The first 20 years of my life, my plan was to become a mom in my mid-twenties and stay home with my kids. The reason for this plan wasn’t particularly deep: My mom stayed home with my sister and I, and it worked. And by “worked” I mean that we both stayed in school, got good grades and had success in sports, manifesting completely different opportunities than our parents had after high school.

A lot happened in college, including taking what I call "The Class" about relationships and family.

All around me at Stanford, I was surrounded by female classmates with specific career aspirations. I had none, and I secretly found myself judging their future children. And then I signed up for The Class. If I had known it was a feminist class, I wouldn’t have signed up, (I didn’t call myself a feminist back then). But the title “Women, Work, and Family,” called out to me in the course guide Junior year at Stanford. Maybe it was because I caught myself dreaming about being a doctor, but axed the idea for being incompatible with motherhood. Maybe it was because I started feeling strange about being halfway through a degree I really loved studying for, but didn’t plan to use. Maybe it sounded like an easy 3 graduate units to soften an otherwise science-heavy course load. Whatever the reasons, the class itself changed the course of my life.

On the first day, the Professor had us go around the room and talk about our mothers’ relationships to work and family. Eager to overcome any athlete stereotypes of disengagement, I volunteered to go first. As we went around the room of 20 or so, I was shocked to learn that I was one of only three children of a stay-at-home parent. I genuinely thought the room would be full of them.

My eyes were opened to a lot in that class, from divorce economics, to sexism, to household labor distribution and more. I left giving myself permission to explore more options for myself when it came to work and family. Staying home with my kids was still a perfectly fine choice, but if I was going to do that, I wanted it to be a conscious decision instead of a blind attempt to replicate what my mom did.

My mom, Joyce, and my sister, Lindsay.

My mom and I are very different people, after all. She loves the little things and big things that go into making a home, whereas I find most of them burdensome. She loves to nest and hunker down, and I am happiest when I’m off exploring somewhere without a plan. She is organized, I’m a disaster…the list could go on and on. As a new mom, I really struggled with my identity as a mother, mostly because I knew I couldn’t live up to her example. I loved and needed my work outside the home to feel normal, and I felt guilty about it. This didn’t compute with how I felt about other moms. Now in my 30’s, I deeply respected so many women who had careers and children in my life, feeling so grateful for their contributions to their fields, and appreciating how awesome their kids were. Oiselle exposed me to many more ways of being a mom. I found myself cheering them on for finding what worked best for them. I wanted to respect myself the same way I respected them.

Welcoming Jude, then Zadie.

I accept that I am at my best when I serve up parenting in smaller helpings, with a hefty side of autonomy smothered in freedom sauce.

It has taken time, a second kid, and pep talks from my girlfriends along the way, but I’ve stopped looking anywhere but inside my own self for approval on how I’m doing as a mom. I love my kids, and I love my work. I accept that I am at my best when I serve up parenting in smaller helpings, with a hefty side of autonomy smothered in freedom sauce.

This was before COVID-19 of course. Suddenly, I found myself facing stay-at-home orders with no childcare. Like so many working families with small children, we found ourselves in a position to prioritize one person’s career while the other person took on the lion’s share of parenting and homeschooling. That old voice came back. The one telling me that I should be home with my kids anyway. That this was a chance to make up for the times I’ve been away. And so I didn’t advocate for my work and we prioritized Jesse’s. I volunteered for the 6am-11am work shift (which I rarely started before 8 because of exhaustion) and then took the kids for the next seven hours. I got worn down rapidly, couldn’t focus while awash in anxiety, and then began to feel a frightening feeling of hopelessness settling over me. I freaked the fuck out, if I’m being honest.

I’ve been challenged as a mother during COVID more than ever before. The physical labor involved with young kids, the smell of urine on everything, the skid marks, the exploding laundry, the constant whining and negotiating, the fighting over toys, the tendency for the two year old to quickly find danger, the way they manage to break things that are important to me while I’m preparing what feels like their 12th snack of the day…these things are always the hard work of parenting, but they take on a new flavor during a global pandemic when you have nowhere else to go and are grieving the plans you had to give up.

Without judgment. Without comparing to something that no longer exists. Simply carrying myself through it the best I can.

