I opened the proverbial can of worms with my Challenge #7 Results post. In short, an anonymous comment was left in response to my post, one in which I feel I was rather unfairly judged. This was the first post this particular person had ever read of mine (at least that was what she said) so to be fair, it is possible that she was taking a lot out of context. Although I did have links back to previous posts which explained some of my comments further, I suspect that this reader was so put off by me that she did not bother to learn the whole story.
The comment I found most interesting was one where the reader states that she was a wife before she was a mother and will not put her relationships with her husband, family, and friends on the backburner. She doesn't always have to be a mother. I decided that I wanted to get some other opinions on this particular idea, so I put it out on my Facebook page to see what other mommies thought. The conversation that sparked was fantastic! There are a lot of really thoughtful comments on there and not everyone is on the same page which makes this an even more exciting discussion!
So of course, being the mindful blogger than I am, I decided that this little brouhaha deserved a post all of its own. If only for the sake of opening the channels of discussion between mamas with differing viewpoints so that maybe we can find different ways of looking at our role as a mother.
Here is my personal opinion on motherhood. You are welcome to agree with me, you are welcome to disagree with me, you are welcome to be annoyed with me, you are welcome to high five me, but PLEASE keep it respectful. Here goes…
I think that there is something VERY, VERY special about being a woman. I am not downplaying the unique qualities men have but the ability to create, carry, and develop another human being in your body and then bring that body into this world as a shiny new person is completely mind blowing to me. Whether or not a woman ever uses this precious gift or has the ability to use this precious gift is a whole different conversation and one that I am not delving into right now. The point is, woman have something much different than men and as such are given a heftier, mentally taxing, emotionally complex load to bear in life. Men will NEVER be able to understand or feel what it is like to be a mother.
So – the big question on my mind is where do you draw the line between being a mother, a wife, a family member, a friend, and yourself? Is there even a line that needs to be drawn? Do these roles all blur together? Should they blur together? Should they be distinct roles that remain separate? Should they be distinct roles that intermingle? Can you stop being a mother from time to time so that you can just enjoy life for your own self? Whew! Heavy questions and if I asked EVERY single mother on the face of the earth what her opinion is, I would get such a wide array of responses that I would not be able to keep up with them all.
Here is the simple response to all of the above questions. Every mother must do what is best for her, her child, and her family taking into consideration current circumstances. In addition, motherhood will look different from one day to the next, one month to the next, and one year to the next. So will a mother's relationship with all the other people in her life. So there is really no easy answer to the questions I posed. I think that the answer will even change if you asked it to the same mom every few years. We are all on our own personal journey as mothers.
Having said that, I do have a strong personal opinion on MY identity as a mother as well as my identity as a wife, daughter, and friend. Again, love it or hate it but please respect it.
I became a mother the day I figured out I was pregnant. My whole world changed. I was no longer “just me.” I was now single handedly responsible for ensuring that my baby developed properly because of my choices. Once my baby was born I was now part of a parenting team and an extended team of family and friends who would all work together in different ways and at different times to ensure that this child had every opportunity to make it through life as safely and healthy as possible. However, I was still the only person given the title and responsibility of being “mama.” Being mama came with a hefty set of responsibilities and ones that I felt and still feel take precedence over anything else or anyone else.
My daughter is almost 26 months old. For the past 26 months she has needed ME the majority of the time for a multitude of reasons. I think that this is true for a lot (READ: NOT ALL) babies and young children. Mama provides so many things that no one else can. I am passionate about my role as a mother and believe strongly in meeting all of my child's needs. If this means making sacrifices in some of my personal relationships, then so be it. The time in which children are this young and this dependent upon their mother is so very short in the grand scheme of life. So I embrace it. But I HAVE NOT LOST my identity as a wife, a daughter, or a friend. I am still me. I am still Jennifer. I still love reggae. I still like the same foods. I still love the ocean. I still enjoy the great outdoors. I still love to hear the sound of rain falling. I still love the smell of wet pavement. I would still rather live in Jamaica. I still enjoy it when someone else cooks for me. I cannot get enough of my husband's goofy laugh. I giggle ever time my mom throws out one of her “momisms.” I thrive on my father's work ethic and honestly. None of that has changed. Just because I am a mom does not mean that I have lost who I am. I have just decided that certain things I used to enjoy doing can be put on the backburner for a while. Again, it is short in the grand scheme of life.
