Being a mom isn’t my most interesting feature

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Mother and son walkBefore 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

  1. AMEN!

    Without all the other things the make me who I am, I can’t be a good mom. Nurturing my kids is an important aspect of my life. Most of that nurturing comes in the form of sharing the best parts of my life with them (like Burning Man, roller derby, marching in the Gay Pride parade) and supporting them as they explore things that are meaningful to them.

  2. This post speaks so well to my feelings about becoming a parent. My son is going to be 8 weeks on Tuesday and I went back to work last week. I was feeling guilty for how *not* guilty I felt about going back to work! But it’s really important to me that I continue to have an identity beyond being a parent. As much as I love my child, and I love him more than words can express, I love me too and I don’t want to lose myself. It’s hard sometimes to really see myself, and not just see “mama.”

  3. Thank you! It is only recently that I reached this surprising conclusion that I can like other things … and I had been feeling SO guilty about it, which makes no sense, really. How am I supposed to teach my kids the wonderful things in the world if I’ve stopped doing/enjoying/learning those wonderful things? Yes, I treasure the time I spend with them, but I must remind myself that pursuing a hobby or two does not make me a Terrible Mother.

  4. Just wanted to say that I LOVE THIS POST!!! I love everything about it. I was just telling my new husband the other day that one of the main reasons I dont want to have more kids (I have a 14 year old daughter) is because I feel like I suck at it. And really, I dont suck at it, I just dont buy into the conformist idea that your life is now your children and youre supposed to check all your shit at the door to the nursery not to be seen again for 20 years.
    So now were having interesting conversations about babies 🙂

  5. I am super late to the comment party; I really wish I could have seen this post about ten years ago; at 19 my boyfriend (now husband) and I became parents to a wonderful boy, but dear sweet god I had years of capital-letter Guilt for not being swallowed by motherhood. Now the boy child is nearly 10, and we co-exist with all 3 of our different interests. Things got a lot easier when we started doing projects/crafts side by side as opposed to together, and also having conversations about which interests were fair to inflict (lol) on each other, and which should be saved for special alone time. I am an avid maker (food, sewing, knitting, painting, jewelry, almost anything), and my son, having watched me enjoy doing these things for years, has come to enjoy them on his own. I am particularly pleased to watch him create, and to know I have not damaged him by enjoying other aspects of my life while he is being parented

  6. Wow… I relate SO much to this article! It took my husband and I about 6 months to conceive, and I was totally consumed by the charting process and the ‘Am I??’ constant questioning, and all the research.

    Now that I am pregnant, I have this growing anxiety that these are my last months to be ME… And I’m afraid to do the things *I* love; I feel like I should be reading baby books instead of fantasy novels. I am having such a hard time imagining how I will ever integrate who I am with whoever my baby needs me to be… But I am so grateful to see how many people feel the same as me! Now, I’m remembering how my step-dad used to read to my sister and I the books that HE loved as a kid, and how much fun I had with my little brother when he was a baby doing art projects together. I think I can imagine this as a challenge to keep my sense of self strong, and to be a great role-model for my baby to always take care of yourself first so that you will be capable of being a better person/partner/parent/etc!
    Thank you for this article and for being awesome!

  7. Wow… I relate SO much to this article! It took my husband and I about 6 months to conceive, and I was totally consumed by the charting process and the ‘Am I??’ constant questioning, and all the research.

    Now that I am pregnant, I have this growing anxiety that these are my last months to be ME… And I’m afraid to do the things *I* love; I feel like I should be reading baby books instead of fantasy novels. I am having such a hard time imagining how I will ever integrate who I am with whoever my baby needs me to be… But I am so grateful to see how many people feel the same as me! Now, I’m remembering how my step-dad used to read to my sister and I the books that HE loved as a kid, and how much fun I had with my little brother when he was a baby doing art projects together. I think I can imagine this as a challenge to keep my sense of self strong, and to be a great role-model for my baby to always take care of yourself first so that you will be capable of being a better person/partner/parent/etc!
    Thank you for this article and for being awesome!

  8. Thank you for having the balls. This is so very me, and I get crap for it all the time. I also find it really hard to meet women who dont talk about their kids incessantly.

  9. I love your emphasis on having a “different experience.” I appreciate this perspective as I have a different one. I have a fabulous professional job – “doctor” is part of my title! – but no part of what I do compares to my primary identity of being a mom. In fact, I feel like I get to be more ME in this role, learning and loving, than ever before. Camping, backpacking, going to operas, cooking, learning history, reading great literature – I do more of what I love and try more new things in my mom role than ever I did as a hard-working single. That said, my “different” experience carries something in common – I strongly believe that moms need to take care of their own needs first, or they will have nothing left to give. I happen to get recharged through my time with my young girls and experiencing so much together. In addition, I experienced significant reproductive grief, which holds the silver lining of making want to strongly relish what I do have now. Of course, others may have different mileage, but that’s what informs my current bliss.

  10. 100% agree. To the point where I was never one to follow ‘mum’ blogs or websites such as this one (I came across just this article shared on fb), as just that very idea seemed so limiting, and odd. A colleague of mine recently made a comment about me (when there was office debates on who would next have a baby), “It won’t be Yvonne – when does she EVER talk about her daughter?”. That, and my own observations make me feel pretty alone in that my motherhood doesn’t define me completely. Like you say, my daughter is my TOP priority, and my world, but she’s just one element of what makes me me.

  11. Dear Ms. Meadow Stallings,
    I should really just type the words “thank you” and have that be enough. The focus and clarity of your words are impressive. For the sake of anyone else who finds comfort in community, I will share why your words were validating for me.

    Four years of fertility treatments, obsessive, compulsive, hell bent on perfection, postpartum depression, debilitating fear of loss, anxiety and a total loss of ability to feel excitement….and at the same time there was LOVE- so much love. Today, 3 years & 9 months after getting exactly what I would have died for, I am finally alive again. I finally realized that trying to be the perfect mother to my son turned me into someone who wasn’t interesting, had no real identity, wasn’t happy and (the very worst part) did not like or (even worse) love, myself!

    Since this realization I have spent most of my “me” time running. It is something that I know I am good at and running brings me a tremendous amount of peace and satisfaction. I run Half Marathons because I love the distance.

    It is just far enough to always make the effort at the end feel like I can do anything…if I can just get through this last 20 minutes. Running gives me a love for my body (which is not something that comes easily for me) and clears the negative thoughts out of my head. I also have the most amazing community of women who champion everything “me” (not just the Mom in me). Some of these friends have children and some do not. The thing I value the most is that there is no competition or judgment among us “moms”. We all parent differently and value our differences. This dynamic gives an amazing safety net of love and support when we feel like we are failing as mothers. Let’s face it; we are always hardest on ourselves. Every time I put myself down in front of my best friend (which is often); she says “don’t talk about my friend that way”. That is a huge hug of love in the form of words. I have a thirst for solving problems/puzzles (fulfilled by my job), understanding politics (fulfilled by my inquisitive partner) and the state of the human existence outside of my upper middle class urban bubble (inspired by my friends who carry the torch for Human Rights).

    I want my son to look at me when he is 25 and see me in the present as a woman that he respects and admires. He will see a woman whose opinions matter and this will shape his understanding of the world. I want him to seek out those things that he will come to value in his partner. He won’t be searching for the perfect “mother” when he seeks a partner in life. He should be searching for a person who is intelligent, self-confident, capable, loving and selfish. Yes, selfish. They will be selfish, like his mother, and know that energy spent being the very best “you” you can be is the best gift you can give your partner…and, ultimately, your child.

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