myself well enough to know that parenthood would greatly increase my stress levels. I’m not afraid to admit that I am highly sensitive to external stressors and need a lot of downtime to function optimally. I’ve learned to own it over the years. Having your own awareness is key, parent or not. I intentionally used parent because it applies to moms and dads!

    We’re all prone to judge and be judged when we see or do stuff outside of the norm. It is what it is, and just that. We can let it bother us but where does it get us? Not very far. In addition, the mom headlines we see are just clickbait, clickbait that I think does reinforce stereotypes about women. As for the hastag piece, I like what you said above, Kristen!