Share the love, spread the word
Share the love, spread the word
For the record, there are only two people in the world who are entitled to define me as a mother.
They’re my kids.
For the rest of the world: don’t call me mother.
Don’t misinterpret my sentiment here: I love my kids, I’m proud to be their mother, I am blessed to have them and to be having this life experience with them. I am completely devoted to them.
But their existence is not all there is to me.
Motherhood doesn’t define me. I am a mother but that’s not who I am.
I am a far, far more complex beast than that, and of all my talents and abilities, I suspect motherhood is sometimes not my strongest one despite my best efforts.
Society and the stereotypes our culture trots out tell us that our existence as women is truly defined once we give birth and care for a small human.
Sure, it’s a big deal and lots of things change in that process. Life is without doubt never the same again and it is a richer experience because of it.
But you don’t suddenly stop being you. Having kids doesn’t erase who you were before kids – she is still there, albeit buried beneath a pile of laundry, sleep deprivation and constant worry. It doesn’t erase your aspirations, your ability to think, have ideas and opinions, nor your want (and need) of something for yourself.
You don’t become this singular being whose sole purpose in life is to look after the humans you birthed. There is more to you than that, no matter how important a role motherhood is.
And it is a role, not an identity.
It’s an additional layer of responsibilities, emotions, lessons and growth that of course changes you, possibly even transforms you. Yes it’s consuming, certainly in the beginning, and on some days it’s even enjoyable.
But it’s not all there is.
The narrative we’re sold is that actually, our kids should be enough. Motherhood is all we need to be happy and fulfilled.
The same message isn’t delivered to men. They’re sold the message that fatherhood will make them a better man (that’s not necessarily true either by the way). But we’re told becoming a mother will fulfill us – that it will be the most rewarding thing we’ll ever do.
Well, maybe it will be but maybe it won’t. I’ve not discovered the cure for cancer but I reckon in the fulfillment or reward stakes that would trump wiping up vomit at 3am or confronting a moody teenager about their attitude.
Call me cynical but I reckon there are plenty of things you could do in your life that would be pretty damn fulfilling and rewarding, and potentially even more so than years spent raising kids.
We shouldn’t confuse love and commitment with fulfillment. I won’t ever love anyone or anything as much as I love my kids and I will never have a stronger commitment to someone or something the way I am committed to my children.
Hubby is up there, but it’s not the same thing.
This is where the confusion lies. The commitment to your children is likely to be far and above what you experience in any other relationship. We certainly put up with more from them than we do anyone else.
It’s not to say there are no feelings of reward or fulfillment gained from parenting, because there are. The sheer fact we create life and keep them alive is pretty amazing and we should feel a little proud – smug even – at that achievement.
But it’s not all there is to your life.
You’re more than a mother
You are allowed to also feel fulfilled in other areas of your life and it’s completely OK if you love your kids and family, are committed to them, but actually gain a sense of fulfillment from other roles in your life.
Writing good stories, helping women feel better or succeed, creating a business, not falling over in yoga class – these are all achievements that give me a sense of fulfillment and are important to me.
Motherhood is a role I have – just like I am a wife, sister, daughter, friend, aunty, writer, coach, journalist. My identity is defined by a complexity of different roles, thoughts, attitudes, beliefs, and curiosities.
The narrative that tells women that their ability to procreate or otherwise is their defining attribute is what lies behind mother guilt, martyrdom and an awful lot of overwhelm. It’s what keeps women from making choices that are self-sustaining for them personally. It makes them hesitate about cutting back on parenting responsibilities in order to follow other passions, interests and ideas.
It stops them from being themselves – their entire selves – because they have this sense that it is somehow wrong to want something more.
There is a pressure to meet an unwritten standard that our role as mother is self-sustaining – that it is all we need and heaven help those women who rebel against this and instead maintain self interests alongside parenting responsibilities. What kind of a mother are you anyway?
Pause for a second and consider this thought instead: your desire to do something for yourself, to have your own life and to retain an identity that has nothing to do with the fact you have children has absolutely no bearing whatsoever on your suitability, performance or ability as a mother.
You are a mother, but that’s not who you are.