Quote of the Day: “Revolution begins in the self, of the self.” Toni Cade Bambara

I’m trying not to be a “mommy blogger.” I don’t know what I am. I don’t even know if I want to identify as a “blogger.” I’m a woman who is writing about her experiences, and more and more, I’m finding that there aren’t a lot of women out there who see the world as I do. That’s not a terrible thing, though it is an intimidating one. It is a lonely internet world out there. So on Wednesday, I caught up on some of the reading from my other friendly blogs. My first stop was Faking Picture Perfect, an amazing blog that you absolutely should be reading. She wrote a beautiful article about patience and presence, something that every mom thinks about at some point in time. I appreciated her reflection (as always) and wish I could emulate that in my own parenting and writing. She was inspired by a blog called the Hands Free Mama. I didn’t have time to read the lengthy post about yelling, but I did read the blog’s blurb on the side of the post. I frowned. There was a lot in that little blurb, and while I wanted to agree with it, there was something about it that rubbed me the wrong way.

So I went to her about page and I figured it out. There was a self-righteousness about what she was saying that left me sour. My objection  isn’t necessarily with the woman who is writing the blog, nor the decisions that she has made for her life and the way that she has chosen to raise her daughters. My objection is the idea of  her decisions as a “revolution” of thinking. That there is “revolution” in fully surrendering all of yourself for the sake of raising your children. There is something that is actually very old in the notion of fully surrendering the self in order to raise children. While she is certainly garnering a lot of attention, and writes beautifully written, albeit a bit long, super reflective posts about very conveniently profound “every day” conversations that she has with her daughters, I felt myself frowning as I read. Her profound reflections and statements ended up feeling superficial to me. And yes, I’m wondering out loud if she’s more trying to write a book than she is about being a better mom and making other moms better, too.

These ideas about rethinking the way we parent, about starting with a profound life-changing reversal of our thinking and behavior, these “journeys” that some of us have been undergoing and bring others along on, all wrap up into what we think “motherhood” is. Is motherhood a lifestyle? Is motherhood an identity? Is motherhood exclusive to all other identities? Are there degrees to this identity shift or is dichotomous: You either are or you aren’t? Have we, as a society, given too much power to the idea of “motherhood” or have we, perhaps, given too much power to a certain kind of motherhood? (or maybe a certain subset of mothers?)  This website makes it seem as though being at home, dedicating a daily 24-hours to your children, yet retaining some of your earlier goals, aspirations, passions and connections is not good enough. We must, somehow, release even those things. Give up the e-mails and the committees, the playdates and the lessons, the social connections to community that enrich both parent and children. That these things are “distractions” in the course of childhood and motherhood. “Less is more”, is being preached. Listen more, drive less. E-mail less, sing and dance more. In other words, surrender. Surrender all that you are for the sake of a profoundly happy child.

I question this idea. I’m mortified by the idea. While I do believe that motherhood, especially full time motherhood, comes with a set of frustrations that can be handled in right ways and wrong ways, and that we have become an over-booked suburban society in some cases,  I don’t think that being connected to this computer or taking on leadership roles in my community somehow diminishes my time with my sons. Indeed, I worry about what I am teaching my sons by being so fully engaged in every waking moment of their day. I don’t want them to simply see me (and by extension, women) as only available for their immediate comforts and well-being. I don’t want my little boys to turn into young men who think that “woman” equates to “cooking, cleaning, and sex.” There are a lot of young men who think that way in the world. I don’t think that stay at home mothers to little boys are the reason why young men are sometimes pigs. I’m saying that I do not want to raise my boys to think that way. I can’t let the guilt that I sometimes feel after I’ve said “no” for the umpteenth time to get in the way of the larger picture: I’m trying to raise intellectual, reflective, compassionate, independent, curious and happy young gentlemen of color. That’s the mission, that’s the goal, that’s what gets me up in the morning. There are many paths to get to this goal, but the one that I’ve chosen at the moment, I think, is the right one for us. 

