Heart Pondering

The ponderings of one Christ-following mom on raising preschoolers

Motherhood-induced identity crisis? May 2, 2009

Filed under: Books,For moms,Mothering role — Susan @ Christian Mothering @ 11:28 pm

aa0429281“Have you lost yourself in being a mom?” asks the back cover of a new book out by the editor of the women’s Christianity Today blog I write for, Gifted for Leadership.  The title of the book is Mama’s Got a Fake ID: How to Reveal the Real You Behind All That Mom“It’s easy to lose your identity when others see you as a mom and little else,” writes author Caryn Rivadeneira.  “What happened to the artist, the organizer, the entrepreneur, the leader – the person you’ve lost touch with?”

I’ve gotten to e-know Caryn and respect her greatly; she clearly loves and values the high calling of being a mom.  But she’s struggled with her experience in motherhood – that, “as different as we all are, we still get crammed into the same box and slapped with the same label.”  Her book explores mothers’ loneliness, their desire to be known for who they really are (not just as ‘everymoms’), and to be appreciated for their true selves. 

While I can appreciate these notions, her struggle – and those discussed in the book – have not been my own.  I’ve rarely felt unfairly judged or stereotyped by society, that people assume I’m stupid or incapable, or that false labels are slapped on me because I’m a mom.  I also haven’t experienced the sense of lost identity and related loneliness that Caryn and the other moms who appear in her book (and on her blog, The Mommy Revolution) describe.  I’m not sure why, though I have a few theories.  The book actually made me wonder if I’m the exception to the norm. 

But like Caryn, I do fully agree with a tagline associated with Gifted for Leadership: “use your gifts.”   And I agree with Caryn’s related point that my being a mother is only one role – albeit a vital one – that God has put me in.  I’m also a wife, friend, daughter, writer, runner, reader– etc.  I didn’t lose these identities when I became a mom.  One of my favorite lines in Caryn’s book is: “God wanted my children to live in a house with a woman who thrives on writing in the midst of chaos, who isn’t all that organized, who gets a charge out of new ideas.”  Yes.  Mothering aligns with who I am, it doesn’t compete with or negate it.  It all goes together. 

I thought of this concept when I read an interview with a blogger Tonia of Study in Brown, who said:

“We need to let go of the one-size-fits-all programs and know ourselves. I‘m not talking pop-psychology here, but about understanding the person God created you to be and taking on His freedom in that knowledge. The biggest part of balance is understanding where you are in life and how you can be the person God created the most fully and freely.” 

Agreed.  And this is no less true when you’re a mom (no matter how consuming that role can be) than at any other time in life.

The concern lurking in the back of my mind while reading Caryn’s book was this: what about moms on the other side? Those of us who are know and live out the various gifts and interests God’s given us – even to the possible detriment of our mothering?  Because I struggle more on this side of the equation than on the one Caryn focused on in her book.  My fear isn’t that I’ll lose myself in my mothering but conversely that I’ll be overly engrossed in playing out alternate facets of my identity to the neglect of my kids and household.  I can easily be too focused on other things to give my children the degree of attention that God desires – and that they need to thrive.

So I felt a bit relieved when I reached the book’s penultimate chapter called “Treasure Your Limitations.”  Caryn quoted a woman who, in response to the ‘mom identity crisis’ question, wrote: “I feel God hems us in at times for his own purposes.  He uses our children and their needs to hem us in; he uses our husbands’ conflicting schedules… I just pray that I fulfill what it is he wants me to do within the hedge he’s erected.”  Caryn goes on to discuss moms’ need to embrace contentment during a phase of life that may require us to curtail or table some facets of our identities for a while to better focus on mothering.  For someone in my position, then, this input is the book’s big takeaway.

What about you?  Where you feel you fall along this spectrum?


8 Responses to “Motherhood-induced identity crisis?”

  1. Stephanie Says:

    This is a very timely post for me. Just this weekend I had to answer the question, “What is one area in the life that provides your life meaning/purpose?”. I felt very 1950’s that my first thought was being a mother.

    I know the gifts and talents that God has blessed me with, and in the midst of raising children I use those gifts as the season allows. I think it’s important, so that you’re children can grow up understanding family in the context of supporting a larger community, and knowing mom as more then just a one dimensional caregiver.

    In general, I wouldn’t say that I’m overly self-aware, but I do feel blessed that God has given me eyes to see who I am holistically so that motherhood didn’t induce an identity crisis for me. As I have not had to go through the process of finding the person I lost touch with though, my challenge will instead be ensuring I allow for the development of the person I know right now.

  2. Emily Says:

    Hi Susan. I am glad you found my blog since it led me here to go many new child training resources. Here is a great and quick read I found a few days ago. http://www.generationcedar.com/main/ebooks Getting Your Children To Obey by Generation Cedar (excellent blog too). I like it better than To Train Up A Child (which is very controversial). It’s the same basic principles but without are the harsh sounding examples. : ) I am looking forward to reading more on your blog.



  3. Jean Says:

    I think the big take-away from all of this should be – are we happy with our lives and are we being good mothers while honoring God and being who we are and doing what we enjoy in this life? Are we using our gifts and talents?

    I believe you can tend toward giving up much of your “former life” or perhaps tend toward maintaining much of it while you tend to your children. And, both are okay as long as you are giving your children what they need and you are happy with how things are.

    You can’t judge others for how much of a priority they place on mothering and what they sacrifice in order to be moms. The biggest lesson is that each of us are different and certainly each of our children are, too.

    I recently told a few people that my husband and I went out to eat without the kids for the first time in over 4 years. The reactions were all similar – “wow” was the most common comment. I understand it is rare (and possibly unhealthy) for a couple to NEVER go out without their children. For us, it just has not been a priority and getting a babysitter proves to be more stressful than not going out.

