Before I became a mother, I assumed that motherhood would be all-encompassing. After all, trying to conceive was a process that took over my entire life for five years, raking me across the monthly highs and lows of “AM I?/I’m not…” over and over again. All through the years of charting, guided meditation, acupuncture, abdominal massage, medication, and hardcore fertility treatments, one thought held me through it all: I WANT TO BE A MOTHER.
I think that was a fair assumption: since trying to conceive completely ate my brain, of course being a mother would inhale me. I’d wanted it for so long, and I’d prepared for it for YEARS — like a long-anticipated college graduation. And then it happened! I finally got pregnant, and suddenly…
It was just, you know, whatever. Pregnancy was just pregnancy. Uncomfortable and fascinating, but just pregnancy.
Then I finally had a baby!
And I was like, “Oh hey. Awesome. I like this! …and, wait, what’s that? OMG, I STILL LIKE OTHER STUFF, TOO!”
I’d watched many friends embrace their mom-ness with gusto, their novels completely replaced with parenting books, their hobbies eclipsed by trips to the zoo. I wasn’t sure I totally wanted it to happen, but I assumed it just sort of WOULD happen. Based on my mental state while trying to conceive, clearly the process of becoming a parent brought out some obsessive tendencies. I figured I’d be an obsessive mom, too.
I’ve shocked myself, though. I love being a mother. I love my son. But he’s just a portion of my life and (no offense, sweet Tavi) not even the most interesting portion. Sure, he’s my highest priority — but so is breathing, and I don’t introduce myself by saying, “Hi, I like air!” Breathing and my son are top priorities, but neither are my primary identities. Priorities can co-exist for me. I’ve learned that love is not a zero sum economy. I can have room in my heart to love my son and yet, still love other stuff too!
Sure, my son is my highest priority — but so is breathing, and I don’t introduce myself by saying, “Hi, I like air!”
Motherhood is just a portion of my identity — and not even that remarkable of one. It’s a quality I share with BILLIONS of women on this planet. That shared experience is amazing and I love recognizing it and feeling that connection with my fellow mammals… but for me, that shared experience is not the thing that feels like my core identifier. I’m much more likely to identify by my work (small business owner, publisher, author, web entrepreneur), or my culture (pacific northwesterner, raised by hippies, retired raver), or my hobbies (dancer, comedy event producer, camper) than I am by my parental status.
I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. Years ago, when trying to articulate why I wanted a child, I talked about how I felt like Andreas and I had crafted a rich, interesting life for ourselves that we wanted to share with a child. I didn’t need a child to bring meaning or richness to my life — although certainly my son has done both those things. I did not want our child BE the adventure (although certainly he has been)… rather, I wanted him to SHARE our adventures.
Now, I want to say this before anyone else can: I do NOT wish to devalue the experience of those of you who hold your motherhood as a tantamount identity. THAT IS AWESOME. You are in great company. Raising children is hugely important work, and your children will benefit greatly from your attention. My experience does NOT invalidate your different experience. It’s cool. Seriously.
Nor am I saying that child-raising doesn’t eat a huge amount of time/brain-power (especially in the first year), or that you’ll have time to pursue all your interests. Being a parent takes time, and I’m not saying it doesn’t. I’m just saying that for some of us there can be a difference between time spent and identity developed.
I want to celebrate those who are finding ways to balance all that rich life stuff with all that delicious family stuff. This website is called Offbeat Families, not Offbeat Baby. While of course this is a website about babies and kids, we’re also about YOU. Because your kids are cool — BUT YOU’RE FUCKING AWESOME.
Comments on Being a mom isn’t my most interesting feature
Can I say I’m already having a similar experience? I wanted to be pregnant for a while before my partner was ready and fed my desire/obsession by reading all sorts of parenting and pregnancy books and websites before I got pregnant. So much of my brain and energy was taking up by wanting to be pregnant.
Once my partner was ready and we finally got pregnant, I am surprising myself with how relaxed I am – I’ve barely cracked a pregnancy book unless I have a specific question, I’m not tempted to dwell on every little single growth stage (your baby is as big as a lime now, fingernails form this week, etc.). I’m here, I’m happy but I find the most comfort (the nausea/exhaustion is rough!) right now by being mellow and doing things that are “me” – reading romance novels and comics, watching my favorite shows, cooking, not by focusing obsessively on my pregnancy. Of course who knows how it will be when I actually have my baby…
I feel like this post would be very beneficial over on Offbeat Bride as well. Although I’m not a mother, I ran into a lot of this during the process of getting married (You mean, all of a sudden I’m supposed to drop all of my habits and become The Bride? And not the killing kind?)and now that we’re a year post-nuptials I find that I’m still confronted by this (you mean, the first thing out of my mouth is supposed to be “I’m a wife” when people ask about me?). I LOVE this post and love that the Offbeat Empire celebrates that we are all 3-D people.
