Becoming a wife and mother: What’s going to happen to my identity?

Guest post by Hale Goetz
Rockabilly Batman / Wonderwoman Halloween Costume
Thanks to CatEyedKP for uploading this awesome maternity photo to our Flickr pool!

Getting married was terrifying. But that terror didn’t come from the idea of being married. Instead, and more importantly, we were scared about all the questions and different ideas of what a marriage entails…

Does it mean a white dress? Champagne? Wedding vows? Are you taking his last name? Aren’t you a shit head for getting married at all considering, uh, I don’t know, the patriarchy? Don’t you know people aren’t meant to spend their whole lives with one person? What about the DIVORCE RATE? Heard of it?

People ask him, “Are you ready to lose your freedom?” while people ask me, “Are you ready to be a mother?”

Even after you’re married, these questions don’t really stop, and the kind of questions my husband and I get are totally different. People ask him, “Are you ready to lose your freedom?” while people ask me, “Are you ready to be a mother?”

Of course, this is ridiculous. I can’t even begin to break apart how ridiculous this is, because “the ol’ ball and chain” bit makes me queasy. My husband asked me, “How do I even respond to that?” Even though the joke was insulting to our partnership, mentioning that to someone gets an eye roll and a “lighten up.”

Maybe it’s just the way these jokes and comments and questions stacked up, but it doesn’t feel like I can just “lighten up.” Any confidence I had in myself to ignore what people were saying quickly dissipated, and one of my newest and biggest worries was born. As I grow in my relationship with my husband and future family, what’s going to happen to my identity?

The plan was to have kids ASAP, which looked like one-to-two years for our current means, but now I’m biting my nails about it. I want to have a kid, but I also want to be a published author. I understand, again, that these two things are not on opposite sides of reality, but I can’t help but feel like I’m somehow going to diminish in value the more I fall into traditional roles. I mean, you’ve seen what happens to lady authors, right? Now imagine adding a “Mrs.” to the mix.

Will people still take me seriously? Will new people meeting us see me as a separate being from my husband, or am I doomed to be an “and Mrs…”? Will my cooler, more progressive friends tire of me? And what about my writing? When does my blog cease being a blog and start being a “mommy blog”? Are people going to still want to talk to me about social justice issues when I have a lip-wobbling one-year-old strapped to my chest?

My husband doesn’t have to worry about being pegged as a father first, because society will never ask that of him. He’s not going to be a “daddy accountant.” Instead, like every man who has ever had both a family and a career is allowed to do, he’ll just be an accountant.

It’s not like I’m in denial here. I know that, as a mother, you have to give a large part of yourself to be a parent, but so does anyone involved in raising a child. Logically, I understand this is not gender exclusive, but my jaw clenches when I start really thinking about it.

I can’t pretend that just because I make jokes about it, I feel fine. I don’t feel fine, but I also don’t feel like the odds being stacked against me means I should just give up or become resentful about my marriage or becoming a mother.

I’m going to try to publish a book next year, I’m going to have a kid while still acting as an annoying Social Justice Warrior, and I’m going to be with my husband and be happy. When you come face-to-face with the patriarchy, sometimes the biggest middle finger you can give is just to live the way you want.

Comments on Becoming a wife and mother: What’s going to happen to my identity?

  1. “When you come face-to-face with the patriarchy, sometimes the biggest middle finger you can give is just to live the way you want.”

    Thank-you for this!! Sometimes I worry about how I’ll be viewed by others because I want a baby, a marriage, to be a mom and wife. But that doesn’t mean I’m giving up on my dreams and goals either. I guess, the moral is, live so you’re happy and fulfilled, and don’t worry about what everyone else thinks. (Easier said than done sometimes.)

    • I sometimes feel like a “bad feminist” because I want to get married, especially since it seems modern feminism is all about “you go girl, you don’t need no man”, like if I want to get married I’m “letting The Patriarchy win”! 🙁

      • I would hope that a “Modern” feminist wouldn’t feel she doesn’t need a man. I mean we came from both a woman and a man.