I am a mother first. I am a wife second. I am a daughter third. I am a friend fourth. EVERYONE in my life who matters understands this. They respect this. And we all have strong relationships. My husband and I are able to do little things to keep our relationship strong. We spend time alone when we can and make that time count. But, we enjoy spending time together as a family more. We want our daughter to have a strong sense of family and to see that mommy and daddy enjoy being together, with her. We keep our problems to ourselves and work them out away from Tiny. She does not need to see all that right now. We both accept that right now, our relationship is about being parents – a mom and a dad – and that being the carefree couple we were will have to wait until Tiny is probably grown and out of the house. (Ok – maybe not that long.) Point is, we are committed to keeping our relationship strong, united, loving, and respectful even if that means we do so by reconnecting in the small moments. And that works for US! Our relationship has never needed a lot in terms of the quantity of time spent together. For us, it is quality. And quality can happen in five minutes. (Minds out of the gutter folks!)
I am a mother first. I will say it again. I ALWAYS have to be a mother. If I go out and get plastered and something happened to my daughter while I was gone I may not have time to sober up and remerge myself in motherhood after my headache subsides. I may be called to duty right then and there. The choices I make as Jennifer, the person other than mama, will effect who I might have to be as a mother at any given moment. So while my daughter is so very young and tender, I am careful about my choices. My choices are made through mommy lenses, not Jennifer lenses, not wife lenses, not daughter lenses. I am responsible for another human being, a life too young to live without me. Tiny cannot even dress herself so how I can “not always be a mother?”
I am not at all suggesting that anyone lose their identity when she becomes a mother. You just have to figure out the balance and blend that works for you. My friends with older children have done a wonderful job being mothers first, while their children really needed them and putting other relationship to pasture for a while. As their children grew and could be more independent and not as reliant on mom, those relationships were recultivated and grew even stronger. I personally think that this is because those moms did what they were called to do at that point in their lives. They gave themselves into motherhood as fully as they were comfortable with and when the time came to go back out there and take some time to relish in a momentary mom free moment, these moms were able to do so freely and without guilt. And the guilt thing – awful. There is nothing worth doing if guilt is attached to it.
I cannot end this post without commenting on husbands, families, and friends. First, a husband will hopefully be understanding of his children's development and their personal needs and allow his wife to care for those needs uninhibited by spousal guilt, threats, control, or force. A husband will hopefully be as equal of a parenting partner as time and responsibilities allow. A husband will hopefully join his wife on their journey of molding their new relationships together as parents first, a couple second. A husband will hopefully enjoy the small moments with his wife and learn to connect and grow as a couple in a different way. A husband will hopefully respect the importance of his wife being a mother.
Extended family will hopefully be supportive of your family and your family's child-rearing decisions and accompanying lifestyle. They will hopefully help and not hinder you as a family. They will understand that sometimes you will not be able to accommodate their needs or wishes but that at the end of the day, you will all still be family.
Friends are a little trickier. I have found that I really discovered who my friends are after becoming a mother. Some relationships strengthened as we bonded together a mothers and not just friends with similar interests and ideas. Some relationships faded as those friends and I really never had much in common and my new role as mother did not afford me the opportunity to cultivate friendships that really did not have much depth to them. Some relationships are still hanging in there, ready to remerge stronger when the time is right. I know that I have friends who I can call on, day or night. I am that kind of friend in return. Just because I don't have a girl's night out once a week does not mean that I am doing myself an injustice or being a bad friend. It is not what I need right now and neither do most of my friends. Playdates at the park are just fine for all of us. This certainly will change over time.
I also want to mention that I understand the importance of a healthy relationship with your spouse which serves as a model of a healthy relationship for your children. If you and your partner do not have a healthy relationship then yes, it may be imperative that you step back from your role as a mother just a little to seek professional help to rebalance and grow your relationship with your husband. But this is only something that each couple can decide. I feel that it is equally important to make sure that by stepping back from mommy duty, your children's needs are still being met. Because remember, they are much smaller, have not yet developed the ability to process what goes on around them properly, and may be more affected by mom's scaled down role than their parent's relationship. So you have to look at the complete picture and then make the judgment call of how much to give to everyone in your family.
In case you are a skip the middle, read the last paragraph person, I want to emphasize that I embrace my role as a mother, have chosen by my own free will to put being a mother first (and feel in my soul that this is what I should do), feel that a mom is ALWAYS a mom no matter what, and understand that as Tiny gets older my role as a mom will shift and allow me more time to enjoy the other roles and relationships I have in my life. My husband and I are fine and will continue to cultivate our relationship. We do what is best for our family and I bless everyone doing what is best for theirs. The thing that I love most in this world is that human beings have an amazing ability to find their way in life and typically make the right choices along the way. Right for who? Maybe not you, but that is ok. Your journey is yours and yours alone. I will never shun anyone or judge anyone for their approach unless it is directly hurting me or my family. Even then, I would try to seek an alternative for that person/family, not judge or shun them.
So here is a little poem for you all:
I am mama, hear me roar
As a wife, I will soar
I am a daughter, near or far
I am a friend, wherever you are