We’ve definitely talked about the issue Offbeat Bride: http://offbeatbride.com/tag/bridentity-crisis
Wowjunkie, I thought the same thing as I read this. As a not-yet-bride (still just OBB/OBM groupie), I’ve thought many times how much I’d like to be in the role of wife. And then how to balance those desires and priorities with identities.
I really enjoy hearing your perspectives, Ariel, and appreciate them greatly. They’re like a breath of fresh air in a sometimes stale world.
I agree, now that I’m married everyone goes, “oh how does it feel?”
“Ummm… just like every other day, but we’re officially married now?!?”
I love my husband, but I’m still me!
When I get that question “how’s married life” I always respond with “pretty much the same…I just put more jewelry on in the morning!”
I may have to steal this line. 🙂
I might have to steal this line too… I keep getting asked “How’s Married Life?” and when I respond as “Pretty much the same as unmarried life”, I always get this… Oh, poor YOU look which infuriates me. You know, I was pretty darn happy before I got married living with my amazing other half, so why would I want anything to change in that life apart from wearing a ring?
I’m four months married and people are always asking me how married life is. I respond, “Great!” And after a pause, “Pretty much the same as before,” and have only received positive reviews. Most of my married friends get it. It’s too bad the people asking you don’t understand!! In this day and age we live together before marriage so the legal thing doesn’t change much more than, well, the legal stuff. Perhaps they are from a different generation?
I WISH I could feel more like myself again. I just don’t have energy; still waking up every two hours to feed the little one… Someone please tell me it gets better!
I can only speak from my own personal experience, which was that things got better in waves. The first year was a slog, no doubt about that.
Just wanted to echo what Ariel said – WAVES. Don’t expect anything to change overnight. Patience is good. Finding five minutes a day to mellow out without the baby around is good. Breathing is GOOD. The first year is no joke, but it gets easier as your baby becomes more independent, and as that happens you find out that you’re still you after all. YAY! 🙂
It does get better. My 4 month old was eating every four hours. Then, one morning I woke up and realized that he’d slept 8 hours. 3rd night so far and he’s still doing it. It gets better and does come in waves, sometimes going back again too.
It gets better–I promise! For me it was so much better after month 3. Then again after month 6. I’m still very much consumed with 1-year-old twins, but that impossibly exhausted, everything’s crazy and out of my control feeling did not last.
It gets better and worse and better and boring and exciting…and just like life without kids, there is an ebb and flow. Some days rough and some days are filled with shining moments. An important balance.
But I feel ya, I’m two months from being a mom of a 4 yr old and a newborn…the thought of tackling two is making me nervous!
Jess, I am a mama to a 3 month old boy and a 21 month old girl. Lemme tell you that the first month of having two little ones was rough…really rough. I’m still trying to get my mojo back, but things are slowly getting better. Having two little ones just means a bit more pre-planning, a lot more crying, but also a lot more laughter. In a year or two, hopefully the two of them will be playmates leaving us with more freedom!
thanks for writing this!
Word. Reposting with gusto.
Yes! I’m still expecting as a bio-mom, but in year 11 as a stepmom to a 20 y.o.
Things we liked as poor/young parents – cheap-o traveling in general. His birthday present from us every year was a trip. It was often a camping trip, but not always. We found that with a kid we often did a lot of cheap touristy things that you are too cool to do if you are just a young person traveling, like going to museums, parks, etc. Having a kid with you forces you to do those things that are awesome when traveling, b/c you aren’t wasting money at bars.
Games that you like to play. I’m a big believer that kids can learn complicated card/board games earlier than the box says. Sitting down and playing games is good practice for when its Saturday night and you can’t afford to go out so you invite your friends over to play games with you and your kid.
Learning/playing a musical instrument. Don’t keep saying “I wish I had practiced the piano more when my mom made me” go ahead and take lessons again, and then your kid can learn from you (instead of paying for lessons for the kid). Plus a ukulele is perfectly kid-sized and priced and easy to learn enough chords to play a song.
Don’t forget to invite your friends without kids to your house to visit. It is perfectly acceptable to socialize while your kid is asleep. Just because you don’t have a babysitter doesn’t mean you can’t hang out with your friends – and it doesn’t have to be a “playdate.”
Things I hope to be able to keep doing: Cooking actual interesting food for the upcoming week on Sundays, my monthly ladies card night, being able to afford the dance lessons we keep hoping to take, and never changing my fb profile pic to my kid’s pic.