        I came from the generation that said “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle”…….I always thought that was rude and hurtful.

        How would those women feel if a man came out and said something like that about them? It would’ve started World War III!!!

  2. “I can’t help but feel like I’m somehow going to diminish in value the more I fall into traditional roles.”

    This nailed all my feels!!! I struggle with living in a suburban setting while my heart lives in a city. I struggle with even the IDEA of becoming a mother because my heart will always be a tad self motivated. Ok, maybe not a tad…maybe a lot. I love the mention that Dad will still be an accountant with a child, he will never be Daddy Accountant. I love my husband and I know he is ready to parent WITH me, but I’m mourning the loss of my individuality…before we are even trying to conceive. Haha, get a grip, right?!? I definitely feel like everything I thought I wanted drifts farther away the more traditional my life comes. But lately I’m coming to terms with maybe it’s okay with wanting, or at least embracing, a different lifestyle than you thought you did as long as it involves things you love. I’m going to be with my husband and be happy too, thanks for the inspiration 🙂

    Either way, thanks for this post, it’s good to know people are thriving through being a bit of fear. You rock!

  3. My favorite was the implication that after marriage my husband would never have sex again unless maybe it was his birthday or something. Why would I put a halt to my own sex life just because we got married?! For the lack of sex life after kids, that’s usually attributed more to lack of time/energy and that one has a seed of truth to it. The variables of being in the mood, being in the same place, being *awake* and having the energy for sex are a lot trickier to get in alignment when there’s a small person in the house who is dependent on you for everything and predominately communicates by wailing.

    (This is assuming a monogamous relationship of course.)

  4. ALL OF THIS. I am also a writer and have been married for over two years. No kids yet, mostly because I’m not ready but also, I’m afraid it’ll hold me back. I know that’s silly but society makes you believe that once you’re a mom that has to be your one and only world. Mothers are shamed all the time if they want to enjoy a night away or take on a second job. It sucks, but I believe it can be done and YOU WILL BE AWESOME! Good luck on your book! Great post!

  5. I want to punch in the face every single person that’s ever told me to “lighten up” when I expressed discomfort with what they just said. I just told you that what you said was not ok with me, so don’t just dismiss me like that. Silencing is also not ok.

  6. In our engagement announcement in the newspaper we wrote “…their engagement to be lawfully wedded into marriage, which will encompass … and the oppression of no more than one ankle each by the fastening of balls and chains to said ankles.” We thought it only fair that the joke work both ways!

    In seriousness though, I HATE those stereotypical jokes about marriage. Also, why are the jokes always at the expense of the wife and make it seem like women turn into controlling bitches upon marriage? My favorite and the most baffling so far has been “Oh, I bet you just can’t wait to re-decorate your house using his money, huh?” To which I replied “what money?” I make more than him plus we kept our finances separate. If I want to buy a new chair I’ll earn it myself thank you very much! Plus why would the simply act of getting married suddenly turn me into an interior designer. We’re still not done decorating our home for the first time, let alone re-decorating!

      • I know, right? It was just ridiculous and very rude. I would never spend anyone’s money, even my own, on re-decorating a space that we rent when we’re trying to save money towards buying a house. Just goes to show how some stereotypical some people are. Maybe in this person’s experience his wife does spend “his” money home decor items so he thinks all women do?

  7. I was so terrified by this sort of thing before becoming a mother. I’m a scientist, and I basically only interact with guys at work. I was so worried what they would think of me and whether they’d think less of me. In the beginning, I kept bringing my baby in to work all the time, so the fact that I was a mother now wasn’t easy to overlook. But honestly, with a bit of distance (1st kid is 3, 2nd 4mo old), I realize that hardly anything has changed. Sure, things were difficult, but not the identity part, not at work. To guys it somehow doesn’t seem to be such a big deal (I can’t say what it would be like in a job with more women). Personally I feel I stressed too much about it. While becoming a mother is a big personal change, it’s not like to others it matters so much whether you are a mother or not. I don’t feel different about my job (even though I now have more demands on my time), and people don’t appear to treat me differently. So it’s fine.

