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.