Re: “Cooking actual interesting food for the upcoming week on Sundays”
SO possible, even with an, erm, “high needs” child. My husband and I both work full-time (we’re teachers), he coaches 3 seasons of sports, and I am a fickle hobbyist – sometimes I knit, sometimes I bike, always I bake too much – and we have a very, very active toddler (who was a very, very demanding baby). We cook dinner from scratch every night, and spend Sunday afternoons in the kitchen together, making bagels and bread and granola and everything else we’ll need for a busy week. We still manage to get most of our stuff locally (babies are fun to go farm-hopping with, and they score free veggies for sheer cuteness) and while the kitchen is certainly more chaotic than it used to be, that’s why you have kids in the first place, right? The joyful chaos.
Re: kid as facebook pic – I’ve always found that a bit weird and yet everyone seems to do it… But you are not your kid!
Author Katy Roiphe’s take on the kid facebook pictures: http://www.doublex.com/section/life/get-your-kid-your-facebook-page
TOTALLY! I get why people do it, but I always swore I never would! I’ve only done it once so far (in the 2 months she’s been alive) and it was to show off a delightfully dorky pink unicorn tabard I made in honor of baby’s first DnD game. And even then, I took it down in a day. Thanks for posting that great article on it! I agree with Roiphe, the message that practice sends is a bit disconcerting!
I’m a bit guilty of this, about a quarter of my profile pics haven’t featured me. For me though, photography is a hobby and I feel that my photos that I take are a part of me, and the subjects are usually the kids!
Oh yeah Ariel! I’m with you here. Perhaps because I’m in grad school, and have been throughout trying to conceive, being pregnant, and raising a now-almost-two-year-old, I’ve had other stuff going on from the beginning. Also, I feel really lucky in that my own mother always talked about how important it was for her (and, she thought, for me), that she kept doing the things that mattered to her (working, traveling, being an artist) after I was born.
Two very big thumbs up!!! Thank you so much for so eloquently stating how I feel about being a mom.
I am a mom, but I’m also an architectural designer, rugby player, weight lifter, tattoo and piercing loving fantastic mishmash of weirdness. And without ALL of the things that make me who I am, it just wouldn’t be the same journey for me and my kiddo.
Things I do that are just me:
1. Spending time and money on my hair. I’m a bit vain about it, but I love having long red hair and find the time to upkeep it.
2. Riding my bike to work. This takes getting up in the mornings a little bit earlier and ends up pushing dinner to a little bit later (which is already late due to me working til 6:30 pm- I think we usually eat close to 8 pm). I love cooking, so I spend time in the kitchen making the things I love to eat. The boys have learned to like non ‘kid friendly’ foods, like our sushi nights. They’ve gotten involved with our cooking by bringing home cookbooks from the library, etc.
3. Shoe shopping- definately not practical to wear my heels anywhere except work, but I love them!
Oh, and I just found a belly dancing class that is starting up in our little town! I’m so excited to get started!!!
i’m jealous. after three years of motherhood with two kids i do not feel like ‘me’ and it’s sad and depressing. i do not want to be an ‘only a mom’ person.
i couldn’t agree more on the direction of offbeatmama. keep doing.
Amber, it will get better.
You had (if I read correctly) two kids within three years. That alone is a tremendously exhausting thing for body, mind and soul. It must feel that just as you got one sleeping through the night -mostly- another one came along and disrupted that.
And now, you have two lovely kids you take care of but no time to indulge in the things that once made you….well, you.
All I can say is hang in there. Find those brief, blessed moments when both kidlets are down for a nap and remember who you were, remember who you are, and imagine who you want to be. The trick is finding teeny, tiny ways to incorporate the old you into the mama you.
My mom loved to paint. As soon as I was old enough for fingerpaints, we sat down and painted every day. She still has my very first paint blob entitled “Cat.” Sure, if the cat was run over by a harvester, spread over three counties and left to bake for six months!
Find ways to bring your kids into your beloved hobbies. If you love to read, read to them. My mom fostered my love of reading by reading to me. She claims it later led to me reading and giving her much needed peace.
first things first i guess…i. need to find out what i enjoy again 🙂
thanks for the encouragement
It does come in time, and the fact that you recognize it means you can do something about it! If it means a new “you” hair cut, a rad t-shirt, sweet comic book (or whatever you’re into) it brings you one step closer to feeling like yourself. I went through the whole “I feel like a mom and not like myself” thing and I changed it by vowing not to wear my yoga pants out of the house anymore. Little things like that make a big difference sometimes!!
new hair is scheduled for wednesday 🙂 and i do love yoga pants!!
