Today I left the gym, with one child on my hip and the other with holding my hand, and practically skipped down the stairs to my car. My endorphins were flowing. I felt like I could breathe. I dripped in sweat and chatted with my daughter about what games she played with her friends in childcare. I asked her what she wanted for lunch. I smooched my son on the forehead as we walked. I felt amazing.
As soon as I got in the car, I even texted my husband to thank him for encouraging me to sign up for a gym membership all those months ago. Our budget is relatively tight and doesn’t allow for many extras, but it comes down to this: Consistently going to the gym makes me a happier, healthier, better mom.
This stay-at-home mom gig can be hard. Really hard. I’ve wondered for years now why so many of us seem strung out: stressed, tired, and discontent. Is it a culture that is increasingly judgmental of all our decisions? Is it that there are so many more avenues, now, for us to compare ourselves to others? Is it that we’re being told (and telling ourselves) to be it all, every second of every day?
Often, I’ve noticed, when a more seasoned mom talks to a newer one, the topic of self-care and its importance makes an appearance… and for good reason! We all want to find the best way to recharge our batteries. Becoming a mother is an introduction into selflessness for many of us. At no other time had I consistently refused myself the comfort of lying on the couch when I was tired, a shower when I was dirty, or hot food when I was hungry… all for the sake of someone else. But when we had our daughter, these things all became part of my wonderful, but exhausting, reality.
You give your body to grow them safe and strong.
You give your sleep and rest to nurture when they are needy.
You give your time and energy to teach and instruct as they absorb the world around them.
And, when the time is right, you start to give back to yourself, because it’s important, and you matter. You matter because your health, emotional and physical, enables you to be there for your little ones and for your spouse. Most of all, though (and we all need to hear this, speak this, lather, rinse, and repeat), you matter because you are worthwhile and significant, just for being you.
That’s why I vocalize that, if I could definitively name the one thing that’s been most integral in my journey towards health and in my education on self-care, it would be the gym. I had to decide that taking a step towards my own wellness was worth the time, money, and effort. That it’s not selfish to prioritize myself, at times; that it’s a necessity. The culture of mommy-martyrdom needs to be put to death. Purposefully denying ourselves things that are good for us isn’t noble; it’s unwise. It doesn’t make us better mothers. It makes us unhealthy.
In my gym, I am afforded a place that is set aside for me to strengthen my body, an hour of playtime and supervision of my children, and a form of therapy that has been revolutionary for me. Feeling glum? Take it out on a barbell. Angry? Run some stairs. In need of some centering? Take a yoga class.
On top of that, my kids love it! My daughter gets so excited to run in and find some friends to play with. How can you feel guilty when your kids are just as excited as you are?
And get this. I can shower. In Peace. While my kids play. Awesome, right?
These fleeting days can feel fulfilling, draining, wonderful and trying, often all at the same time. On my favorite days there is lots of wrestling, acrobatics, and tickle fights that leave us breathless. On my least favorite days my nerves are shot and my temper feels short. Regardless of which end of the spectrum our day seems to fall on, time spent working out leaves me encouraged, present, and more ready to tackle it with enthusiasm. It’s not often you can put a price tag on something like that, but for us, it’s 19.95 a month. And it’s so worth it.
Rachel is a wife and mother living in Raleigh, North Carolina. She’s a fan of good coffee, wearer of gray t-shirts, and is constantly starting books she will never finish. Her family is her joy, and she loves to engage with other moms and dads on matters of parenting. Her blog posts have also been featured on the Today Show Parenting Blog and Scary Mommy.