Evie 2Comment

Originally published in January 2016

The weirdest thing happened the other day. My best friend, someone I’ve known for years and talk to multiple times a day, launched into this story about the time she studied abroad in college.

It was a total WTF moment. “You studied abroad?” I asked.

“Oh yeah, twice,” she responded.

It was the weirdest thing. I thought I knew this person—her life history included. How was it that I’d missed the part where she lived on another continent?

But then it occurred to me: I didn’t know this story because I’d never asked. I’d never thought to inquire about my best friend’s study abroad opportunities in college because I met her as a mom. By the time we were bonding, college was something in our distant past, a past that, I guess, didn’t seem important enough for me to inquire about.

Motherhood has this way of redefining us and making everything we once were insignificant. You may be a high-powered CEO at a Fortune 500 company, but when your baby is up in the middle of the night spiking a fever, you’re as helpless and scared as every other mom on the planet.

And for stay-at-home moms, which my friend and I are, the identity loss is even more pronounced. Your whole identity gets wrapped up in childrearing. And it’s not necessarily what you thought would happen, or what you want, but it’s the reality, for a while at least.

Being a mom means you’re on duty 24/7; no sick days, no annual leave. And the work is so draining that, even when you do technically have time for yourself, all you want to do is curl up in bed with a hot cup of tea and watch Friends reruns. Now, it sounds exhausting to carve out time for happy hour with friends, yoga on Saturday morning, and book club Thursday night.

But motherhood isn’t the only thing that defines us. We all have our passions and pursuits. Sometimes they just get lost in the shuffle. Sometimes we forget we’re multidimensional people. I forgot that about my best friend, and people forget that about me all the time.

I have to chuckle each time an acquaintance discovers this blog and asks why I didn’t tell her about it. “Because you didn’t ask.” No one ever asks. Once people learn you’re a SAHM, they stop asking about you. The conversation turns to the kids, and we become accessories of their lives.

Related:  How to Bullet Journal with a Newborn

Last Thursday, I met a friend at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston to visit the Mark Rothko exhibit, and it so reminded me of who I was. Did you know I studied art history in college? Did you know I worked at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC? Did you know I like to paint?

Rothko exhibit

Probably not. Because I don’t usually say these things anymore. Because motherhood has defined me for so many years. But I’m starting to come out the other side and beginning to reassess who I am, aside from being a wife and mother.

At the end of the exhibit, there was a quote by Mark Rothko that really struck a nerve:

When I was a younger man, art was a lonely thing. No galleries, no collectors, no critics, no money. Yet, it was a golden age, for we all had nothing to lose and a vision to gain. Today it is not quite the same. It is a time of tons of verbiage, activity, consumption. Which condition is better for the world at large I shall not venture to discuss. But I do know, that many of those who are driven to this life are desperately searching for those pockets of silence where we can root and grow. We must all hope we find them.

It’s not just artists looking for “pockets of silence” to “root and grow,” though. Moms need them, too.

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2 thoughts on “How Mothers Lose Their Identities

  1. Well said, Evie! Oh my goodness did I relate to these words—”Once people learn you’re a SAHM, they stop asking about you. The conversation turns to the kids, and we become accessories of their lives.”

    My writing life, which is so deeply a part of me, is often unknown to in person friends. Or at the best, unexplored.

    Thanks for the sweet perspective. It makes me want to talk more carefully with my own friends so I can understand and know them better.

  2. Well said, and appreciated. As a working father, I often feel as though I’ve lost myself as well. I think it comes with the territory of parenthood. My wife is a stay at home mom and does carry the brunt of things. I fully appreciate that. On the other side, though, as a dad who works in sales and spend countless hours after work and before preparing or following up on things to ensure a sale and income, I often feel I haven’t been able to cultivate and grow on a personal scale. I work hard to make sure my wife has her time to go to and teach yoga, to relax and be on her own. I would not alter that, I know it is important for her. But, I find myself lacking my own identity. I spend a ten hour day working and a non-stop, high-stress environment to come home and find myself changing diapers, cleaning and folding laundry while responding to emails with a wipe in my hand. It’s true that I need to cut the uncontrolled hours I spend working and be “in the moment”, but then, what is that moment? I cherish and value the time with my boys. They are my world and drive my life. Long ago, I calculated the hours and days I would spend missing them grow from birth to adulthood at a normal work rate and with school hours. Adding in my extra work time escalates that and makes me wish I could win the lottery and spend all my time with them! It’s just too much time losses and creates envy for my wife who spend countless hours with them. It’s a double edged sword. She doesn’t have as much me time, but has so much more valuable time with our children. As a working father, I have time away, yes, but it is not the same as time spent developing a sense of self, a passion project or me time. I have minimal time spent with my sons, and wish it was more. From that, I find it difficult to have time to myself and develop me, who I am and what my passions are. I find that I would rather cancel a planned event with friends or refrain from gym or soccer time in order to have more time with family, or with just my boys so my wife can go and have her own time. I’ve created the problem by choosing not to take that time, but it’s one I have freely chosen. I fully appreciate your words and value what you say and feel in this article. It offers insight into some of what I suspected, but explains it better and further. I’m not trying to bring a sad song to the party. But more, I’m offering equal insight and suggesting that there are considerations all around on both sides. Parenthood is about those choices. For better, or worse. I pray I’ve made the right one. I often feel I haven’t. Wishing I had more of an identity of self, and knowing my dear wife needs more than she has. How we navigate this life and cultivate these things, that’s the million dollar question. However, understanding these types of things on both sides is a first step, in my humble opinion. I wish you well in your path and hope you continue to develop yourself and discover the self that you’re becoming. For when our kids become adults, we may left with decades of string at ourselves in the mirror wondering just who that person is and where the person you knew went. I breathe in hope to be true to who I am, and breathe out strength to honor my calling as a parent. Thank you so much for your story, it was lovely to read!

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