The Fitness Zone

Understanding ‘mum guilt’ in your PT clients

Apr 08, 2022 | by Network

By understanding that your ‘mum clients’ can’t give you 100% – and that this is totally fine – you’ll be better placed to help them increase their strength, function and confidence writes personal trainer Theresa Prior.

If you are training a mum, chances are she’s had to sacrifice something in her life to spend the 30-45 minutes with you. And extend that to at least an hour if she’s had to travel to you. She will be feeling guilty about this sacrifice, despite knowing that it is for the best.

Urban Dictionary defines ‘mum guilt’ as being: ‘Guilt a mother feels any time she takes time to do something for herself, outside of work, that does not involve her children’ and provides this apt context for its usage:

After barely seeing my children all week due to work, I had horrible ‘mom guilt’ when dropping them off at the sitter so I could go to the gym.

Understanding that your mum clients are experiencing this – really understanding it – will enable you to work with your client to help her get the results that she is coming to you for.

The guilt game

‘Mum guilt plays a nasty game’ says mum of four Belinda*; ‘She whispers in your ear that you should spend more time working and that you’re selfish for taking time out to exercise. You listen to her. She then whispers the exact opposite to you. That you’re working too much, are unfit and need to prioritise exercise in order to be a better mother.’

Firstly, are her kids with her for the session? If they are, great. But don’t underestimate the tug of war her attention is undergoing as she attempts to listen to and understand your instructions and conversation, alongside trying to listen out for any discourse from her children that may indicate that tyranny is about to break forth. Understand that she will be feeling guilty for being unable to give any of you all of her attention.

And if they’re not with her? Where are they? What strategies has she had to implement, who has she had to rely upon, just to get these 30 minutes to herself? Has she had to leave a sick child with the grandparents? Or is she missing her child receiving a school award at assembly to be with you? Understand that the welfare of her children will be at the forefront of her mind for the time she is with you, and that she will be feeling guilty about leaving them with someone else – even if it is someone who loves her kids just as she does.

Mum of three Kate* says, ‘My kids are resilient and are fine with me leaving them to go and exercise. In fact, they expect it and are used to it. But while they’re little I need to rely on other people to help me out and I hate that!’ So, even when her kids are fine with it, mum guilt may still strike in another form.

It is a strange conundrum, and one that modern society has exacerbated. The modern mother can feel as though she is expected to have it all and do it all, to lead an Instagram-perfect life. Becoming a mother causes you to question every single decision you make. It is no longer just yourself that you have to think of, in any given situation. You have the life and the feelings of your child to consider in everything you do! Sarah* says, in regards to her PT session, ‘I think my mum guilt comes from the debate of whether I take an hour for me or an hour for my son.’

How you can help

There are a number of steps you can take to support clients that are experiencing feelings of mum guilt.

1. Acknowledge that she has sacrificed something to be with you.

‘If it was easy to exercise,’ says single mum Eleanor*, ‘I’d do it. I love it. But being a mum takes priority’. And it’s not even just the fact of spending time away from her children. It’s that she feels wholly and completely responsible for their emotional wellbeing at all times.

2. Check in with her.

When your client comes to you after a sleepless night with her little one, understand that she physically will not be up for an intense program. That the sleepless night has likely involved carrying a child around the house, or sitting in an awkward position on the nursery floor, or ‘sleeping’ on the futon in the spare room. That she still chose to spend her time with you, because she’d feel guilty if she didn’t.

3. Understand that her attention will not be 100% with you.

That you need to be vigilant in your duty of care to her form. Because she won’t be. And she knows this, and it upsets her.

4. Understand that her compliance to healthy eating won’t be 100%.

Because there will be days when she is operating on four hours of broken sleep, and preparing a complicated meal will feel like climbing Mt. Everest. She will feel bad for deviating from her nutritionally balanced meal plan, but when her toddler has had a Stage Five meltdown for the fifth time that hour, eating the crusts of toast is probably all she can handle. And she’ll be disappointed with herself for doing that.

5. Understand that she is likely to be the one with the family calendar in her head.

That she is PA to four or five other people. That asking her to change her whole routine to suit your complicated training program is not going to work. Know that she will feel guilty about this – she was the one who came to you for help, after all.

The truth is, we can’t have it all and be it all. If we are killing it in our gym programs, it’s likely something has gone by the wayside at home. If we are at our child’s assembly presentation, we’ve cut short or completely missed a workout. If we’re preparing perfectly weighed and calorie-controlled meals for ourselves, our kids are eating plain pasta again just to keep the peace (or, we’re hiding the measuring and weighing from our ten-year-old daughters, because we don’t want them growing up with the same issues we have).

If you really want to help your mums, see them, hear them and work with them – from session to session – without any pressure or expectation. She’ll put enough of that on herself!

*names have been changed

Theresa Prior
Theresa is a personal trainer with a specialised qualification in post-natal assessment and functional exercise prescription. She is also a qualified outdoor education teacher. Theresa is passionate about helping mums rebuild their strength, function and confidence. / /

Network is an education subscription service that offers a broad range of upskilling courses for fitness and wellness professionals. Established in 1987, Network has played a pivotal role in the continual evolution of the fitness industry.

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