Letting Go of Mom Guilt with Yoga

by Lindsay Scouras April 05, 2023

older and younger sister working out

I’ve never been the type of person that would describe themselves as active. At age five, after a single rec soccer practice, I begged my mother to quote, “please, never make me do that again.” I have often told my family and friends that if they see me running to call the authorities, because it most definitely means I’m being chased.

But there’s nothing like a “geriatric pregnancy” (their words, not mine) to really put things in perspective that you’re not the spry young grasshopper you used to be. The first year or so with your baby, your time is spent blissfully snuggling and your biggest physical accomplishment might be whether or not you showered that day. But in the wise words of one of our generation’s greatest minds, once you find yourself with a bonafide toddler, life moves pretty fast. Suddenly, you’re chasing what feels like an Olympic sprinter through the aisles of Target, or getting winded when your 30-pound toddler insists on being carried up the stairs to bed, despite having two very functional legs of their own.

I think whether you have children young or at the ripe old age of 35 (as I did), you become very aware of your own mortality at some point. Suddenly, time feels so finite, and you become much more aware of how you’re spending it. It made me realize that I want to make the most of whatever time my son and I get to spend together, and I want those moments to be ones he’ll look back on fondly. And now, much to my chagrin, it seems to involve much more physical activity than a self-proclaimed sedentary being like myself would prefer.

A wake up call to move

With my son’s new interests in all things running, hiking, walking, and a general desire to never stay in one place for more than a few minutes, it dawned on me: if I didn’t step outside my comfort zone and get moving more often with him, he was going to have very few fun memories to look back on fondly someday when I am no longer earthside. Worse even, he was going to grow up believing that my husband is the “fun” one (I’m fun too, I swear! Just… a more stationary kind of fun).

The real wake-up call for me was last year when I slept the wrong way and couldn’t move my right shoulder for a month without wincing in pain. I spent weeks trying to undo whatever damage I had done to my muscles, from hot Epsom salt baths to recommendations for specialists and physical therapy, to expensive prescription creams that were supposed to somehow magically heal my atrophying upper body. None of it worked until I was saved by a 90-minute deep tissue massage thanks to an almost two-year-old spa gift certificate I received as a baby shower gift that I forgot to cash in (because apparently, my toxic trait is repeatedly neglecting self-care).

The masseuse said my shoulder was so inflamed he could feel the heat radiating off my skin and expressed shock that I hadn’t had an issue sooner. He cautioned me against sitting all the time - very helpful when you work in an office 40 hours a week - carrying my toddler constantly on one side, and you guessed it: general lack of movement. As I stared down the latter half of my 30s, he warned me of the pitfalls of continuing my inactive lifestyle with a roster of health buzzwords that I had heard before but never taken seriously, things like “core strength” and “stretching” and “taking care of yourself.” The audacity! (Kidding, of course, I basically owe this man my life.)

Finding what felt right

It was then I determined that I need to do something, if not for me, then for my son. But what? As previously mentioned, I wasn’t about to lace up my sneakers (did I even own sneakers?) and run a 5K. A gym membership was out of the question, as every time I’ve ever joined one they have laid eyes on me approximately four times before I ghosted them, never to be seen again. Sure, there are a million free workout videos on YouTube, but would I overnight develop the motivation to keep up with them consistently?

That’s when I serendipitously discovered that a local influencer I had been following for years (but never met in person) was offering a free Yin yoga class at a new studio 15 minutes away from me. She promoted her class as one that was open to all, welcoming people of any size, skin color, or orientation. As someone who had tried yoga classes here and there but was always intimidated by both the instructors and the attendees, it just never felt like a place for me. However, I’m a sucker for a freebie, and it literally couldn’t hurt to get some stretching in.

Yin is a more meditative, slower-paced practice where poses are held for longer periods of time. As opposed to “yang” yoga focusing on your muscles, Yin is about targeting your deep connective tissues and actually encourages students to make modifications to poses that cause discomfort. The instructor constantly offered us blocks, blankets, anything that would help “bring the Earth to us” and not the other way around. Did I mention the room was also a balmy 85 degrees? The warmth aided in the relaxation of our muscles and our minds, allowing us to sink into the poses while encouraging self-reflection and relaxation, unlike any other wellness experience I had ever had. One of the things I loved most about it was the time slot: at 6 PM on a Sunday night, it was the perfect way to wind down after a weekend with the family while resetting for the week ahead.