I’ve been fantasizing about getting a tattoo on my forearm of an empty bird cage, the door left cracked open. I yearn for space. For my mind, as much as my body. Yesterday, after an easy two mile run, I felt the urge to run a 200 on the track. Not crazy fast, but smooth. It’s been forever since I did anything besides an easy couple miles a few days a week. I worked into it gradually, waiting to hear from my old hamstring injury, but she stayed quiet. I did another one, tentatively, and again it was ok. I jogged back to the start for a third, and got up to speed a little earlier this time. I felt good but caught myself slowing up before the finish line, a subconscious giving up that I didn’t like to see in myself. I jogged back to the start one more time. This time I ran prouder, taller, all the way through the line. It was no faster than my old 5k race pace, but the time didn’t matter. The important thing was how I carried myself through it.

Without judgment. Without comparing to something that no longer exists. Simply carrying myself through it the best I can.

And there she is as always, my teacher, the run.

Lauren Fleshman
Tagged: social


Thank you, Lauren. This is everything.

— Maria

This spoke to me on so many levels. Thank you.

— Katie Wilson

I’m not a mom but I resonate with the comparative suffering happening in the comments section. A gentle reminder that empathy is not finite – it’s not like a pizza that once all the slices are gone there is no more. I found a lot of hope these last weeks in listening to Brené Browns Podcast from March 27 on Comparative Suffering and her podcast on March 20 on FFTs (effing first times). Enjoy if you want – take what lands and leave the rest! All the best to you!

— Laura

My covid mothering experience is one with teenagers, which means that it’s still a lot on any given day but it is a different flavor of a lot than those who have little ones. Here is what I have learned, rom my perspective of an almost-crone who took too long to realize that the best moms take care of themselves first: You are enough. Your children do not need perfection because life will never, ever be perfect and what the heck does that even mean “perfect?” Perfect is for marketing and the patriarchy — and, I think, marketing the patriarchy. In this time (and most times, really, but that’s a different conversation), if your kids are alive and more or less content at the end of the day, you’re doing great.

— Adrienne Martini

Thank you for sharing this piece. The rawness of your words are extraordinarily refreshing. Everyone knows how “beautiful” motherhood is. And to me; the beauty of it all comes from those hard unseen places where we show up…. and we show up because we really have no other option. Happy Mother’s Day fellow Mother Runners!

— Erin James

Ah, this is so good. So many great nuggets to take away. I don’t envy you right now with little ones. Mine are 13 and 9 now and in some ways that makes this a little easier. You’re such an inspiration. Thank you 🙏

— Jordan

Somehow, you manage to beautifully write almost my exact feelings. I have been struggling to understand why I randomly feel overwhelmed with the childcare requirements that COVID had placed on me. I am on furlough from my outpatient physical therapy job as my husband works from home. I was JUST getting back into a groove at work after being on maternity leave until February 2020. I love my two young children but this is hard. Exercise in any and all forms is my saving grace right now. Thank you for your writing, it is truly a gift.

— Kaitlyn

This is beautifully written and searingly honest. I’m glad you walked into that gender studies class, because so many young women have no idea what is coming at them when they graduate from college, or move on from high school with a life plan that suddenly goes haywire when they hit motherhood…That the lion share of the domestic duties fall on women under the Covid-crisis is no surprise, revealing inequities we know to be true, but that doesn’t make it any easier to shoulder. What the crisis has revealed is just how far we still have to go to support mothering—the reproductive labor of caring—and all who do it. The compulsion to excel at caring comes from a culture that approaches mothering like a business, creating mompreneurs, momoirs, and an entire industry aimed at mammification to turn a profit. Failure to “optimize” your mom skills means you’re washed up in the motherhood dept. But you can’t really put a price tag on emotional investment, which is what this #wfh has revealed. Those of us mothering and homeschooling under quarantine have been worked to the bone: forcing a distillation of ourselves that feels uncomfortable, surrendering our edges, our self definition. In the words of the poet Camille Dungy, “Nothing is private. Nothing is sacred. There is nothing I keep to myself. Being your mother has required one act of vulgarity after another, and I am so strung out on you I couldn’t care less. I don’t know if I can define myself anymore, now that I’m your mother. You’ve consumed me. Being your mother has cooked me right down to the bone.”