I’m not a mama yet, but THIS! I love this post.
Awesome, wonderful post, once again. This makes me feel a whole lot better about going to work.
As for my wife, she has defied all the doomsayers who told her that she’d never be able to finish a book again. She’s got two degrees in Book Reading, and still eats up printed material even with a 4-month-old chap around the house. These days there’s more pregnancy/baby books than there were before, but she’s just finished the 864-page Crimson Petal and the White. Take that, doomsayers!
That seems to be keeping her sense of being a real person, that and having nice baths.
The direction of Offbeat Mama is good, although don’t forget about the Offbeat Papas. After the birth, with the exception of breastfeeding, there’s nothing that I can’t do/wipe up/sacrifice for my partner and my baby, so pretty much everything on this site applies to me (birth stories included, I was there!). Put it this way, I read tons of blogs without ever sharing a link or posting a comment, but OBM has got so much to offer me that I’m recommending it to everyone and commenting all over the place. It’s the mother lode.
Or father lode, as it were 😉
I find it easier to read now. In school I read a lot-between classes, study hall, when I was done with work in my classes. But after high school I just didn’t have time to sit and read. Until I was nursing and laying with kids until they were asleep. I can’t just lay there it’s too boring, I can’t watch tv since it keeps the kids up. So I read, my husband even got me a nook so I can have the light off and not keep him or the kids up while reading.
I am so glad to read this. I didn’t plan on having babies ever, so when I ended up with one and was suddenly expected to become MOTHER (the one who only does and talks about baby-related things) I didn’t know where to start. I have felt guilty about not feeling this way. Obviously I’m crazy about my daughter, but it’s nice to know there are other people who are didn’t abandon who they were to become parents. Kudos.
This post rocks! 🙂
That last sentence was exactly what I needed to hear! Thanks for putting it all into perspective, I love it!
Omg me too! It took me years to have the kid. I love the kid. But I still like other stuff too and I never expected too. Glad I ain’t alone.
Thanks for this article.
While I was pregnant, I found it to be more of a nuisance than a joy (what do you mean I can’t tie my own shoes anymore?), and now that my baby is here, I was starting to think that there was something wrong with me since I didn’t feel consumed by him. I’ve been told that I wouldn’t want to be away from him long enough to pursue my hobby (dance) which, in truth, has kept me sane and connected, instead of feeling isolated like I would have if I had stopped.
If anything, I’d say that I’m discovering a new aspect of myself (that won’t let me sleep through the night) rather than a new identity.
Agreed. I love my daughter, but you know what, I love taking a break from her too.
I was told I wouldnt be able to bear leaving her in the first few months. I went to the shops for an hour without her a couple days after coming home from hospital and honestly felt 100% normal.
I mean I wasnt used to having to take her everywhere yet so it was just like pre-birth. At first I worried maybe that meant I wasnt bonded to her or there was something wrong with me (I’ve never been a hugely maternal person), but then I realised I am ME first. I just have a daughter now.
I’ve got a 2 month old, my first and I just started back to work last week. I am totally having issues with the mental leap between mama me and work me. I’ll get into the grove at work and then suddenly realize I haven’t thought about the little for hours and I feel crushing guilt (or maybe that’s just my boobs crushing my chest with unpumped milk ;-). I have been thinking lately about the sort of projects and activities I can commit to in addition to work and being a mom. I want to be the sort of woman that my daughter can be proud of and model the sort of happiness that I want her to find in her own adult life, the way my mother did. I hope I can find that balance in the coming years.
Katie, you will find balance! Just cut yourself some slack. You just got back into work. The first year (at least for me) felt like it was all about the baby because everything changes so quickly. As your baby gets older and you find your groove, it will be much easier. There were/are days that I drop off my daughter at daycare and literally do not think of her save for maybe once until I am getting ready to pick her up in the evening. You have to focus on the task at hand when you’re at work and at home. You wouldn’t want to be thinking hard about work when you are trying to spend quality time with your baby and you wouldn’t want to be thinking about your baby when your work needs focus. Letting go of the guilt will get so much easier.
Thanks for this post! This is me. So, here I am with a kind of stressful job as a teacher & department head, a house, a spouse, and a 14 month old. Things are just starting to get good again. So what do I decide to do? Why, go back to school, of course! I’m beginning my Certificate of Advanced Study to become an administrator. And we’re thinking about having another child, so I really have to get crack-a-lackin’ by taking 3 classes this summer, 3 in the fall & 2 in the spring while working full-time at my sort of stressful job. Because I’m crazy. And because being a mom, while it is my top priority, is not all-encompassing. I do still have a brain. And I don’t need that much sleep. That’s what the weekends are for.
