When we decided to have children, I was happy to put cycling aside for a while. I had ridden in the Alps, Lanzarote and Majorca. I had ridden the Raid Alpine, Lands End to John O’ Groats and Vatternrunden. I had surprised myself with my achievements in time trialling. I had organised my life around cycling (or occasionally running) and training for years.
Time for a new phase. I was going to be a mother. We were going to be a family. This was huge. I was huge. This was a whole new kind of identity waiting to be discovered.
Identity is a funny thing. I remember talking to a friend about personality and how we change over the years. I was in my 30s at the time and felt like a completely different person to who I had been in my early 20s. So much had happened, how could I possibly be the same person? Elspeth argued that we have a fundamental personality which actually never changes. She believes that it’s the little things about us that change. We remain the same self we have always been. I think she is maybe right. I’ve always been stubborn and determined (just ask my mum). I’ve always had a keen sense of justice and fairness. And I’ve always been physically active in some way.
So, now I was a mum. I was still stubborn and determined (just ask my husband). I still have a keen sense of justice and fairness. And now I walked for physical activity. I walked everywhere I could. Pushing a buggy.
It wasn’t enough. I felt like a part of me was missing. I felt fat (actually, I was pretty fat – turns out pregnancy is not a license to drink chocolate milkshake with impunity). I started to resent my husband going out running or cycling to work because I felt like I couldn’t do anthing and that I hadn’t been able to do so for 9 months already. It wasn’t that my new identity wasn’t what I wanted. It was. But Elspeth was right and there was a fundamental missing.
I have gradually got this part of my identity back. It’s different to how it was. I no longer procrastinate on a Sunday morning, watching ‘Sunday Brunch’ wearing lycra and having “just one more cup of tea and then I’ll get going”. I no longer follow this with a 4 hour bike ride with my husband. No more lying on the sofa recovering after either. But I am back cycling. I feel like a cyclist again. I’m no longer fat, more ‘chunky’.
But then comes the mummy guilt. If you have children you will be familiar with this. It’s the feeling that you are not doing enough, not doing well enough, you shouted when you shouldn’t have, you were impatient, you couldn’t find the teeny tiny little toy that they simply could not continue their day without, you weren’t sympathetic when they lay on the floor screaming because their biscuit broke in half. It’s the feeling that I read the bedtime story quicker than I should have because I wanted to get out on the bike once they were asleep. The feeling like I’m tired after a ride and I really don’t want to build a train track right now. The feeling like I’ve missed a day out as a family because I went out for a ride with the bike club and left the children to go out with their dad. It’s the feeling that you’re not putting the children first and you should be because that’s your job.
Mummy guilt is awful And it’s a spiral. Once you start focussing on all the things you do wrong every day (and we all do things wrong for our children every day because being the perfect mother is just impossible) you notice more and more and more things you do wrong. And the truth is, most of those things are absolute nonsense.
Every day I fight the battle between guilt and identity. My children and my husband are my priority, but so is my self. Here’s my conclusion:
- I have to cycle in some way to feel like me.
- I have to feel like me to be me.
- I have to be me to be the best (imperfect) mummy I can be.
When I write this down it all makes sense.
I should probably read it back more often because the guilt is still there.