Let Go Of The Guilt

“But I still feel guilty,” I said over the phone to my older sister, who is also a mother of young children.

“I’ll never forget what our pediatrician once told me,” she replied. “She said to never feel bad about doing what you want to do.”

That simple advice resonated with me. What was it in my nature that was making me feel guilty about spending one afternoon a week doing something just for me? What is it in so many of us that pulls at our hearts when our logical side knows perfectly well that we all need time to pursue our own goals, interests, passions?

When we become mothers, we take a long, complex– perhaps never-ending– journey to reposition ourselves and our place in the world. We are no longer single, independent units. We are tethered to little people who depend on us for their very survival. It begins at birth. Or really, in the womb. We nurture our children physically and emotionally from the moment they are conceived. That’s just the first great feat we face.

While it seems our baby’s incredible dependence, and our overwhelming sense of responsibility, should eventually lessen as our children grow, I’m finding there are certain spheres of obligation and worry that will never fully vanish.

When my son was four, and my daughter was two, I was in my thirties. Countless aspects of my pre-motherhood life had simply disappeared. Some of these changes, like the luxury of sleeping late and leaving the house without having to check with anyone, I mourned, even resented. Still, as I settled into my role as caregiver, I hardly remembered other aspects of my pre-baby self that had been quietly stifled. I had all but forgotten the little joys from my independent days, like strolling a stationary store on a Sunday afternoon, having no one to cook for but myself, or pursuing a hobby just for the fun of it.

I realized one day, a few years into that new chapter of my life, that though my kids were still young, they weren’t the needy babies they once were. I was no longer pregnant; I was no longer nursing a constantly starving baby. No one truly needed me every minute of the day. My spouse could easily care for our children for a couple of hours a week while I retraced the steps of a dream I had as a girl.

Yet I questioned my intent. Was I too old to get back in the saddle, literally, as it was horse riding that was my interest? Would I look foolish as a grown-up, trying something new, and surely failing at times? Most pressing was this: Who am I to spend time and money on myself, when I have a family to care for?

Still, I followed my gut and pushed through the self-doubt to eventually find a stable I liked. Quickly, I was having the time of my life there each Saturday afternoon. The pulls and tugs of emotional baggage and the needs of young children were forgotten while I focused on riding, if only for a brief thirty-minute period. When I was riding, I didn’t feel old and tired. I didn’t feel bored or stressed. I felt active, excited, happy.

Often, this optimism extended to life outside of my lessons. I was the mom I wanted to be for my children, and the wife I hoped to be for my husband. I was the woman I had dreamed of being for myself.

After a few weeks, I had that conversation with my sister about the unshakable guilt that nagged at me when I found myself driving to the stable each week. I confided that despite the void my new hobby was filling in me, I still felt that uncomfortable, familiar pull home. That soul-crushing guilt.

“Never feel bad about doing what you want to do,” she reminded me.

Those words have helped me every single time I begin to fall within guilt’s grasp, and in turn, I am a happier person because of them.

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