  8. I have been thinking about this non-stop as I try to get pregnant. In my career, I work long hours that are not always predictable and often stressful. While I’m paid relatively well for my field, the amount I make after taxes is about what I’d feel comfortable paying a nanny without overtime. Good luck finding a day care that would take an infant for the long hours I’d have to be away. Then there would also be unpaid maternity leave, commute costs, pumping in a stupid open-plan office*, etc. Meanwhile, my husband makes nearly 3x what I do in a field he loves and also offers great benefits (including paid parental leave). Seeing as we can live off his salary alone and would *lose* money if I stayed in my field full-time, it makes total sense for me to leave the field or at least try to find something part-time for a while. Despite the fact that we’re choosing this because it works for us, I feel like I’m supporting sexist assumptions about women in the workplace and folding to outdated gender norms. I don’t think I owe anyone an explanation but will probably feel compelled to give one anyway.

    *As an introvert whose work involves mostly writing without interaction with colleagues, open-plan is hell on earth. For now, we don’t have one but our boss has talked about moving to it.

    • The wonderful thing about modern feminism, is that you have the right to do whatever you want with your life. You have the right to keep working and have kids, at the same time, you also have the right to become a stay at home mom, if that’s what your life situation calls for.
      21st Century feminist rights are awesome that way. You can be as mold breaking or traditional as you want – because YOU want it. Not because society wants it.
      (Also, I’m going through the same thing. Just started maternity leave, and if I’m really lucky, I’ll be able to be a stay at home mom at the end of my time – because I want to!)

    • To avoid something because it seems stereotypic, or fashionable, or traditional, is to be every bit as much a slave as to embrace something because it’s stereotypic, fashionable, or traditional. Do what works for you, by all means, and ignore objections on either side. They aren’t the ones who have to live your life.

      • I agree but still struggle. I think part of it is also my struggle about career in general that then gets a gender-guilt glaze when thinking about leaving the workforce. Being surrounded by really ambitious, passionate people has always made me feel flaky for not having strong ambitions or passions. If I hadn’t recently changed careers or wasn’t on a path to leaving anyways, I’d probably be looking elsewhere for work. When I started my current job, it was supposed to be regular hours and not demand too much from me emotionally which turned out to not be the case and was doubly not the case when a supervisor left and our employer elected not to replace her.

        tl;dr I have a lot of career-related anxiety and guilt, which potential parenthood is tapping into.

        • Perhaps the ambitious, passionate people need an easygoing friend to anchor them and be their refuge. They don’t need another them. They need you to be you.

          Or, as Thorin (a very passionate and ambitious dwarf) said to Bilbo (in “The Hobbit”) on his deathbed, “If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.”

  9. To be completely honest… you will change. It’s inevitable. You will be tired, your brain will be fried, and you probably wont do any Pulitzer writing for at least 12 months postpartum. It’s just the way it is, and pretending otherwise only makes moms’ feel like sh*t when they realize that they are barely keeping it all together.

    However, over time you will come back to yourself, and you’ll probably discover that you’re a different person in all sorts of good ways. Your writing will improve because you’ll understand more about the human experience and what it’s like to feel all sorts of emotions more strongly than you ever have before. (Yea for crazy hormones!) Life will involve more scheduling, running around and responsibilities, but you’ll still always be yourself.

    • I heard the writer, Ursela K. LeGuin, recommend writing poetry during a baby’s first year, to keep your hand in the game. Then you not only can bounce back as you get back more time and energy, but your writing will actually have improved.

    • “Your writing will improve because you’ll understand more about the human experience.” I know! I just don’t get the appeal of childless women writers like Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte and Flannery O’Connor. We all know that readers can gain much more insight into human nature through Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey, both written by mothers.

  10. Getting married didn’t really change my identity at all. Yes, there were some frustrating moments of being called Mrs. HisFirst and LastName that I squashed pretty quickly and with great force.

