So September and the new school year has finally dawned. I say finally because I am one of those people who, though it shames me to say it, dreads the summer holidays! Whilst most people I know look forward to less pressure, and more family time, I see my routine being disrupted and the pressure mounting! It’s hard enough to achieve parental perfection, without having to look after a child as well!
As a full-time mum, albeit one who puts herself under massive pressure to do other things she counts as ‘productive’ such as running a blog, helping out at school, and supporting community projects, the self-imposed need to be on top of all things household is immense. The compulsion to feed the family healthy home cooked meals, grow my own vegetables, take care of the various feathered and four-legged friends in the pack, and provide the support that other friends and family need is a fairly hefty burden to bear at the best of times. Add to the mix entertaining a child, stopping her from spending 8 hours a day in front of the telly, and ‘creating memories’, the prospect of more lie-ins and less packed lunches inevitably seems less appealing!
Don’t get me wrong – my daughter is the apple of my eye – she’s a kind, caring gorgeous bundle of joy, and I could not want for more. I am the luckiest of the lucky to even have her having gone through so much to do just do that. But as with everything in life, there’s more to it. And since when did mental health have anything to do with luck!
She is, of course, an only child – that means she relies on me for pretty much everything in terms of entertainment. That means that I am often the one hosting playdates, always the one planning for her to be occupied…always the one clearing up afterwards!!! That’s just a fact. So by the time I get to the end of the summer holidays I am on my knees. I’ve cleared up more butter icing than I’ve had hot dinners, there are paper and craft items everywhere – I’ve stacked the dishwasher a trillion times a day, and my ironing pile has reached Himalayan proportions. I’m sure it’s the same for those of you with more than one child, and I know many people juggle much much more, but it’s about the focus that a single child requires.
Add to this fact that my ‘me time’ has all but disappeared, and I am a bundle of rage and frustration by the end of August. Of course, my ‘me time’ usually consists of hitting the road or the trails in a pair of trainers, with or without my running family. Running with the girls provides vital download time, a good burst of endorphins, and some feeling of achievement, but even just getting out and doing a whirl around the block helps you to breathe. It is a vital part of my sanity-saving ritual, and I don’t think I realised quite how important it was until yesterday.
Yesterday, I returned to the trail running club that I started running with about a year ago. Karibu Running Club is a magical mix of people who just like to hit the trails whenever they get the opportunity – it’s not necessarily for serious runners, although serious runners do come along. It’s not affiliated with anybody that sounds important, other than its sponsors, who also make sure we get a lovely free Kind bar at the end of each run. And most importantly it’s run by our ‘trail mum and dads’, Sam, Matt and Wendy. That is where the real magic lies I think – they give us an amazing hour or two every week where they are in charge, where we don’t have to worry about a thing… except breathing…and avoiding trip hazards! They plan the routes, they help us along the way, they make sure we are safe! How lovely to have somebody look after us for a change!
I usually manage to get along to one of their midweek runs which often attract a good proportion of other mums because they take place in school hours. The air of relief is palpable among those who have just arrived from the school run! But it also attracts retirees, self-employeds, people who can wangle an hour or two away from work, and many more besides. The beauty lies in the random mix and the thing we have in common – that we enjoy getting out into the countryside and breathing, whatever the weather…literally!
The importance of mixing with a varied crowd when you spend so much time in the playground, on school runs and with all things associated with your children, is not to be underestimated. Even though there are lots of other mums on the runs, they are ‘different mums’, not the ones you see at school every day, and the benefit of that is immense. Playground politics can be tough to deal with at times, and I for one find the school run really rather stressful!
Of course, it is no secret that the mental stresses of parenthood are greater these days than ever. Postnatal depression just doesn’t cover it in my view. It can be a much longer-term loss of confidence, self-esteem, self-worth and identity. I am using the word parents because I do think it applies to both. When you become a parent, everything changes. Your routine and relationships are turned on their heads, and many of us struggle to adjust.
More often than not, it is mum who is at home with the kids, but if it’s dad, the same can apply, especially if one or both are working from home. Whether you choose to return to work or not, you are juggling either work commitments or your conscience with looking after the family, comparing yourself to your counterparts, micro-worrying about every aspect of your child’s life, and usually doing an awful lot of beating yourself up about your failures.
I think that is why running has become such a phenomenon amongst mums! They get that moment where they think, I can do this, I can achieve, and I feel totally awesome! They get to empty their incredibly busy and mentally overloaded brains, play some music…preferably loud, dance a little in the streets, or listen to an audiobook or podcast without interruption. Some prefer to listen to birdsong and look at the trees, I’m all for a bit of La Bamba!
And for those of us who go along to Karibu runs, or run with friends, there’s an enormous amount of chat that goes with! For anybody that comes across us in the woods, they really must wonder what sort of herd we are, because at times we are pretty big and fairly noisy. But as I said to yesterday as I realised I had barely paused for breath since arriving, this is our cake time – our time to unwind and chat with our friends. Our chance to feel human again!
If you want to know more about Club Karibu, check out their website here at https://karibu.club – they run organised trail runs across Sussex and Surrey – no experience necessary at all, and much easier than you think! I had never run a trail in my life until last year – I was strictly a road girl, with a huge fear or hills and uneven terrain! But I was wrong. It’s a different thing entirely with plenty of pauses, softer on the knees, far more sociable and a huge variety of things to see! Spectacular views are also inevitable if you pop along to a Karibu!