Pace Yourself, Mama, the Marathon of Parenting Eventually Ends

“Pace yourself, mama. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.”

I’ve heard those words and I’ve said those words too many times to count over the last 18 years. I’ve muttered them under my breath, I’ve repeated them in my head, I’ve typed them on Facebook and I’ve texted them to people I love. Cliche? Abso-freaking-lutely. But, like all cliches, there’s an element of truth to them (which is also a cliche but whatever).

woman in sweater
We all run our own motherhood races.

This Momma Thing is a Marathon!

This mama thing is a marathon. Much anticipated, long, painful, full of “why did I decide to do this?” moments, never something you’re totally ready for physically or mentally and different for everyone. The parts that are hard or easy for one family are differently hard (or easy) for others.

We all run our own races and try to focus on the next step, the next hard part, the next downhill where we can rest a little, and the next aid station because food and drink are everything during these years. (I know a lot about marathons for someone who’s never run one, don’t I? I’m not that kind of runner, but I run with a lot of fabulous folks who do run them and they run them a lot.)

But what do you do when the marathon is over? When you’ve finished the race, delivered the kid to whatever comes next, crossed the tape and stepped away from the mamathon course?

One thing my friends tell me is that marathons typically end with big celebrations involving bananas and mylar blankets. The finisher is surrounded by cheering helpers who usher them to a tent where they get a banana and something to drink (not to mention a medal and a t-shirt).

When parents cross the finish line, we *are* the cheering helpers. We set up the tent, organize the party, serve the food and the drinks, and buy all of  the t-shirts (and other assorted paraphernalia) for both senior year and whatever comes next for our kiddos.

I’ve also been told that post-race recovery takes weeks. It’s not just the day of, but the weeks that follow that make all the difference because treating injuries, replenishing nutrients, resting muscles that have been pushed beyond their limits all take time.

The same can be said for those of us who drive away-we need time to treat our wounds (guilt, grief, and anxiety over what we did or didn’t do during the last 18 years), we need good food (though preferably food we don’t have to make) and we need to rest the emotional muscles that had to push beyond their limits when we drove away and left part of our hearts behind.

Hold up though- didn’t we do just as much (or more) work? Wasn’t this *our* race? Why are we still doing the heavy lifting? It’s wildly unfair and unreasonable that we finish our parenting marathon without someone standing there with a mylar blanket, a banana, and a finisher’s medal. In fact, many of us have to pick it right up at mile 10, 18, or 21 and we usher younger siblings over the finish line again and again.

Let’s make space for the recovery that our hearts, minds, and bodies need (we’re not as young as we used to be, you know). Those last few weeks will go by quickly, so put some meals in the freezer if you can, or splurge on whatever makes you feel better, food-wise. Get extra sleep where you can, forgive yourself for whatever shortcomings keep you up at night, wear comfortable clothes, and drink lots of water while you recover. I’ve also heard that baths and massages help.

Let’s be extra gentle with ourselves and our racemates (they ran this marathon right alongside us, right?) while we make our way into life after the race is run.

You Might Also Want to Read: 

As a Mom, I Will Always Need to Be Needed

Mom of Teens, the Grown and Flown book for you!

Laura Thomas Laura Thomas is a teacher by trade, first High School theatre, speech, debate, and English and, for the last 18 years, as part of the Education Department faculty at Antioch University New England. She is also a community facilitator and contributing editor for Edutopia. She’s an occasional runner, a potentially successful gardener, a consistent TV watcher, and a proud mama of a college freshman/future astronaut and a high school junior/ budding ballerina. She lives in Keene, New Hampshire with her husband.

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