    Keep in mind before you judge us (if you happen to think that not going out without your kids for 4 years would be a nightmare) that if someone told us that they get a babysitter every weekend or a couple of times a week that we would be equally as surprised and uncomfortable with that idea for ourselves.

    Some moms may still be able to be everything they once were and be great moms, but others clearly can’t and care for their kids (with their own unique circumstances) without giving up a LOT of what they used to do and maybe giving up a LOT of who they used to be before they became mothers.

    The feelings that others might see us as “stupid” or that we are being pidgeon-holed may come from insecurity or unhappiness with what we are doing. As a mom with a law degree and an MBA, I often get asked by friends and former classmates if it was “worth it” to get my education and then stay home with my kids. I always say “of course” and wonder if they realize that kids grow up and this is only a temporary situation.

    I don’t plan to homeschool my kids, so I see my days as a stay-at-home mom as being numbered – and I try desperately to slow time so I can enjoy them more fully. As I fast approach the age of 40, I also realize that I may never see any grandchildren or may be so old and tired that I won’t truly enjoy them, so I am enjoying my own babies now!

    If your gifts and talents don’t easily translate into mom-related activities and you don’t have a current outlet for them, it can leave you feeling inadequate or like you are unable to use your talents until you get to have a “real job” or “have a life” when your kids grow up.

    For me, my talents and interests translate easily into mom-related stuff. I love to have fun and having kids gives me an excuse to do a lot of things that nobody would ever pay me to do in the workforce. I feel very blessed to have an outlet for my creative energy. I realize that not everyone loves to do crafts or paint or play sports with their kids. I even have friends who have expressed that they feel like their kids are getting gypped because they are not very “crafty.”

    Finding a balance is not easy and with everyone having his or her unique lot in life, we can only turn to Him and ask for His help in determining how much of ourselves we need to give up in order to do a good job at this mothering thing.

  4. heartpondering Says:

    I agree about the importance not judging other moms and their decisions… And also the importance of honestly assessing and living out balance. It helps no one if a mom becomes consumed, overwhelmed, and lost in her mothering efforts… and it’s equally problematic if moms are engaging many or all of their gifts well but neglecting to fully invest their attention and time in their kids. I liked your phrase, Jean – “as long as you are giving your children what they need.” I do think this is central and, frankly, not often the filter that we are encouraged to honestly look (much less pray) through as women in our society.

    Stephanie’s comment, too, put it in good perspective for me as I think it’s an excellent summary – even goal -statement for this issue:
    “I know the gifts and talents that God has blessed me with, and in the midst of raising children I use those gifts as the season allows.”

  5. Jean Says:

    I agree – Stephanie’s words are perfect. I think I will print them out so I can see them at the start of each day!

    • Molly Says:

      Thanks ladies! Also a timely post for me. I also love Stephanie’s words, especially: “As I have not had to go through the process of finding the person I lost touch with though, my challenge will instead be ensuring I allow for the development of the person I know right now.”
      I think that might describe where I’m at on the spectrum. I love the idea of seasons of motherhood with specific areas, fading and resurfacing as our children (or as we) need them and as God ordains.
      I specifically feel the loss of my creativity in visual art and at times mourn it but I can see how I might be using the creativity in other ways. We have plenty of messy artsy fun but sometimes I miss creating in a quiet studio atmosphere. I’ve had some small projects to fill me up here and there along the way too…I just wouldn’t consider myself “a painter” right now.

      I’ve also loved trying to take notice of the “new” me…characteristics that have been cultivated *because* I’m a mom. Patience and spontaneity come to mind first. I could do without that super-mommy-sense of waking up at the slightest noise, convinced it’s crying, adrenaline pumping. Does this ever go away? It was useful for a time and all but really…. 🙂

  6. Erin Says:

    Do you wonder to what extent the whole “have I lost myself” concept is also about our resistance, more generally speaking, to change of any kind?

    What made me wonder was Stephanie’s comment about “the person I know right now.” It got me thinking about how incredibly different I am than before kids. I have flexed and changed as the conditions of my life experience have changed. I used to do a lot of things I don’t do now, I used to think things I don’t think now, I am so very changed. I wonder to what extent any sense of loss is really about resisting the embracing of change and being willing to embrace the newer version of ourselves? Right now I am fascinated by posts such as this, but 7 years ago I could have cared less. I am guessing 7 years from today (okay, maybe more like 14+) these pressing issues regarding my self identity and mothering will be a distant memory as I struggle to figure out if my older age has robbed me of my identity! LOL!

    All this to say, I don’t believe I am capable of losing myself (I keep trying, but everywhere I go – bang – there I am!) I believe in being flexible, in embracing my NOW – believing I have been placed here for “such a time as this” and believing tomorrow that will still hold true, whoever I manage to continue to be! To quote Hitch – “Who you are is a very fluid concept right now” – seems like a pretty good idea to me. lol

  7. heartpondering Says:

    Great thoughts. I definitely agree with you on: “It got me thinking about how incredibly different I am than before kids.” I find that even year to year, I catch myself remembering an observation I had of a woman or a mom and thinking how foreign she seemed… and now I am that person. Doing those things, that I couldn’t imagine at the time.

    I agree that we can’t ‘lose ourselves’… though I do think that sometimes the life we live as moms can cause us to so forgo aspects of ourselves and our personality – activities we love, passions we hold dear, timeless parts of our personality – that we can feel a sense of loss that is real. And if and when we see this, we can take it to God and have him help us recalibrate – if/as that is necessary.

    Thanks for the comment!

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