Persona

How I ditched the ‘working mom guilt’!

It took time to reconcile my ‘good mom’ notion
with who I really was inside: just a girl who loves ballet

The author, returning to a childhood passion, relishes the performance as 'me time'. (Photo courtesy of author)

Motherhood is many things to many people, and mostly good things. However, it has also been stretched and pulled and regurgitated as an excuse to “let go” of oneself—and oftentimes not just in the “looks” department. Sometimes, moms let go of their personal dreams, too, in the name of parenthood.

It’s a worthwhile sacrifice, some say, because our children benefit. But do they really?

I was 10 when I first took up ballet lessons. I fell in love with it! So much that I would don my leotards and ballet shoes even if I didn’t have class, and would just dance around the house. In idle times, I would take a pencil and draw (guess what?) a ballerina on pointes. It was all I could think about. It was all I wanted to do. It was all I dreamed to be.

Unfortunately, I was a sickly child and it seemed that I missed more classes than I could attend. It was time to fold up the ballet slippers and relegate them to the back of my closet—along with the fond memories and friendships that ballet had brought me.

Growing up I engaged in a number of activities to provide an outlet for my restlessness. Tennis has been the sport of my life (and it still is), but one summer I found it too hot to play outside. I looked for something to do indoors. Quite serendipitously, someone I knew just opened a small ballet studio that offered classes for adult beginners and “returners”—what fortuitous timing!

Something in me felt alive suddenly. I could give it another go! But so many things have changed in my life. Now raising a son, and pursuing a corporate career, I very well knew that my job and other activities were already taking so much of my time away from my family—can I afford still to single-mindedly chase a dream?

Guilt ate at me as I picked up my dance bag, that first day back. It was compounded by my anxiety to leave behind my home, as thoughts of something bad happening while I was away wrestled with my excitement (do you also get that feeling?). But then my family reassured me that they would be fine, and my son lovingly reminded me to “have fun!”

So in 2016, 28 years after I turned my back on a childhood dream, I took my first ballet class in decades. Imagine the body pains the day after!

More than just a hobby

It has been five years since then. The funny thing is that this consistent ballet dancing, despite my hobbyist approach initially, has gotten me at a level good enough to take a proficiency exam with the Royal Academy of Dance (RAD). The RAD is a UK-based dance institution founded in 1920 to set standards for dance teaching. It’s quite a feat for little old me who has gone from complete abstinence to really diving in! I passed the exam “with merit” – With Merit is the second highest score in these exams. I still laugh in disbelief!

I have also been promoted to “intermediate” level in one of the ballet studios I go to. It was exhilarating to hear the news, but it also meant that I now have to work harder to learn new skills and earn my place among the advanced students with whom the classes are shared. I’m open to the challenge!

In 2018 and 2019, I joined two big-scale dance recitals, and a couple of small, intimate ones. And this is what I miss most now that classes are mostly online. It might take a while before live events make their way back.

I have ballet shoes, pointe shoes, high-heeled shoes, tennis shoes, cross-trainers, football cleats. They are all as important as the slippers I wear at home, attending to family needs

In the meantime, I know I will be free from pre-performance jitters—but even those give me a different kind of high! Ballet at home will do for now, but I do miss the energy of silently warming up with other dancers—together yet alone—as we are immersed deep in our own thoughts or in quiet meditation before the rigorous 90-minute class. Sometimes I’d take back-to-back sessions and get lost in the dance for three hours. How I managed to drive back home with jelly legs then, I will never know.

I remember my schedule becoming so hysterically chameleonic as I attended to my priorities then. People who juggle different roles often ascribe to the idiom “wearing different hats.” Well, I like to refer more to my shoes because I have ballet shoes, pointe shoes, high-heeled shoes, tennis shoes, cross-trainers, football cleats… They are all as important as the slippers I wear at home, where I am attending to the needs of my family in equally multiple capacities.

It took time to undo my own notions of what a “good mom” should be (i.e. selfless, puts the self last) and reconcile it with who I really was inside: just a girl who enjoyed dancing and many other things!

If you find that you are looking at motherhood as a hindrance to achieving things, here are a few thoughts that you may find helpful, as I did:

  1. Ditch the working mom guilt. We are all too familiar with the nagging feeling of leaving our parental duties behind. As a person who prided myself for being responsible, this was the hardest to do. Through the years I learned that children start creating their own life structures as they grow —and one of the important blocks they learn from is created during their time away from you. They need time away, too. Knowing this made me a lot less… dare I say it… clingy?

  2. Change your perspective: “Me time” is healthy. Taking time for self-care is not a selfish act. “You can’t pour from an empty vessel,” a saying goes, and taking the time to rest or pamper yourself can be your way of refilling. It’s best to do what makes you feel recharged afterwards.

  1. “Make time” instead of “find time.” We all have 24 hours in a day, so we can’t complain that we don’t have time for certain things. Identify your priorities and set aside time for them. Instead of mindlessly browsing on social media for hours on end or binge-watching a TV show, set limits to your own “screen time” the same way you do for your children. You’d be surprised at how much free time you have!

No matter what values we tell our kids to imbibe, ultimately it’s how you act that they observe and mimic

  1. Know that kids learn from example. No matter what values we tell our kids to imbibe, ultimately it’s how you act that they observe and mimic. You can’t encourage your child to try new things, be more active, or follow their dreams when they could clearly fathom that you have long given up on yours. Be the inspiration they need to see.

  1. Remember that we only have one life to live. We often put off doing what we want to do and just focus on doing what we need to do. It helps to think that tomorrow is never promised to us. When I find myself overwhelmed by work or something else and on the verge of skipping ballet class to attend to that matter, I ask myself this question: If today were my last day on earth, what would I want to be doing? The answer never changes: I’d rather still be dancing.

The author returning to a childhood passion and getting lost in the dance (Photo courtesy of author)

About author

Articles

When not dancing, she works as a communication practitioner and in her spare time pens poems she seldom shares. You can follow her ballet journey on Instagram at @belated_ballerina.
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