Amid the chaos of life with young children, parents find the positivity they crave at parkrun

If you’ve been in the newborn bubble, you know all too well that days turn into nights and before you know it three months have passed.

If you haven’t, imagine an endless stream of eating, settling down and, if you’re lucky, sleeping (but only for a short time). It’s a big win if you are allowed to eat or shower on some days, let alone leave the house.

The monotony is real, and so is the isolation.

That’s why parents of young children need an outlet, a chance to socialize and connect with others who are going through the same thing.

Parent groups are great for that (if you have a team that you click with), but there’s another place moms and dads will connect – it’s parkrun.

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‘It saved my mental health’

Madi Mercieca has been running a park for about five years – her local is Penrith Lakes in Greater Western Sydney. She has three young children – a 5-year-old son and 18-month-old twins.

She experienced severe anxiety when she was pregnant with her first child, which continued after his birth.

Then the endless competition that comes with being a new mom (like the not-so-innocent question “does your kid sleep through the night?”) found its way into her life, along with a few too many negative conversations in new parenting circles.

But it all changed when her son was six weeks old and Madi went park-run for the first time since giving birth. She says the support and positivity was “stunning”.

A woman runs while pushing a stroller and raises her thumb.
Madi Mercieca was blown away by the positivity and support she received at parkrun.Supplied: Penrith Lakes parkrun

“It saved my sanity,” Madi said.

“I quickly realized that going to parkrun was a… [great] way to get my endorphins going, and just being with positive people.

Madi runs along a trail at Penrith Lakes parkrun.
Madi Mercieca has been parkrun for five years and has achieved 108 finishes.Supplied: Penrith Lakes parkrun

So how does exercise help new parents?

After waking up several times in the middle of the night and then dealing with requests throughout the day, getting out of the house can be a chore.

But according to associate professor Megan Teychenne of the Institute of Physical Activity and Nutrition at Deakin University, exercise is so important for new parents.

“Physical activity, we know from research, is important for both the prevention and treatment of mental illness, whether that be depression or anxiety, as well as promoting mental health — so we just feel happier in ourselves,” said dr. Teychenne.

A mother smiles at a woman who hands her a token while her baby is in a pram.
Physical activity has been shown to prevent the onset of depression and reduce symptoms.Delivered: parkrun

With so many women in Australia (one in seven, according to the Black Dog Institute) experiencing postpartum depression, Dr. Teychenne that mothers are an important population to target.

The mental health benefits of exercise count when done alone or in a group, but it may be worth having a chat there as well.

When you add fresh air to those two things, parkrun really packs a punch.

A group of people are walking on a park run track.
Parkrun takes place every Saturday morning at over 400 locations across Australia.Delivered: parkrun

“You have the element of exercise there, but you also have the element of being outside in nature, and research has shown that this can have mental health benefits. Then you have social interaction,” Dr Teychenne said.

“So each of those elements really complement each other for improving the mental health of mothers and people in general.”

Madi, who is also part of Running Mums Australia, can tell.

‘It’s reassuring to know you’re not doing it alone’

Brittany Klee goes park-running with her two children Abigail, 2, and Violet, 10 months, and her husband, Chris. They are often part of a larger group with extended family and friends.

Brittany Klee and her family and friends sit on some concrete steps.
Brittany Klee goes park-run with her husband and two daughters, but they’re part of a larger group of families on the Wynnum course.Delivered: Brittany Klee

“If we all go on a Saturday, we’ll probably be around 20-30 people,” said Brittany.

Brittany does the Wynnum track in Brisbane and often hangs back and walks with two other mums.

“We’ll be walking and talking very often to find out who’s had a rough week and who hasn’t,” said Brittany.

Four moms hold babies at parkrun.
Brittany Klee (right) with a group of mothers and their babies at Wynnum parkrun.Delivered: Brittany Klee

Sometimes Brittany doesn’t even do the full 3 miles, but she finds it therapeutic to just get out of the house and out into the fresh air.

“Being in the sun and going for a walk really relaxes me,” Brittany said.

In addition, parkrun is a time when she does not think about the chaos of life with young children.

Brittany takes a selfie with relatives and a lake behind her.
Brittany Klee goes park runs with her extended family and often hangs back and walks the trail.Delivered: Brittany Klee

‘The more mothers know about this, the better’

Madi loves the camaraderie of parkrun, where she has formed connections across generations and genders.

“It’s good because there are fathers too, it’s more of an equal environment,” Madi said.

“And there are grandparents, too, so you can get advice from older generations and your own generation.”

A group that gives her so much support.

Two women are walking on a concrete path, one is pushing a pram and the other is carrying a baby in a baby carrier.
Madi Mercieca (right) can’t get enough of the positive parkrun community she’s become a part of.Supplied: Penrith Lakes Parkrun

“While you really wanted to do a park run under 30, but your baby did and you ended up doing a 1-hour park run, they’re just so happy for you that you’re done.”