— Kate Baldwin

Thank you for writing Lauren! Happy Mother’s Day!😘

— Donna Mills Honarvar

As a non-mom, I still feel all of this. Thank you so much for baring and sharing. Can we get an Oiselle temp tattoo or sticker of that cage image? For those of us that are too timid to get a permanent one but still completely relate to the need to break free from the expectations and responsibilities of life, I would like to have that image around for a bit.

— Dagnes

“I accept that I am at my best when I serve up parenting in smaller helpings, with a hefty side of autonomy smothered in freedom sauce.” YES!!!! This is me too!! I wanted my daughter so very much, but I also could not wait for 6 weeks to be over so I could go back to work full time. I know I was a better mother because I was not home with her all the time, and I have also felt very guilty about feeling that way. Thank you for sharing.

— Julie D

My kids are all grown, but I remember having the same conflicting thoughts through high school and college. I wanted to be a stay at home mom, but I also wanted a career. How did that work? My mother stayed home with her four kids until I was in kindergarten, and then my parents divorced when I was in junior high. It’s all tough and we’re all doing the best we can. This blog post exposes your vulnerability and gave voice to many who are struggling with the juggling. Thanks for posting.

— Faith

I needed this in more ways than one Lauren. Thank You. You have so many gifts but you are an especially gifted writer. This article resonates with me so much! 💕 Happy Mother’s Day! Keep hitting up the Road & the Track…they are always full of lessons and inspiration.

— Sarah Mahaney

The four thousandth snack on day 937 of “distance learning” this scene is no joke. It makes me realize the wide valley between fantasies of time with my family and the reality. As you articulate, it’s not about whether or not we love these kids (or partners) it’s about the very hard earned balance that we work to find. I appreciate too the point about grieving the plans we had to give up. I think some of the tension I project onto the kids is actually grief. Thank you for this essay Lauren.

— Elvina Scott

I am a working mum. I am temporarily out of work because of Covid. I had a terrible, excruciating pregnancy and after I gave birth to my wonderful son we found out he has a devastating rare genetic disease. I appreciate that motherhood is not all sunshine and rainbows, but it’s still hard for me to hear mothers complaining of their kids running around and climbing over furniture. Having healthy, energetic kids is a privilege, not something to be taken for granted.

— Chiara

This is so beautiful. Thank you, Lauren. Happy Mother’s Day!

— Jess

Thanks for this. I’ve been a SAHM out of some weird sense of duty I can’t let go of, surrounded by Pinterest mothers and women who are passionate about raising their kids to the nth degree and this helped me to see that there are others out there who, like me, may be happier (and through that, have healthier relationships with our kids) doing other things—while not loving our family or raising our children any less well. Maybe it’s time for me to find a new path after COVID regulations release us to our lives again. Truly appreciate your honesty and openness about your path.

— Jean Cap

I applaud the bravery to say 24/7 motherhood isn’t for you, (especially when it was an expectation for so long), something COVID has amplified and the beauty of escape via running. I feel it too. But it’s also remise to not point out the (maybe?) luxury you have to not work / opportunity to take a back seat at work during this time and still retain your job and/or make ends meet. That is privilege in its finest form and misses the mark on moms that are without jobs, have to work and take care of their kids at the same time, and more. There’s no playbook for these situations, and I truly believe every person is struggling in their own form but it’s also important to recognize your personal advantages. For me, while I’m working and trying to manage my toddler at the same time with some help, I’m so grateful for a job and being able to pay bills. I know so many more have it worse and I think about it every day.

— Lauren

Thank you, Lauren. I have been filled with anxiety, dread, and also excitement daily. Being a mom during this time reminds me why I work, why my child’s independence from me is so crucial to all of us, and why I have to continue to prioritize my own mental health. With a nagging knee injury, I haven’t been able to run for a week… I needed a run today… I needed to feel like ME.

— Kate D

This speaks to me deeply. I am also a working mom that is now home full time with my girls, while also being their teacher. I have felt trapped. Then I feel guilty for feeling that way. This has been challenging for all of us. I miss my freedom. I miss my high school athletes that I coach in cross country/track. I miss feeling like me. It will all come back eventually. I just need to find peace in this new definition of me for the time being. Thanks for sharing.

— Jessica Monson