    Becoming a parent was more identity altering. It didn’t really have significant impact on my work or how people at work treat me (other than polite inquiries into how my son is doing which I don’t mind). They understand that I’ve placed slightly greater restrictions on my afterhours and weekend time at work because now I have to pick up baby from daycare and want to spend time with him and my husband as a family on the weekends. None of the people that I work with at my job or outside vendors have looked down on me or seen me as less competent or committed for having a child.

    Where the identity alteration came in was in my own self and soul. Becoming a parent fundamentally changed how I look at myself and how I self identify. I’m a mom. No matter what happens, I’ll always be a mom.

    As for my husband, I think that it’s been a similar experience for him. His workplace threw a little party for him before our son was born and he made arrangements to be his schedule to be able to be home more, so they’ve been very supportive of him becoming a parent and that that changes how he balances his work and life. He’s a dad and he identifies himself that way.

    And to your question of being a social justice advocate, in some ways I think that people will take you MORE seriously. Because now you have a more personal stake in changing things for the better so that your child will grow up to live in a better world.

    • You took everything I wanted to say and put it up here already.

      When we had our placement, my work exploded in excitement. My area manager came to chat with me about how everything was when I came back from leave. People ask me how he is and there is acknowledgement of my being a father and building a family. It is understood that we are co-equal parents (dads, in this case) and I am able to flex my schedule according to the need I have.

      My life got thrown, too, when it first happened. Tiny humans are hard! But, we are in a good groove now. I’m returning to things I love, as well as adding more. I’ve not lost myself and I certainly have learned to stick up for myself in ways I hadn’t before. Especially when it comes to issues of fairness and justice.

  11. I am glad to read of another woman giving a middle finger to the patriarchy!

    It was very important to me to still be my own person as I was becoming a mother. I had always wanted to be a mother. I never had any doubt about that. But I had seen too many of my friends take a martyr’s approach to motherhood. Pushing away any of their desires or wants. Never asking for help or expecting their parenting partner to participate fully in the lovely exhausting experience of parenting small children. Doing it all because only they know how to care for their children and making sure all know how much they’re sacrificing for their children.

    I resolved to be a wholly different sort of mother and parenting partner. I was clear with my husband from the moment we agreed to have babies that this was a 50/50 responsibility. That after their 1st year I would be taking time for myself. Yes for the most part as I stay home to run my household I am seen by society as Mrs. X and my children’s mother. But my husband and children see me as I truly am. So does my community. I am still me with all my opinions, desires and dreams. I just happen to also be a wife and a mother to two amazing souls.

    • Yes! Short of outright criminal abuse, the worst thing you can do for your child is to be a Martyr Mama. Then you poison everything you do for them with guiltitude, which differs from gratitude in that it does not well up spontaneously from the joy of receiving, but bleeds miserably from a thousand little unconsciously snarky stab-wounds to the soul. I remember many a night secretly hurting myself to keep from storming out and yelling at a parental figure, “You know how they say it’s not the gift, it’s the thought that counts? Well, your thoughts are so rotten that you could give me the Taj Mahal and it wouldn’t be worth a cow pie!” But I didn’t. I was painfully well-trained to be a Good Girl.

      No child needs the burden of knowing that she or he is the reason why her parents gave up what they loved. That would be too much for an adult to handle!

      • Dreamdeer, I am so terribly sorry that was your experience. My mother was a teen mom and it was never not unknown that I ended her dreams. It is a terrible burden to bear as a child.

        And the good girl training I know it well. Hopefully as grown women we’ve managed some measure of casting that away.

        • Indeed. And I must remember that the parental-figure in question was also a victim of guiltitude, and didn’t really know any other way. The cycle stops with us.

  12. Thank you for writing this!! I got married this past July and I’m in a similar situation. I want to have kids ASAP, but I’m also finishing my Masters this year. I’m ready to start my new career, and having a kid at the same time makes me anxious. It’s good to know I’m not alone in my fears.

