Day after day, I see fluffy inspirational quotes and images of what motherhood and family life are supposed to be. The images and quotes typically have an airy and serene feel to them, with their pastel colors and bleached smiles. The quotes wax poetic about how being a parent is the single most important part of a person’s life, but what happens to the person who sees these images and quotes and cannot find themselves reflected in the scrolling letters and curated images? For me, it created feelings of inadequacy and failure.
I don’t see myself reflected in those idealized images because I can identify parts of who I am that have nothing to do with my children, and I like it way. Those images made me feel like there was something wrong with me. In the midst of those feelings I came across a notion that to be a good mother your old self has to die and you become a new person. The new person was necessary in order to be what your children need you to be. This thought stuck with me for weeks, enraging me more every time I thought about it. The person that existed before I gave birth is no longer welcome? But I spent so much time getting to know her!
I find it absurd that anyone would think that becoming a parent is cause for martyrdom. The person I have come to be has been built throughout my lifetime, and is a culmination of the experiences that I have lived through. It has taken me decades to find comfort, strength and love in who I am as a complete person. Why should I deal her a death blow in the name of raising new humans?
There is a societal expectation that once a woman has a child, she will finally achieve a sense of purpose. Nuts to that! I already had purpose. I loved my job and it was important to me. I didn’t feel sad at getting up every morning to go crush it at the office. I had a fantastic extended family and amazing friends in my life who all meant the world to me. I had an amazing relationship with my husband that is loving and deep and supportive. Most importantly, I loved MYSELF. I laugh at my own jokes even if no one in the room gets it. Shit, I laugh at my own jokes even when there’s no one else in the room! I sing loud when I’m in the car alone, and it’s often to the same song on repeat because that’s the song I am feeling at the moment, and I want to listen to it 37 times, and it’s my fuggin’ car. I learned how to be proud of myself for everything I am, and still look forward to the things I want to be as my life expands.
Then I got caught in the trap. The messages we receive on a daily basis dig far into the recesses of our minds and can set the stage of growth or destruction. In the case of my relationship to motherhood, it became a source of self-loathing. Because of what society was telling me I “should” be and how I “should” feel, I spent time completely wrapped into the existence of my kids. I had put their every need and most wants ahead of taking care of myself. With four daughters, it’s easy to spend so much effort and money on them that there is nothing left for me. I began to realize that there was also nothing left of me. I felt trampled by my life. I felt trapped. I felt lonely. When I looked in the mirror I no longer recognized who I was. My hair was a disaster. My complexion was murky. My clothes were sad. My body was weak. My soul was miserable. No more of that madness.
I have spoken to dozens of women who have gotten to a similar place and the common theme was that society kept telling them that this is what motherhood is supposed to look like and that they were supposed to be grateful for it and “enjoy every minute because it goes so fast.” It’s infuriating that this is the message that women receive of what motherhood is supposed to feel like. I’m pulling out my soap box and yelling “THIS IS BULLSHIT!”
My identity does not begin with my relationship to my children.Who I was before them is what makes me who I am with them, and that person needs to be nurtured as well. Not every part of my life is for them. I vacation without them because I like to do stuff that kids can’t do and I’m not going to miss out because I gave birth a few times. I am not rich. There are times when I cannot afford everything that everyone needs right when they need it. My children will not always comes first in the pecking order and if someone wants to call me selfish, I’m fine with that. We are told that the well-being of our children is far more important than that of ourselves. Nope. My well-being is just as important as that of my children because me being ok means that I can be better for them and they will be ok too. When I want to go out for a nice dinner, my kids are not invited. Someone I know posted on Facebook that she “doesn’t understand what’s wrong with these new mothers that do things without their kids. If my kids can’t come, then I won’t be coming either.” Please send me her invitation. If I can find a babysitter I will be there ready to have a great time without small people distracting me from the grown up fun.
Being a mother is an expansion of who I am, NOT A REPLACEMENT. I love my daughters in a way that I have never loved anyone else. There is a special part of me that is reserved just for them, but who I am encompasses more than the asses I wipe, the mouths I feed, and the love I give to my children. I have a career that I am proud of. I am a fiercely loyal friend. I’ll beat you in a game of Taboo. I am my husband’s best buddy and sexy play thing. I am a big dork. I am a writer. None of those things come before or after being an amazing mother. I can be every bit of those things all at once, and my value as a person is not predicated on being a mother. When my last child leaves my nest, I don’t want to have killed the version of me that existed outside of them. If I succumb to mommy martyrdom, there will be a husk of a person where a once lively spirit used to dwell. My kids are not the center of my universe and I want them to know it. I am all of the things and the order of priority changes by the day. The balance is a constant work is progress but I want to be able to say that the most important thing I am, is happy.