The only problem with the class? It’s smack dab in the middle of my son’s bedtime routine. I’m very lucky to have a spouse who is perfectly willing and capable of putting our toddler to bed on his own, not to mention he works away from our home a few days a week, meaning that I’m in solo parenting mode half the time. Often by the time my husband gets home, I’m so exhausted that I’m ready to throw up my hands and say “your turn!” and let him take the reigns on responsibilities like dinner, bath, and bedtime. But as a full-time working mom, I also know that my time with our son is limited so I usually still find myself participating in all the nightly routines, even if it’s sitting on the floor of his room for a bit while Dad reads him a story before bed.

Benefits beyond the physical

I could see that the benefits of attending this yoga class were immediate. Not only was I mentally and physically invigorated, but I found myself meeting new people and making connections completely separate from my job or motherhood. I stretched parts of my body that haven’t had attention literally ever, and I often found myself so relaxed that when I went home, I had no desire to mindlessly scroll my phone or stay up late dilly-dallying. In fact, I couldn’t wait to shower and settle into bed, fully at peace and ready for the week to come. In fact, it was some of the best sleep I had in months. I woke up refreshed and ready to take on the day, with no signs of the imminent bodily decay I had been experiencing recently. I knew I needed to go back.

And yet… every time I stepped out the door at 5:30 PM on a Sunday, my yoga mat tucked under my arm, I felt it - that twinge of parental guilt, the FOMO, whatever you want to call it when you’re actually excited to spend some time away from your kid. Even though I knew that this was a beneficial act of self-care, I still couldn’t help but feel that I was abandoning him in some way for my own needs. It’s not like I was going every week - with our schedules, I was usually lucky to make it to one Sunday night session a month - but whenever I did, I found myself constantly having to remind myself why I was doing this. Not just for me, but for all the reasons I mentioned previously of taking care of myself in order to then be able to go and take care of him. Almost like it was the internal struggle of the devil and the angel on each shoulder, with one chastising me for spending what limited free time I had with a child that I already don’t see 40 hours a week while the other reminded me that a happy parent is always a better alternative to a stressed, burnt out parent.

Being a parent is a neverending cycle of selfless acts. Now that’s not to martyr myself, but the majority of parenting involves thinking of someone else’s hopes, dreams, and hunger levels before yours about 98% of the time. It’s an unsustainable expectation that you would be able to always put your child’s feelings and well-being before your own, but it just kind of comes with the territory. We’ve all heard that you can’t save anyone else on the airplane without putting on your own oxygen mask first, so why is it so hard to do that as parents?

A sense of space

This weekly yoga class gave me back some of that space that I was missing to just “be” for a little bit. To have something that was mine outside of my job and my role as a caretaker. To focus solely on the rise and fall of my own breath, or the flex of my toes.

While I’m no expert at just two and a half years in, after getting through the early days and months of new parent fog, I’ve finally been able to take a step back and recognize what things help make me a better mom. For me, working is huge, as I thrive on being able to spend time and converse with other adults as well as genuinely enjoying the work that I do. Sometimes, it’s loading up my son in his stroller and getting just 20 minutes of fresh air (no matter how much I might bemoan the process). Other times, it’s “selfish” acts like spending 15 minutes in the morning putting on a little bit of makeup and looking in the mirror to see a real human woman staring back at me and not an extra from The Last of Us. Other times, it’s the peace that comes with spending an extra ten minutes alone in your car mindlessly scrolling your timeline before walking into an upside-down house.

So am I a yogi now? Certainly not, but I can recognize that a few small tweaks to my lifestyle give my overall health and well-being a much-needed boost. Have I learned how to balance the needs of my family and myself? Also no. I’m still relatively new to this child-rearing thing, but so far I’ve yet to meet a mom who has it all figured out. The one thing we all seem to have in common is that we’re just trying our best. Not to be the best parent ever, but the best parent for your kid, which is hard to do on an empty tank. Whether it's sneaking in little acts of self-care when you can or taking a few days away to recharge, incorporating habits that you feel your best can be beneficial not only for you but your entire family. Because when you feel better, you parent better.




Lindsay Scouras

Author



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