“The longer I’m a parent, the less of an identity I have other than mom.” I found that quote on a private Facebook group for moms. I read it on occasion for its eyebrow-raising, hyper-granola content. Like, reusable-toilet-paper levels of granola. It was in response to a question a woman had posted about not having anything to talk about with her husband after having kids. Other commenters sympathized, some even responding along the lines of not caring if you’re boring to other adults as long as you’re superheros to your kids. This is a notion I wholly reject. It’s possible to be both a functional, intellectual being and an invested parent.
After becoming a mother, I found that I had to fight to maintain my identity. Not only because taking care of a child is physically and emotionally exhausting, leaving little time for personal growth, but also because your peers begin to treat you differently. Especially if you have your child at an age other than the new normal (30s, mid-career, extensive collection of face serums tastefully arranged on your vanity).
I had my daughter at 24 (recent grad, minimum-wage worker, what’s a face serum?) and, soon after, felt my interactions with associates temper at the mention of my baby. They began to exhibit weird behavior, like apologizing for swearing around me. Not me and my baby. Just me. I noticed that after such an episode, I’d find myself sporting a sailor’s mouth when I normally don’t swear all that much. (My bone structure doesn’t allow for it.) I can only assume that I did this in some weird, pathetic attempt to prove my sense of spirited youth. To dispel this cultural Madonna complex that we ascribe to mothers. A sort of flailing attempt at a, “Moms, they’re just like us!” moment.
Small talk tended to revolve around what the baby was up to these days (usually a combination of not sleeping and being aggressively photogenic) and how they were sorry to take me away from my baby. A comment that, in and of itself, betrays underlying assumptions about gender roles. Then, the conversation would peter out because hearing about a colleague’s baby is not interesting unless you have some emotional stake in the game. I found myself missing the days we’d all cling to the conversational liferaft of weather.
Eventually I stopped telling people I had a baby unless absolutely necessary. A work friend would invite me out for drinks (necessitating a babysitter) or follow me on Instagram, exposing me as a woman who only posts pictures of her kid (but only because she is a super-adorable angel baby who is smart and funny; also, I’m bad at taking selfies), which inevitably would result in a surprised gasp and some form of, “I never would’ve guessed. You don’t look like a mom!”
That particular response would gave me a fleeting sense of accomplishment, chased closely by feelings of guilt. Because it meant that I’d bought into the idea that moms are one-dimensional. That they can’t be interesting, subversive or funny. But mostly, it made me want to call my own mother, a woman who gave birth to NINE CHILDREN WITHOUT AN EPIDURAL, and apologize for being so myopic about her value. Now that I’m a mother, I can see her for who she is. If I dig through my personal Debbie archive (past her bodily accomplishment as stated above), I am reminded of her creativity, entrepreneurial spirit and weird taste in workout music. Who does cardio to DeVotchKa?
A narrow view of mothers is frustrating, but to see it mirrored in my own thinking has been eye-opening. Mothers are just women. I’m ready for the day when I don’t have to remind anyone of that. Including myself.