I had an evolving and complex identity before I became a mother. Even before studying to be a teacher, I had a passion for integrated communities and the relationships between race, class and gender. I wanted to create programs designed to bring students in segregated communities into integrated spaces and dialogues. I studied the history of our country, the thinking of feminists, the consequences and intersections of poverty, race, class, gender, and politics. I learned to teach and someone was fool enough to let me teach early American history to a classroom full of impressionable 8th graders for 4 years. I made connections with people who are doing so many profound things in the fields that I’m interested in, and I keep in touch with them and converse with them on the landscape of education in our country. That’s just part of my identity. Nevermind the writing that I’m pursuing, my passion for faith, my passion for community building, for government and politics. The fact that I look at a new recipe every day and I’m becoming more of a baker with each passing day (I’m about to go from home cook to amateur chef up in here. You betta watch out!). I was a dynamic human being before I became a “mother.” Scratch that. I had many intersecting and profoundly built identities before I added “motherhood” to the mix. Indeed, my “motherhood” identity has enhanced some aspects of my personhood while diminishing (positively and negatively) some of the others. I am a dynamic human being.

And I should be a dynamic human being as a mother. I think that some women who choose to sit down and write about motherhood forsake the other aspects of their personhood in their blogging. It is incredibly unhelpful to the greater narrative and dialogue about motherhood, womanhood, and women’s place in American society when there are women out there who write about motherhood as if it is the only identity left after you procreate. It does feel that way from time to time, as it is a part of life that is certainly consuming, but it is  not our only definition. It cannot be our only definition. If we choose to make motherhood the largest, most profound and indeed, the only identity of adult women who decide to include children in their lives, then we choose to degrade the importance and larger life contexts of the before and after in a woman’s life. A woman is a significant and profound person before she chooses (or doesn’t choose, but that’s a different discussion) to become a mother. A woman is a significant and profound person after children leave her home. 

Because, as much as we want to deny it, motherhood ends.

No, you never stop being a mother. But children grow. Their needs change. They become independent and they leave. That really is the point of all of our efforts. The literal fruit of our many labors. Eventually, children leave. And if a woman chooses to wholly lay down her life, her identity, her passions and aspirations for the fullness of childhood in order to give their child the most profound experience possible, she is going to wake up after so many years and feel really lost.

My boys know that I love them. They know when I’m frustrated just as much as they know when I’m cuddling with them. They know when I’m looking at my cellphone just as much as when they see me preparing their dinner. They know it when I’m scrubbing the bathroom and can’t play just as much as when I’ve got them both in my lap and I’m reading them a book. They know it when I choose to write an e-mail to a friend just as much as when we take a special field trip to the Public Garden. I cannot and refuse to feel guilty for being a woman and being a mother. I know that my sons have a rich life, filled with every love and need that they may have. Along the way, they are getting a lot of wants, too. They don’t live in want of a more devoted mother. When my sons are in their 20s or 30s, I know that they may look back and say “sometimes, mom was distracted by her computer.” I hope that they will then remember the trips to the park, of the favorite book that I read just right, or dancing in the rain, or getting muddy on a rainy day. I can do that and still be hands-on and plugged in.

I get it: This time goes quickly. These seconds with our children are precious. I understand that more than most. I understand that being home with my children is a privilege. That’s why I’m spending less time worrying about saying the right thing or not yelling too much or all of the other things that we all think “scars” our children. I don’t have time to worry about that because I don’t know when this amazing ride is going to end. If you want to aspire to something, some ideal goal, may I suggest a thought? I try every day to aspire to be the best model of womanhood I can be for my sons. How can I make sure that I embody the best of what represents womanhood every day? I will admit to my mistakes when I make them. I’ll be goofy and funny and happy whenever I can. I’ll show my emotions when it is necessary, and let a tear fall when the situation calls. I’ll be alluring and yet fearsome. I’ll be productive and  profound. I’ll be intelligent and inquisitive. I’ll be warm and combative. I’ll be human

Because I’m more than the sum of my parts, or what my parts brought into the world.

and I’m better when I’m hands on and plugged in.

And my revolution will not be televised, because my revolution has to start within me and of me.

Articles referenced (links) :

Faking Picture Perfect (such a great blog!)

Hands Free Mama (the blog that I’m critiquing)


137 thoughts on “Identity, Motherhood, and Why My Revolution Will Not Be Televised

  1. Agreed! There is so much more to being a mom than just being a mom. You need to show your child that you are many parts of a whole. How am I supposed to teach my daughters to become strong, independent women if I’m not one myself? How am I supposed to teach them the work/home balance if I’m not balancing those things? How am I supposed to show them that they can do anything if I give up everything to become solely their parent.