  13. I want a baby so badly, but I’m definitely terrified of this. Pretty much the instant I get pregnant I’m out of the job I love, being an exotic dancer. And being 32, I’m fairly certain I won’t be able to back. At least not very quickly. I’m very scared of no longer having that point of pride, that thing that makes me interesting at parties. I’ve been written up & interviewed, I had fun & rewarding opportunities. My husband, on the other hand, his career is just starting to lift off, working as an assistant director. It’s very scary! I’m very worried about being extremely isolated, and about this transition from breadwinner & all that control to being financially dependent on my husband. I’m not yet sure how I’ll adjust & adapt.

    • Josie, could you teach a school for exotic dance? People who age out of sports become coaches, after all. Somebody needs to show the up-and-comings how it’s done.

      • Sadly, I also have a lot of injuries. I can hardly do any pole tricks at all anymore, and I’m in LA where pole studios that churn out champions are abundant. Pretty sure I’m out of luck on that. Goodness knows I would if I could though! Good looking out.

  14. I think it’s important to remember that one of the goals of feminism is to show that being a woman doesn’t mean you have make a choice between the two options of career and family. We have always had that choice to be a school marm or nun but that meant abandoning marriage and family, with the thought that no man should have to put up with a wife that wasn’t purely focused on taking care of him. Independent feminists turning around after starting a successful career and mixing more traditional roles into their life creates the middle ground that we all want.

    Beyond that… Have you bugged my head? Because this a big part of my hesitation on having children at all. Getting wifed was hard on me…it took me a long time to break through to a place of confidence that my marriage was mine, and absolutely not the business of others to manage. “Forsaking all others”. Am I strong enough to do this as a mom, especially with all the brutal shaming going on? I just don’t know but I’m definitely not going to ” lighten up” anytime soon.

    • Hey, you aren’t accountable to the shamers, you’re only accountable to your kids. And they want a healthy Mom with interests and achievements, who doesn’t lean on them to provide sole meaning for her life. That’s too big a burden for little ones!

  15. I didn’t take my husband’s name. When I’m being polite I tell people, “He wasn’t using it, so why should I?” (I met him under his stage-name, which he eventually made his legal name.) If people get too brassy for me I tell them, “He wanted to marry someone different from himself; otherwise he would have wed his own hand.”

    As for the slavery metaphors, they grate on my nerves, too. Marrying liberated both my husband and me! Because now somebody loved us so much that this other would pledge to have our backs, no matter what, so we could take risks. Someone to believe in us, support us, someone to hug at the end of a hard day and someone to double the joy of a good one. I have ventured so much more than I ever would have without him.

    A friend asked, before I married, “But what will you do when he asks you to choose between your writing and him?” I told her, “I would never marry a man who would ask that.” We love each other–that means loving what the other cares about.

    • Here, here! I actually had some people ask me if I was still going to continue acting in community theater once I was married. I was so baffled by that questions I would reply “Well … why wouldn’t I?” They seemed to think that I’d be too busy tending house or cooking dinner or something and asked how my husband would feel when I’d have rehearsals and wouldn’t be home. I told them he’d always supported every show I’d done in the three years we’d been together and I didn’t expect that to change after we got married. It made me wonder how many people do give up hobbies they love upon marriage either because they think they have to or because their partner actually asks them to. I was horrified and really saddened by that notion.

      • I’ve met them. Ironically enough, I earned money for our wedding by becoming a lay-worker, assisting nuns baking communion-bread. Many of the other lay-workers were women ambushed by divorce, not knowing anywhere else to go to make ends meet. They had sacrificed everything of themselves for their husbands, only to have their husbands declare them boring and desert them for someone less predictable. Same story, over and over.

        • Exactly! If a person completely gives up their own interests after marriage then the marriage could easily become stagnant and boring. My involvement in theater gets me out of the house, gives us things to talk about (like “can you believe this or that happened at rehearsal tonight?) and gives us a night out when my husband comes to see me perform and attends the cast party with me. Plus, having your own interests within a marriage makes the inevitable death of one partner before the other more bearable. I have an aunt who was recently widowed and is having a very hard time because she and her husband were together 24/7 and all their activities outside the home were joint. It’s been sad to watch her go through these first couple years trying to build a social circle at her age so I’m very glad to think that should my husband go first I’ll still have my theater family around me.