I’m due in July and cannot tell you how great this post is. I’ve had so many people do the “isn’t pregnancy WONDERFUL?!” thing to me and “Aren’t you excited to be a MOM?!?” I want to shriek at them all- NO! I’m scared. I’m excited. I’m sad. I’m happy. I’m still ME, looking at major changes in life. I’ve talked about how my husband and I still plan to travel and do things with the kid and people are like “Oh, just wait until it’s born, you will think differently”. Why should I??? Knowing that there are others out there that are not thinking life has to stop just because you are a mom REALLY helps me out. I’ve been up in this blog so much since conceiving that I feel like I know everyone. (I was an OBB so to come here was only natural *grin*) I’ve paid attention to what has been shared and decided to go with hypnobirthing and have already given my doc my “birthing wish list” of what I’d like and not like to have happen if at all possible. I feel like I have thousands of mentors here and I really look forward to sharing more of my experience when it happens.
Hugs and cupcakes to all,
“I feel like I have thousands of mentors here”
This. This is exactly how I feel about this site. And it’s amazing. 🙂
My hubby and I took our 3 week old camping. People thought we were crazy and yeah I was a bit anxious about things like bugs but the weather was on our side and damn it I like camping! It went so well our next camping trip is going to be a longer one. It was a bit more complicated with a newborn but well worth the extra effort. We stuck the diapers in the dogs back pack and we were ready or hiking! I was is a good mood for a full week after that trip!
YAY! This makes me happy. I’d agree that camping with a baby has its own unique challenges, but YAY-ness of being outdoors (plus the confidence boost you can get from making it work) is totally worth the effort. Related post: http://offbeatmama.com/2010/04/what-i-learned-from-our-first-camping-trip-with-a-baby
I totally agree. I don’t plan to think differently either. Passports before teeth, I say! We’ve been splitting our time between our work in tropical Africa and our getaway/future-retirement cabin in the Rocky Mountains, and we’re going to keep doing just that. We’ve crafted the life we want, so why would we change it to the life we don’t want; we want the kid to experience our crazy, wonderful life too!
Great post! What keeps me sane? Cooking, blogging, reading (I don’t own any baby books), learning (anything that comes my way), helping my hubby with his work and soon weight training. We are getting a proper weight bench since my son won’t drink expressed milk from a bottle and I can’t go back to the gym (I’m going crazy). I need exercise!
This post really resonates with me. I adopted my son and although the process to become a mother was years, one day I was an active woman leading a very active life and the next I was a mother. I was the same person physically and really struggled to hold on to my identity.
The one thing that I still struggle with is travel. I love traveling to other countries. It’s not that I am hesitant to bring him a long, as a single mom, I can no longer afford to go anywhere and road trips are tough at that age. Advice??
I’m an avid runner and remember the first time I took my son for a jog in his jogger stroller – I was overjoyed to be able to continue doing something that was such a big part of me and literally bring him along for the ride. He is 19 months now and has already completed three 5K races and a mile race (baby jogger category).
I’ve done two half marathons since he was born (he didn’t join in) and although I don’t have time to train like I used to, just being able to complete the race was confirmation that I’m still the person I was before.
The one area I still struggle with is travel. I used to love to travel internationally and always dreamed of introducing my child to new places. As a single mom, I can no longer afford to do so and road trips are tough at that age. Advice???
You might find some inspiration here: http://offbeatmama.com/tagged/travel
Is it safe to assume you’re in the United States? We’ve traveled by Amtrak with our baby which is Awesome. Get a train hopper ticket and check out stuff all over the country if you want to be spontaneous or plan a trip with one or more destinations. Trains can be so baby friendly and if you’re worried about managing all by yourself, I had so much support from my fellow passengers, everyone seemed to want a cute little baby to play with to help pass the hours 🙂
It’s not necessary, but staying in the sleeper car (a roomette) was really nice. Plus it includes meals and gives you access to a lounge car which provided great crawling/toddling space.
I very much appreciate this post. Among my group of friends and acquaintances, many of the women have a tendency to act as if, once you’ve had children, your children must *become* your life. I disagree with this–I was me before my son and, almost eleven years later, I’m still me and don’t plan on changing that any time soon. Because I’ve refused to allow my role as a parent to eclipse the rest of my personality, I’ve been looked down upon and even lost friendships. It can be a bit frustrating at times. It’s nice to know there are other people out there like me, who love being a parent, but love being a person even more.
This is so refreshing to read! I’m pregnant with our first child right now, and I’m glad that not everyone has their lives completely consumed with being “Mommy”. That isn’t the only function of my life from now on.