What Mothers Really Want

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Mother’s Day is a holiday that always makes me cringe a little bit (and not just because I’ve usually forgotten to send a card to my mom). What I don’t like about it is that it encourages showering mothers with gifts we really, truth be told, don’t need. Flowers, chocolates, breakfast in bed? No. What every mother I know truly needs, more than anything else, is time — and, in particular, time to work out.

There are a lot of activities a mother can, and does, learn to do with her children: cleaning the house, cooking, getting groceries, going to the doctor, even completing part-time work. But working out is a different matter. You can run around with your kids, sure, or jog alongside as they ride their bikes, but the focus necessarily is the kids and their needs. In order to get a true, satisfying, fully beneficial workout, a mother needs to go it alone, but daily demands on the schedule often make carving out time impossible.

What can your gym do to help? The best thing would be providing childcare for the length of a class or workout session. If this is an option for your facility, consider giving your clients who are mothers a voucher for a free or discounted babysitting session this Mother’s Day. If you don’t have the capacity to provide childcare, how about making available class packages that never expire (allowing mothers, for example, to purchase ten classes but not specifying that those classes must be used in a month or six months or some other period of time). You might also consider offering more classes during school hours. I love my gym, but it offers most classes in the morning, when I need to work, and in the evenings, when I’m home with my son. What I long for is yoga or Pilates or cycling at 2 p.m. — but between the hours of 1 p.m. and 6 p.m. there are generally very few choices.

One of the reasons I feel strongly about the need to make it easy for mothers to get to the gym is that mothers are particularly susceptible to unhealthy habits. We gulp down a few quick bites on the run, or we grab pizza because it’s what our kids our eating (but our bodies sure don’t process the pizza like our kids’ bodies do). We take care of everyone else and forget to take care of ourselves. We prioritize household chores over working out.

Caitlin Moran, a comedian, writer, and feminist thinker, points out another, more serious problem that many women who are caretakers face: “Overeating is the addiction of choice among carers,” she writes in her excellent book How to Be a Woman. “… It’s a way of [messing] yourself up while still remaining fully functional, because you have to…, [of] slowly self-destructing in a way that doesn’t inconvenience anyone.” It’s true: a lot of women who overeat do it because the stress of being a “carer” drives them to seek some kind of outlet, but a kind that won’t cause dramatic trauma, as a drug or alcohol addiction might. For such mothers, the ability to work out would make a world of difference. Your facility can help by helping them find the time to focus on fitness.

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