“…But I still feel guilty,” I confessed over the phone to my sister, 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 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 interests, and that we’re actually separate people from our children?

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

While one may think our baby’s incredible dependence, and our overwhelming sense of responsibility, should gradually diminish as our children grow, there are certain spheres of obligation and worry that never fully fade away.

When my son was four and my daughter was two, countless aspects of my pre-motherhood life had 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 at times.

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 used bookstore on a Sunday afternoon, having no one to cook for but myself, or pursuing a hobby just for the fun of it.

Just for fun. What a concept.

I realized one day that though my kids were still young, they were no longer needy babies. 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 care for our children for a couple hours on the weekend while I retraced the steps of a dream I had as a girl.

I wondered, 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, struggling to regain my footing amidst springy circles of 14-year-olds? Most wrenching in my inner dialogue was this: Who was I to spend time and money on myself, when I have a family to care for and mouths to feed?

Eventually, I pushed through the self-doubt and found a stable I liked. Quickly, I was having the time of my life there every Saturday afternoon. The pulls and tugs of emotional baggage and the needs of young children were forgotten ever so briefly while I was riding.

When I was focusing on staying atop a moving, breathing 1,000 pound creature, I didn’t feel old and worn out. I wasn’t thinking about pre-heating the oven for fish sticks, or signing up for next year’s preschool. I wasn’t concerned about my son’s rash or my daughter’s bad dreams. I felt active, excited, happy. 

I’ve continued to set aside these Saturday afternoon sessions for myself, and the energy and persistence they instill frequently extend to life outside of my lessons. I’m becoming the mom I had pictured myself to be for my children, and the wife I’ve always hoped to be for my husband. I’m working towards becoming the woman I dreamed of being as a kid, and it feels good. It feels necessary.

After a few weeks of riding, I had that quiet conversation with my sister about the needling guilt, nagging at me when I found myself driving to the stable. I confided that despite the life my new hobby was breathing into me, I still felt that uncomfortable pull toward home. 

“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 I’m a happier, more fulfilled person because of them.