How Not to Bonk in the Marathon of Motherhood

I’m not a marathon runner. But I am a mother, which is pretty much the same thing. Motherhood is like the ultimate marathon—long, grueling, exhilarating, and (at least according to those nutty runners) worth the pain and effort.

Interestingly, if you ask a group of marathoners what part of the race they find the most difficult, do you know what most say? Mile 20. Not being a runner, that surprises me. Once you’ve run 20 miles, what’s another 6.2?

Apparently, most humans weren’t made to run more than 20 miles without refueling. Around that point, the body typically runs out of glycogen stores—the sugar that fuels the muscles. Many runners hit a slump at this point, but some actually “bonk.”

When you bonk, your muscles literally stop working and you can’t run any further. Crash and burn. Done. Finito. Bonking can happen to even the most seasoned runners, and it usually happens in the last third of the race.

Translate that last third to the marathon of motherhood, and you’re at the teen years.

Hmm. Interesting.

Many parents lament the arrival of the teen years—and yes, teens with their hormones and burgeoning independence can be difficult. But I really don’t think that’s the whole story.

I think the teen years are particularly challenging because by the time you get to that point as a mom, you’re TIRED. You’ve already expended SO MUCH energy parenting, and if you didn’t pace yourself at the beginning, you run the risk of burning out by the time the teen years hit.

But does any mother pace herself in the age of Pinterest crafts and Leaning In and competitive preschooling? For most modern moms, it feels like a sprint from the get-go.

My oldest is 14 and I’m feeling it. I am tired. Repeating the same things for years on end. Being needed all the time. Trying to keep track of everything I have to think about in a day in relation to mothering my children.

I’m not complaining, really. I love being a mother, and fully understand the blessing of the experience. Saying I’m tired isn’t a complaint, it’s just a realistic assessment of where I am as I enter the last third of this race. You don’t blame a marathon runner for being tired at Mile 20—it’s just the nature of the endeavor.

But bonking is a serious concern. The last thing you want to do as a mom is crash and burn.

I may be tired, but I’ve learned over the years how to avoid bonking. I wish I’d learned some of these things earlier, so hopefully the wisdom of my experience will help younger moms prepare for what’s coming.

HOW NOT TO BONK AS A MOTHER

1. Pace yourself.

When I look back to when our first child was little, I feel a little embarrassed for myself. I was so freaking eager. When I think of how much time and effort I put into activities and educational outings for my 3-year-old, I just shake my head.

But I wasn’t even that eager compared to many other moms I knew. And that was before Pinterest came about, so I’m sure the pressure is worse for moms of young kids now.

Two things you learn between your first and third kid: 1) Preschoolers are way younger than you think, and 2) Kids learn a lot from daily living in a normal environment. There’s really no need to spend an hour finding, printing, cutting, and laminating a Montessori activity they’re probably only going to use twice. Save your energy. You’ll need it for your kid’s first diorama homework assignment (which will undoubtedly be assigned by a teacher who has never had children).

2. Let go of comparison and perfection.

Most people don’t run a marathon to win it. Just completing a marathon is a major accomplishment, and the goal for most runners is just to beat their personal best times.

The same goes for motherhood. You should do your best, but realize that nobody’s best is perfect. The point is not to win this race against anyone else. Don’t put that kind of pressure on yourself.

In fact, don’t compare yourself to any other mother, at any time, for any reason. The mom who throws perfect birthday parties might be spending her evenings hiding from her children in the laundry room. You never know. A lot of moms don’t pace themselves well, so don’t look at one stretch of one mom’s marathon and think that’s how her life always is, was, or will be. Focus on your own race, and don’t worry about keeping up with the woman running next to you.

3. Refuel regularly.

Seriously, Mamas, the importance of replenishing your emotional and physical energy stores cannot be overemphasized. Get your butt to a coffee shop with a friend. Take a bath and read a book. If you think you don’t have time to do that, then you need to reprioritize, because you can’t afford not to fuel up. I homeschool three children and work two jobs from home. I totally get that finding the time is hard. But it’s vital.

The key is that letting go of perfection thing. Put a movie on for the kids and have a date with yourself doing something you love. Read, paint, meditate, exercise, call a friend, check out a new blog, give yourself a pedicure—whatever floats your boat. Swap childcare with another mom, even just for an hour.

The thing about refueling is that it doesn’t take a lot to make a big difference. Think of it as a gift to your children. A sane, healthy mom is much more beneficial to them than a burned-out bonker.

4. Give and ask for support.

One thing I’ve heard from marathoners time and again is the sense of camaraderie they feel with other runners. Big feats require big support, and motherhood is no small feat.

Reach out to other moms. If you don’t have moms in real life to lean on, find some online (just don’t look for them in the comments section of articles, for the love). There are support groups on Facebook, forums on parenting websites, and e-mail groups that might even be local to your area. Don’t underestimate the benefits of sharing your parenting wonders and woes with other moms, even if it’s just virtually. I’m fortunate to have amazing real-life mom friends, but some of the best support I’ve gotten has been from moms online.

You also get what you give in this area, so be there for moms who need a listening ear or word of encouragement. Motherhood is a sisterhood if we let it be.

You can train to run a marathon, but there’s really no adequate preparation for motherhood. There’s also no clear finish line. That makes it all the more important to pace yourself. Let go of perfection. Refuel physically and emotionally. Give and ask for support.

Your kids might drive you bonkers, but you don’t have to be a bonker.

Happy running, ladies!

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Annie writes about life, motherhood, world issues, beautiful places, and anything else that tickles her brain. On good days, she enjoys juggling life with her husband and homeschooling her children. On bad days, she binges on chocolate chips and dreams of traveling the world alone.

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