Mom's Secret Identity
One Mother's Day, Lori Brescia's kids came home from church with questionnaires they had filled out about her. Under "Favorite Food," they had answered "hot dogs," "pizza," "macaroni and cheese." Under favorite color, they wrote, "orange," "blue," "red." The same pattern emerged for her favorite activities and even hair color: they had no clue.
Lori fed them lunch so they'd have some stamina, and sat her family down in a row on the couch, including her husband. "Today is Mother's Day," she said, "and I can't help noticing that these questionnaires you filled out today are really about you, and not me. I am not just an extension of you. I'm my own person."
She spent the next 45 minutes telling them stories about her life. She paced up and down the room, explaining what makes her laugh, what makes her happy, what makes her sad. She told stories from when she was a child and when she taught high school. She shared what she loves about being a mom, but also all the other things she loves to do. They laughed together at the funny stories, and Lori even cried a few times talking about some of her more emotional experiences. At one point, one son said, "This is all about you, mom." "Exactly," she replied, and kept going.
That Mother's Day has itself become part of the Brescia family lore. They laugh about it every year. But you better believe those kids are really good at filling out those questionnaires now.
Mahatma Ghandi said, "The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others." Many mothers are really good at the "lose yourself" part and the "service" part, but forget that the goal in the first half of the sentence is to "find yourself." Depending on how you approach it, motherhood can help you develop, discover, and refine who you really are, or it can usurp your identity until you define yourself only by that role. Then when the kids leave the house, they leave you with an identity crisis, no discernible hobbies or interests, and a lot of time on your hands.
Last summer, I hiked my first 14er (a mountain above 14,000 feet) with my husband. Wading through wildflowers and streams, burning my lungs and my legs, and looking out at endless peaks and valleys, I felt a sudden explosion of joy and thought, "This is who I am." I almost needed to reintroduce myself to this person. In high school, I defined myself by mountains. Not a week went by that I wasn't fishing in them, hiking in them, rock climbing in them, or at least gazing at them with wonder. Now here I was living in Colorado and maybe making it up to the mountains every other month.
That day on Mt. Harvard made me think about the other things that define who I am. Yes, I am a mother. And that is a huge part of my identity. But I am also a writer, reader, pianist, singer, chef, cyclist, dancer, hiker, climber, tennis player, teacher, public speaker, and a believer in God. I've gone through long periods of time where I haven't done some of these things, but they're still part of who I am.
I have also spent a lot of my life feeling like an imposter. When I discovered rock climbing in high school, I didn't call myself a climber, even though I went once a week. I wasn't an expert, so I didn't think I could claim the title. For years as a young mother, I didn't call myself a writer, even though I had worked as a professional writer for years, because I wasn't currently writing. I didn't claim to be a singer, even though that is a huge part of my everyday life, because I rarely performed and because it sounded like bragging.
But I've come to believe that you can and should claim anything you love and that defines who you are, no matter how skilled or professional you are. Even someone who can't carry a tune should be able to claim that they're a singer if they love it and do it a lot.
This especially applies to motherhood. Who doesn't feel like an imposter when they bring that first baby home? Suddenly you're in charge of this needy little creature and you're supposed to have all the answers. Little by little, we gain the required skills, but we get that title, Mom, right away.
At every stage, with every new child, I feel imposter syndrome again. I don't know what the heck I'm doing. But I am Mom, and I claim that title wholeheartedly.
It's also OK not to claim stuff. I am not a crafter, painter, stylist, shopper, interior designer, or aesthetician. I don't decorate my house for any holiday besides Christmas. My children's church doodles have far surpassed my own. I'm fine with that.
There are infinite versions of both Woman and Mom. We all get to create our own version. In an interview on the podcast "The Women with Fire" Jamie Cook, said, "I can be whatever kind of mom I want to be. I can be really fit, I can be really clean and organized, I can be an amazing cook, I can be a really fun mom, but I can't be all those versions of a mom at one time." (Jamie's fabulous Instagram account is @wander_and_scout.) As our version of motherhood evolves and changes to meet different phases of our lives, we pick up new interests and talents that enrich our lives.
One of my favorite podcast episodes is "How to Be the Mom You Are Instead of the Mom You Think You Should Be," an interview on "The 3 in 30 Podcast" with Julie Bastedo. She made a list of all the things she does not do as a mother, including organizing playdates, skiing, camping, blogging or podcasting, and doing anything (including exercise) excessively and gave herself permission not to do them.
She does not feel bad about this list at all. She says, "I realized, well of course those are things I cannot do, or never do, or do not enjoy doing, because those things have nothing to do with who I am.... We are constantly reading on social media or reading in parenting books or following on television all of these things as mothers that we are supposed to be. And very infrequently do we recognize who we really are."
Julie then made a list of all the things she does do well as a mother to contribute to her family, including patience, reading good literature (and applying what she learns from it to motherhood), reading aloud, and teaching. We all have things to add to both lists, and we might as well embrace those lists.
I'll end with a list of some of the amazing mothers I know and the things that things that give them that "This Is Who I Am" feeling, to get you thinking about the unique attributes you bring to your version of motherhood:
Juliana is a painter. She paints when she can, and teaches her kids (and other people's kids) to paint. This spring, she left her five kids with her husband for a weekend and went on an art retreat with her sister.
Molly is good at family finance. She likes to have her own finances in order and likes to help others do the same.
Jennifer is a teacher and a swimmer. Even though she could easily argue that she doesn't have time for it with her six children, she teaches swim lessons every May and June to share both of these gifts with others and to feel like herself.
Sarah feels most like herself when she is baking. This year, she opened up a cookie shop from her home.
Ashley is a crafter and inventor. She has turned this talent into a hugely successful website and business called Make It and Love It, with brilliant ideas and tutorials.
Susan, my mom, is a genealogist. She dabbled with this hobby while she was raising us, but now that we're grown, she treats it as a part-time job and is really good at it.
My sisters, Hayley and Cassie, are singers, and now sing together professionally in a trio while raising their young families.
Sandy is an accomplished dancer who now cultivates that talent by sharing it with students at the gym. (I am one of the lucky beneficiaries.)
Whatever your brand of motherhood, embrace it, cultivate it, and spend time doing those things that make you feel like you!