Thursday, October 19, 2006

On Being Her Mom

It's foreign to me, this concept of letting my child define my very existence. This means I am a stranger in a strange land, because the cloying glory of being somebody's mommy is all around me.

I belong to a local newlywed message board, where members will often use their own names to sign off at the end of each post. A lot of them are only weeks or months removed from their wedding day, still blushing in the bridal afterglow. Others have been married for several years. But it's almost universal that as soon as they become--or even decide to become--mothers, their own signed identities disappear and "Mommy to So-and-So" replaces them. It is easy to forget the given names of these women and to think of them only as they relate to their children.

Frankly, I get very uncomfortable when I think of my own mother behaving in such a linguistically sacrificial way. It's a lot of pressure, knowing that I am my mother's EVERYTHING. Or that, semantically speaking, I am my mother--because in viewing one's self solely in terms of someone else, any separation between the two fades into obscurity.

I need to know that my mother isn't just a composite of my siblings and me. Now, more than ever, I need to know that. I need to know that it's okay to be me. I need to know that I can be a good mother, but I can also be a good wife, a good writer, a good friend. I can be good to myself. And I need to know that my mother can, too.

I think that we, as moms, fight amongst ourselves a lot, and it's this issue of identity that underscores most of the sticking points. We fight inside ourselves, too. There are questions like these: Are you one with your child through breastfeeding, or are you separate? Are you one with your child by staying home to raise him, or are you separate? Are you one with your child through long nights in the glider, or do you cry it out, separately?

It's a shame that the whole argument must be fought within a framework that defines any distinction between mother and child as bad. I am fundamentally opposed to that assumption. I want to be able to speak with conviction when I tell my daughter that she is her own person, that she can shape her individuality into any form she chooses. And I want to know that if I can't find the words, she can stand back and see it for herself, in me.


If you're wondering what I use for my own signature on that newlywed message board, I'll tell you. It's a thumbnail photo of myself on my wedding day, riding a mechanical bull. Below it is a link to this blog.

8 comments:

chelarama said...

I couldn't agree more. To take it a step further...as a wife, I hate to be referred to as Mrs. Husband's-first-and-last-name. Come on, this isn't the 1950's. I have a name and identity!

Binkytown said...

This is really hard to accept and maybe that's why so many mom's choose to ignore it and think of themselves as so-and-so's mom first.

I think I had to come to terms with the fact that we were not the same person early because I took my little one to day care and if you want to have even a little sanity during the time you are apart you have to acknowledge that they are their own people living lives independant of you, even though the bond remains. Even though logically and physically it's true, a mother's heart resists that idea.

toyfoto said...

Great post.

I wrote about this months ago, and still haven't published it ... but sometimes I think women want to disappear. And then they do. Really. They become someone's wife and mother, suddenly their not in the book. They're off the grid. It's kind of a martyr thing.

But in doing so, in defining themselves as important only to someone else and what they DO for them, they are teaching their kids that they aren't important. I've known many women who's kids don't respect their mothers for this very reason.

Double-edge sword.

jen said...

brava, brava, brave.

i am rising to my feet and applauding the absolute rightness of this post.

Mrs. Chicky said...

Very true. I got caught up in that for about three months after the birth of my daughter. Then I smacked myself and decided to find my own identity (though, truthfully, a made up/cutesy one) when it came to these types of forums. In real life I am strictly (add first name here) and not just my daughter's mother. It's not a bad gig but it's not my whole life.

Michele said...

My mother is a great mom but she never identified with the idea that she was just a mother, even when she was home with four little kids.

I am not that way either.
I love the "mommy" part of my life. It truly is what I always wanted to be. But I also love that I just the best performance review of my life last week at work. For a job that I started when my kids were three months old that was a HUGE career change for me. Go me!


Last weekend we went to a pumpkin patch with the boys. While we were there, some other kid was blowing bubbles. As the bubbles floated by, one of my boys pointed at it and very clearly said "Bubble". My husband and I looked at each other and said "I didnt know he could say that." Rather than feel like I was losing my grasp on every detail of my kids life, I revelled in the fact that he is learning and growing when he is away from me and that I dont have to teach him every single thing.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for voicing something that I have been struggling with over the last 4 weeks.. well, actually, the last 10 months. I've seen so many people become "SoandSo's mom" and when I learned I was pregnant, I feared that I would be swallowed up into that. Hearing that it is okay to want to be Melissa, well, it helps in a big sort of way. I don't want to wake up when she is 18, look at my husband and say, Who the F are you?

mlwooten said...

Thank you for voicing something that I have been struggling with over the last 4 weeks.. well, actually, the last 10 months. I've seen so many people become "SoandSo's mom" and when I learned I was pregnant, I feared that I would be swallowed up into that. Hearing that it is okay to want to be Melissa, well, it helps in a big sort of way. I don't want to wake up when she is 18, look at my husband and say, Who the F are you?