Monday, June 13, 2011

Not Lost

**Changing identities in a superman shirt and mom's secret agent glasse.**

I read another article the other day by a mom who talked about how we lose our identities in the monotonous work of motherhood. And I’ll tell you what, this idea bothers me. It’s such a common theme in writing by moms: you will lose yourself in motherhood, and you must reclaim your old self to regain sanity!

It bothers me because of the assumptions it makes about motherhood—that the process is a constant drain on who we are, and we must somehow stem the tide by carving out more time for ourselves. It must be said that I am all about finding space for ourselves in the process of raising kids. That will be different for everyone. My space is my job, my friends, my books and writing.

But when I seek those things out, it is not because I feel like I need them to get a grasp on my identity, but because I find enjoyment in them. In fact sometimes I do more honest self-examination in the minutes after I’ve lost my cool during a toddler’s tantrum than I do when I’ve got endless time to sit and think.

Here are my assumptions about motherhood: That motherhood is a calling. That it is an honor. That motherhood is absolutely one of the most important things we have the opportunity to do in our lives, and that what we do with it and what we learn from it, matters. I think the work of motherhood is part of a great process of becoming.

**Which is important to remember since we do not get certificates of achievement as we go.**

Because I believe powerfully in the importance of not just the result (kids) but the process of motherhood, I think, ‘This idea can’t be right. It can’t be this great tragedy that the work of motherhood robs us of our true selves and we need to move backwards to find them.’ Anyway, is the answer ever in trying to reclaim the past?

It occurred to me, though, that without the right context to frame the experience, motherhood probably does feel like a great vortex that your past life gets sucked into.

**Looking a little lost in the vortex of dance class.**

But in the context of the assumptions I named, I think it’s more like a fire—like any refining fire that purifies. So when your childless self—full of hobbies, free time, and socializing—gets thrust in, it can feel like the old self has all but disappeared. Ouch! This is the resounding cry I hear in these articles. “What happened to my old self?” they wonder, as they watch that life seemingly melt away. The form and function of our lives irrevocably changed.

**Scenes that make me happy my life has changed. My boys unintentionally match and make each other laugh.**

But in this process, the fire is burning out of us the less desirable parts—the selfishness, the pettiness, the pride. The sleepless nights and the high fevers; the worry and the play; the monotony and the heart-bursting joy. The love, the love, the love. It is purifying and strengthening. The fire burns out parts of the old self, but I believe the core of us is never lost at all. What is our identity anyway? It is the be, not the do.

The essence of who we are is more than a list of our hobbies or accomplishments. It is in how we have learned to care, to serve, to work, to change, to rally, to be strong.

Yes, through this process, we are transformed. Stronger in the end. Not in spite of all the carpools we have driven and the diapers we have changed. But maybe, just maybe, also because of it.

You know when you meet mothers who are older, gray-haired, and wise? The ones who have a certain wisdom and a loving grace bred by years of experience? Such characteristics, I’m confident, were hard-won. I never look at them and think that they have lost themselves in the process. Rather, I think they look more themselves than ever.

No, in the work of motherhood, we are not lost, though it may feel like that sometimes. We are remade, reborn. And we are stronger and better because of it.

**Like the feeling after a good workout (or sackrace, as it were), Motherhood is a good burn.**


  1. Love this. Thanks for telling US something fabulous! :)

  2. I have so much I could say on this subject... but I'll keep it short. You are ABSOLUTELY RIGHT! I couldn't agree more.

    I have found that with my children, I haven't lost myself, it's the opposite, I have FOUND myself. I have discovered who I was meant to be. My life has meaning now.

    With Adam pretty much house bound with no babysitter, we accepted a long time ago that time to ourselves was going to be VERY rare. Now that I'm so used to that I find that when I have my children with me I have far more fun than I do when I'm alone. Their happiness and excitement about life is so contagious.

    All of the plans Jason and I had for ourselves as individuals seem so meaningless now compared to our role as parents to such special children.

  3. Beautifully said Kate. In motherhood I know that I have truly found myself. I couldn't imaging my life without all the ups and downs that motherhood brings. As I write this I am lying in bed snuggling my 9 day old little Sophie listening to her sweet breathing knowing that her birth has changed my life for the better forever.

  4. Thank you for your wise and beautifully eloquent perspective as a young mother from an older mother who often sees her generation of mothering dismissed by popular culture.

    I married and began a family in the decade of women's rights. I suffered job interviews that featured outrageous invasions. Pseudo-psychological tests and so-called "intelligence" tests that presumed to discover if I was a good "fit". The male LDS employer also felt obliged to ask questions like this: "If you came into a lot of money, you would a) go on a trip b) put in in the bank or c) pay tithing." Yeah. No kidding. One "test" even asked me "What is your relationship with your father?" Well, since he left us to marry his secretary, not really all that swell.

    I appreciate your dismissal of the continuing trend since the 70s for women to feel resentful of "traditional" roles. Your life as a practicing physician, wife AND mother speaks to the truly marvelous distinction we women share - regardless of our age, ethnicity or religious affiliations - we really do function best as we honor our Divinely inspired capacity to nurture.

    As a new statistic of the tragedy of divorce, I have agonized about my life's choices. I was an impatient young mom at times, I definitely was a very distracted younger mom, but I am now at peace with my younger self. I loved my family, and I did my best with what I knew at the time. I never lamented about kids being home during the Summer like my friends did. I thought my children were brilliant, capable and endlessly funny. Now I am almost 54 and my five are all adults except for one. They are each wonderful, beautiful people in their own right.

    It strikes me as miraculous to the core that we as women are given the opportunity to be part of such an incredible experience. It's hard work. It hurts in a thousand ways. There are times we feel like we are drowning in everyone ELSE'S needs. But as you say, the JOY outstrips all, even if it is experienced fleetingly during times of suffering or stress, it is such a potent reality that we know we can get up again and do it all over again another day. I may have post-poned a lot of my own interests, and I did give too much power to someone else - but I AM who I am because I willingly sacrificed what I could for my family. I believed in the greater good. I still do. I am now in the process of reinventing myself. That's completely different from being lost.

  5. I realize you wrote this a little while ago, but I thought it was very well said, and I appreciated reading it. It's the "non-resume" things in life we experience and gain that are what really matter--and with motherhood, there is SO MUCH behind "I am a mother". More than we can describe and often express.


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