      • I totally understand why years ago a woman might have given up some things when married—‘tending house’ and what not took way more time then it does now, and yeah, there might not have been time for that and you hobbies. But now? Not that likely.

        I do expect we *both* will give up some things with kids…they do and always will take time. But I won’t be the only one giving up stuff.

  16. First off, I’m sorry that the people around you are so ignorant. I have been married for 4 years and I’m 8 months pregnant, and I’ve literally never had anyone make comments like that to me. Because you have so much self awareness, you are in an amazing position to educate and inspire these people with another perspective. It doesn’t have to be done the traditional way, even if there is resistance. If you do things the way that feels right to you, you will be showing all the haters and doubters another way to live.
    Rock it out with peace and confidence and your happiness will radiate out in to the world and I would bet it will make some people think. Not everyone, but there will be a few people you encounter who will be inspired, I promise.

    I am so lucky I had an amazing marriage with both traditional and contemporary values modeled for me. My grandparents were together for 67 years, and while my Grandpa worked and my Grandma raised the kids, she actually went to university when the kids were teens, got a degree and went on to do so much in the community she won the Order of Canada (the highest civilian honor bestowed). She had her own interests and her own full time job (even though it was volunteer), and her and my grandpa had a true partnership where they shared decision making and household management. They both cooked, gardened and worked together. They supported each other’s work and hobbies fully.
    She was never just a mom, or just a Grandma.

    I’ve always assumed my life would be the same way. I put off having a kid till this year because I wasn’t ready to devote a whole year to a helpless human being till now. I’m 33 and I’ve been wanting to do it since I was 26 or so, but just couldn’t pull the trigger. I was too selfish and wanted to do so many things before hand. Now I’m ready and I can’t wait.
    Excitingly though, after that first year (I live in Canada, so we get a long mat leave), my husband will be the one staying home, since I make more $$, have better hours and love my job. He will be the better stay at home parent. Every single person in our life has applauded this decision because it makes sense in every way for us, and I’m so happy we get to continue modeling some alternatives to the traditional stereotypes! At the same time though, if me staying home made more sense we would do that. Do what makes the most sense for you and do it with confidence and style!!

  17. Ladies,

    I am a single Mom to a grown Son. Although my own Mother was not happy with some of the things I chose to do while being a Mother, namely I did live Musical Theater shows, it helped keep my identity. I never resented being a Mom because I had a balance between taking care of my Son and taking care of me.

  18. This is becoming more of a concern of mine as well as my husband and I continue to discuss having children or not. We’re both expats living in China, and avid travellers. We know things will change when/if we have children, however we’re trying to decide if we’re willing to give up the life we love for a child, then if we do, will we end up resenting said child for having to give up a life we love. That is something no child should have to bear.

    • I’m the daughter of an expat/avid traveller. My dad took me with him and I loved it starting from age 3 in the 80’s. I lived in multiple countries, seen so much of the world. Graduated from Singapore. It really helped me form a broader and more well rounded view of life and the world. It takes more planning and research with kids, some slight tweaks, but by no means do you have to give it up.

  19. This (re)post was exactly what I needed — We’re 7MO pregnant and before expecting we had discussed how we want to make sure our kid was raised by us, not by strangers. I have a successful photography business, so it’s really hard to accept that it may not be thriving again until our kid(s?) attend grade school. Instead of resenting the situation and seeing it as a loss of self, I plastered my office with fine art photography where kids inspired the body of work (i.e. Sally Mann’s early work) and images I can become excited about creating with the kid (i.e. Andy Goldworthy’s nature photography). I’ve had a lot of people assuming that becoming primary care taker means that I won’t be working. The correction is that with a kid my work is SHIFTING, not ending.

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