I’d like to do an experiment.
Think back with me, before you became a mom. I know some days it’s hard to imagine what life was like then. Often it feels like a distant memory, right?
Remember what consumed your thoughts, what you hoped for, who you spent time with, what your relationships were like. Okay, hold those memories in your mind for a moment, we’ll come back to it.
When I was little, I remember having an image of what a “mom” was. I grew up in the 90’s, so it involved a great deal of pleated shorts, ponytails, soccer, minivans, Barney, Cheerios, and diapers. Even when I was ten years old, I remember telling myself “that will never be my life”. I didn’t understand why birthing and mothering another human being required me to join some club that had explicit fashion and lifestyle requirements.
Hadn’t people been having babies since forever? That’s how we all got here, right? So then who decides what a “mom” looks like? What she drives? How she talks? What her hobbies are? It just never made sense to me. The women I knew were so unique and beautiful in their various passions, interests, and ambitions. Surely having children wouldn’t have to funnel us all into one huge pot of motherly uniformity, right? Surely not. My friend and I were talking the other day about this very thing.
Before we had children, we were identified as so many things- our job titles, our hobbies, our relationships, our passions, our degrees.
Once we had children, it was narrowed down to one thing- mom. It was as though everything we had been educating ourselves for, learning, becoming, was halted by a powerful perception shift when our children were born. All of those things that made us who we were ended up being swept under the rug of our new role as mothers. Not by us, mind you.
This is not to diminish the powerful impact that bringing a child into the world and raising it has on a woman’s identity- it is huge. As in, tectonic plate-shifting huge. It changes everything, and as you birth that child, you are birthed anew. But this process is internal, and is different for every woman. In the end, you are still… well, you.
Your personality, your history, your wiring, your passions, they remain. Maybe not unchanged, but they do remain. So what are we told to do with them as mothers? Tuck them away, push them down, ignore them. You are a mom now. That is all that matters. This is your role. But what if that wasn’t the most righteous, loving thing you could do for your kids?
What if more than anything, your children need you to continue becoming… you?
Certainly it is not within us to abandon everything we’ve loved for the children we love most of all. Culture, whether it is the media or dominant church culture, repeats over and over the idea that being a mother is the most honored, the most blessed and highest of callings. And to be sure, it is just that. But we are told that to embrace it, to own it, we must allow it to be everything. But is this message defined by women, or men? Who is telling us this? And where do we fit inside that perception if we love our kids, but we have to work? Where does that leave mothers who don’t have a choice but to earn an income, or choose to because they love doing it?
Okay, now let’s go back to our original exercise. Remember who you were before you had children? How do you feel about that woman now? Does she seem distant, or murky in your memory? Does she create a spark in your mind, or a moment of gratitude for who you have become?
No matter who you are, where you come from, who you love, or what your dreams are, being a mom makes those things richer, deeper, and more beautiful. Let’s listen to our hearts and be guided by our own individual callings, not the pressure and weight of outside voices.
“Who knows what women can be when they are finally free to become themselves? Who knows what women’s intelligence will contribute when it can be nourished without denying love?”
― Betty Friedan, The Feminine Mystique