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Sports presenter Sam Quek on motherhood: ‘I sometimes leave myself last’
The former GB hockey player and TV star talks about life with two young children and what working means for her wellbeing.
Former Olympian Sam Quek shares two young children with her husband (SWNS/PA)
With two toddlers just a year apart in age, TV presenter and former Great Britain Olympic hockey player Sam Quek has opened up about the pressures of modern-day motherhood.
“There’s a lot of pressure to be the perfect mum and tick every single box,” says the BBC1 Question Of Sport host.
“I tend to dissect every little scenario to see how I could do it better. Whether it’s – I didn’t take the kids to the pumpkin patch and all the other kids have gone, I’ve not got swimming lessons for my kids. It’s all these things that I might not tick off. I feel bad.”
The 35-year-old from the Wirral was part of the team that won Great Britain’s first-ever women’s Olympic hockey gold at Rio 2016, and now has children Molly, 2, and Isaac ‘Zac’, 1, with property entrepreneur husband Tom Mairs.
The former professional hockey player is now a mum of two (Adam Davy/PA)
With a busy TV career and continuing to play hockey for her local club, including away matches on the other side of the country, Quek says: “Naturally, I suffer from a lot of ‘mum guilt’.”
Her TV work includes BBC1’s Morning Live and the BBC’s NFL coverage, and these days she’s trying to celebrate what she calls “little wins”.
“[When] the kids have been up since 6am, it may not feel like you’ve done anything, but they’ve been fed and watered, you turned around the washing, you’ve got out the house, they’re wins – especially when you’ve got really young children.
“We’ll go and see grandparents, we’ll go out to the park, take dogs for walks and – although it’s not splashed all over Instagram – it’s still a win, it’s still something that I should be proud of. And sometimes it’s so busy that beans on toast with a bit of scrambled egg is an OK dinner.”
It’s why she’s partnered with family vitamin brand Haliborange on their latest campaign to end mum guilt, encouraging mums and dads to share the small moments of ‘parenting pride’ instead.
Sam Quek has teamed up with vitamin brand Haliborange (SWNS/PA)
For lots of mothers, the perception they need to carry the ‘mental load’ and be ‘over everything’ can be quite ingrained.
“I was away this weekend, I put the kids to bed on Friday night, and I didn’t see them until waking them up for nursery on Monday morning,” Quek says.
“Internally, through no pressure from anyone else, I only feel comfortable leaving the house when the fridge is full, I have made a homecooked dinner for the next day, I’ve got fresh washed, ironed clothes for that weekend.
“My husband is like, ‘Why are you doing that? I can cook, I can do the shopping. You’re just putting more pressure on yourself’.”
She adds: “I sometimes leave myself and my needs to last. I said to my husband the other day, ‘Don’t take this the wrong way, but you probably come after the two dogs!’ Once everyone’s been washed, then it’s time for me and my husband. And then after that, it’s probably time for me.”
When Zac was born in March 2022, Molly was only 12 months old, and Quek says the newborn stage with such a young firstborn was “incredibly tough”.
She says: “Me and my husband reflected on that, saying it was one of the toughest six months we’ve had – because you have the fatigue and the stress. We realised as long as one of us was OK on the tired front, we could rationalise and communicate with each other. There would be understanding that actually, [the other person] needed to sleep.”
“We were quite good in swapping night feeds,” she reveals. “It’s the [lack of] sleep that kills you.
“It’s all a challenge. There are the stressful times where I have to walk out the patio door, take a deep breath and then walk back in, stay calm and try and rationalise with them.”
Openly expressing a need for a break has been key for the couple in the early days of parenting, Quek says.
“One of the biggest things is communication. When there was a lack of it, that’s when there was a bit of friction about what each of us needed from each other.
“We soon realised if I was tired, I just needed to say, ‘Tom, I’m tired. Can you take the babies out?’ and he did. It was when those conversations weren’t happening, I think that’s when things didn’t run as smoothly. But we’re just best mates, we love each other. We’re really lucky.”
After Zac was born via an emergency C-section, Quek had eight weeks of maternity leave before going back to work.
“It was more just for me and my wellbeing,” Quek reveals. “I think people automatically think eight weeks is nothing, but I made the decision for me. If I’m OK with it, if it makes me feel better, if it makes me feel like a better mum, or a better wife, to feel more alive, then that’s the right decision for me. I like having my independence.”
It’s been crucial for maintaining her own identity since having children.
“I genuinely enjoy [my job], I love learning about people, about things, that’s where I’m happy. It was important for me, purely from that selfish point of view, to be out there and have my own [thing].
“I tried to get the right balance but I’m damned if I do, and damned if I don’t.”
Quek in her professional hockey days (Adam Davy/PA)
It’s also been important to make time for exercise, Quek says. Since retiring after the 2016 Rio Olympics she’s “not really set foot in a gym”, instead playing squash, doing yoga and playing for her local team, Bowdon Hockey Club in Manchester.
Sometimes club players are surprised to see her on the opposing team and she says she’s still “massively competitive” about winning.
“My husband says, ‘When you come back, you’re glowing, you’re bouncing’ – he knows how important [playing hockey] is for my mental wellbeing.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re stressed or tired, if you’re worried about everything. As soon as you turn up and step on the pitch, it’s two hours of feeling good. You forget about all your worries.”
Haliborange has teamed up with Sam Quek to end mum guilt and focus instead on parent pride. Join the pledge by sharing your ‘Parent Pride’ moments on social media, using the hashtag #EndMumGuilt and tagging @haliborangeuk.