I was recently chatting with some people at various stages in their personal lives. One is engaged, another recently married, a third with two kids – and then me, with one active toddler. We were chatting about “getting too comfortable” in our relationships and the one with two kids said, “Oh, just wait until you have kids then you’ll let yourself go.” You could tell she didn’t mean it in the relaxing way, but in the “I don’t have time to take care of myself way.
She shortly left the conversation and the two others without kids looked at me with fear and uncertainty? I could tell they wanted to ask me: “Really? Does that happen? Do you think you let yourself go?” I quickly shook my head to indicate that I didn’t agree that having kids = “letting yourself go” in the way they think it means.
Before I go further, let me acknowledge that this is a somewhat controversial topic. People can understandably get defensive when they think their way of life or priorities are criticized. Recently, this mom got some backlash for “shaming” those with kids who don’t exercise. People assumed she was saying that if you don’t look like her after kids – your priorities are clearly out of whack.
I didn’t take it this way at all. Exercise and fitness is so much more than the outward benefits it has to your physical appearance. Beyond the health benefits, exercise offers a mental break from all of life’s crazy demands – something that is even more essential when you have a kid. That kid is going to want you to be your best self – and exercise helps you accomplish that.
I’m not saying it’s easy. Until Coop turned one, breastfeeding meant that most of my exercise was relegated to the treadmill after 7 p.m. with one outdoor run a week on Saturdays. It sucked. But it also helped me feel like ME again during the roller-coaster of postpartum. These days, I’m up at 5 a.m. to make it happen.
So much talk about motherhood is about what you are and aren’t doing right. Are you under-parenting or over-parenting? Baby-wear or stroller? Breastfeeding or formula? There are so many decisions for others to criticize. All of these decisions are relatively subjective, but in order to even be around and clear-headed to make them, you need to be able to take some time to care for yourself. Even if that is at 5 a.m.
This brings me back to the original topic of women “letting themselves go” when they have children. This can mean many things – but many interpret it as no time for exercise, makeup, fashionable clothes, or anything else that women think make them “hot.” There is nothing wrong with a mom who doesn’t place a priority on those things anymore, just like there is nothing more with a mom who still does.
That said, it is important for all moms to let themselves go – but not in the traditional sense. They need to give themselves permission to make their health, physical and mental well being an absolute priority. If you don’t want to spend hours at the gym anymore post-kids – fine – neither do I. But I do want to be my best self for my family, which means “letting go” and giving myself permission to exercise and preserve an important component of my pre-baby life.