Mom, wife, daughter, sister, friend. That is my tag-line on Facebook. It’s not especially clever, but it’s accurate. It tells the story in a nutshell…or at least part of it. I’ve read a couple articles recently about “finding yourself” as a woman, about not losing your identity after kids.
My identity? When did that go missing?
When my boys were babies—a newborn and a toddler just getting his feet under him—I had many days when my sole aim was to make it to the end of the day without catastrophe. No thought of my identity, no thought of my personal goals in life, just survival—and maybe a shower. I often thought that would make for a great reality series: Survivor—Parenting Babies Edition. Surviving was a sufficient goal for me then. Those early days of baby life were sometimes brutal for my husband and me, with little sleep, a tiny human squalling for…something, and the weight of keeping life together heavy on our new-parent shoulders.
I am so thankful that those days do not last forever. I am grateful for full nights of rest. I am grateful for hot meals eaten at the table without the duty of feeding another human between hasty bites of my own food, or crawling under the table countless times to fetch a dropped bottle. I heard from many mothers and grandmothers: “Don’t take these days for granted, enjoy them because they don’t last forever,” to which I inwardly yelled, “HALLELUJAH!” Memory has a way of casting a gold glow over those early days and months, camouflaging the terror and exhaustion.
Don’t misunderstand me, I loved my babies. I loved holding them close and rocking them, watching them drift to sleep. I loved the gurgles and coos. Each of their little mile-stones were miracles to be celebrated. But I’m glad my babies didn’t stay babies. I’m glad they’re growing and maturing. I’m especially glad they’re out of diapers!
Despite the fears and frustrations and sometimes frantic pace of those early years, I never lost my identity. I put my personal plans on hold for a while, but my identity never disappeared. I am still the same woman who salsas with the vacuum cleaner and sings along with The Sound of Music. I am still the same person who loves to escape in a good murder mystery and dreams of catching a flight to Fiji to stay in one of those little grass huts over the water.
I’m the same woman I was before I had babies, and yet I’m not. I’ve grown. I’ve recognized the deep-seated selfishness that lies inside of me—the kind I didn’t know was there until I had a baby crying in the middle of the night, needing his worn-out momma. I’ve discovered depths of strength I didn’t know I had in me—until I discovered my toddler gleefully painting his walls with his own poopy diaper. (I still cringe at the memory of scrubbing dried feces off the wall and crying. I was seriously ready to just give up and sell the house!)
This is all part of my identity. I didn’t lose my identity because I had children. The person I was expanded to encompass the person I am in the middle of becoming. Putting a condescending label on mothers as women who have “lost themselves” in serving others is not only hurtful, it’s ignorant. Self-sacrifice is a noble characteristic and necessary in the daily needs of raising tiny humans. It is a characteristic that should be celebrated, not hidden in the corner of a closet like a pair of dirty socks.
“To everything there is a season,” to quote Solomon and The Byrds. This is the season of milk-mustaches and legos, running through the sprinklers and giggling over body noises. Twenty years ago I was entering the work-force with plans to change the world wearing heels and pantsuits. Today I am a world changer wearing jeans and peanut butter handprints. I am part of a beautiful family and each smudge and tear and giggle and sigh is a piece of the mosaic that is me.