    I became a mom young and it’s been an experience complete with stumbling blocks and the realization that I’m always going to want to be the mega busy working professional parent. Maybe it’s wrong; but it’s the way I know and my girls seem to be thriving with me as the mega busy working professional mom, so I guess it works. This was a great post and I’m glad I found it.

    • Mary, thank you so much for stopping by. Your questions are so important and I feel like more bloggy mommies should be focusing on them. I agree–I think that your girls will grow a fondness and respect for the great example that you are setting for them.

      Thank you for stopping by. I hope that you’ll return to my blog in the future!

  2. Thank God I’m not the only one who thinks this way. The idea that being a mother means you have to be a martyr is just plain ridiculous. I think that balance is key to showing your children that you can be a good mother AND a strong woman who has passions of her own, independent of the family. Furthermore, these martyr-mothers are the same women who then sour their relationship with their children down the road because they feel the kids don’t “appreciate” what was given up on their behalf. Some moms just need to stop taking themselves so seriously!

    • Thank you so much for stopping by and responding. I agree with you–I think that martyrdom is a thing of the past. We’ve got to do better for ourselves and for our children, giving ourselves without giving OF ourselves. We’re all better for it when we retain our self-worth and intrinsic motivators!

      I’m so glad that you found my little post. I hope that you’ll choose to return to my blog in the future!

    • Thanks so much for stopping by. It has been hard to find like-minded women out there. I’m glad that this post has brought more of them to my little corner of the internet.

      I hope that you’ll stop by again!

  3. Wow, what a great, in-depth post to so many of the same issues I’ve been thinking about lately! I feel like I need to reread it a few more times : ) My favorite part was when you said, “I was a dynamic human being before becoming a mother…” We need to remember that we’re still the same people we were before we had babies–“before we added motherhood to the mix.” Thanks for that, need to remind myself of that every now and then when I’m feeling that I’m not enough.

    • Thank you so much for reading my little post. I think that it can be easy for both Moms and Dads to forget the “human” part of their lives after parenthood. Children take SO MUCH energy–more than I could possibly have imagined. I totally understand how we get lost in the mix sometimes. Every once in a while, it’s nice to pull up, look around and remember. I’m glad that I could write something that resonated with you.

      I hope that you’ll choose to visit my blog again soon!

  4. Well written and beautifully said. I don’t care if you’re a mommy blogger or not. Your blog about being a Mommy spoke loud and clear. There is enough “mom guilt” out there without other mom’s laying it on us. Work or don’t work. Spank or don’t spank. Yell or don’t yell. Eat and give all organic, or eat and give the best that you can afford that week. It’s exhausting! Thank you for your take on all things mommy mentioned here.

    • Thank you so much for reading my little posts and for your comments. 🙂 I agree with you–Mom guilt is everywhere and it is SO terribly heavy. I can’t believe just how much guilt is heaped onto a woman in her lifetime. It’s staggering to think about. We need more voices out trying to stop the madness. We do so much damage to ourselves and our gender community when we war against each other this way.

      I hope you’ll be back to my little blog soon. I really appreciate you taking the time to stop by!

  5. Wow! This is exactly what I wanted to read.
    I had stopped blogging for a while (since I was expecting) and now my son is 7 months so wanted to start again. I usually write about food on my blog, after becoming a mum I want to write about motherhood too. Being a new mum comes with a lot a joy, new responsibilities and a bit a anxiety or so called mother guilt. Reading your post, was refreshing and just what I wanted. I totally agree with you that motherhood is not about “Sacrifising”, its totally about being good role models for your children. Your post is an eye opener to alot of women. Despite the caste and creed in this world, the women face same problems/challenges. This article is to a woman to woman which helps them to become stronger and independent. Kudos!

    • Super huge congratulations to you on the birth of your son! I hope that your last 7 months have been full of joy! Thank you for reading my little post–I’m glad that something in it has rung true for you. I am so surprised by the reaction that I’ve received for it. I’m glad that there are so many women out there who agree with me.

      I hope that you’ll help spread the message of my post in your own blog. I really want other women who feel the same way to echo their own hopes, dreams, desires, goals in their own blogs so that other women, who maybe don’t have children, don’t get the wrong impression about motherhood. There should be joy, and joy sometimes comes with work and sacrifice, but not martyrdom.

      I hope you’ll pop by again in the future!

  6. Really liked what you said here. I am not a parent, partly because I worry I would lose my entire self in my children. It’s frightening and there’s a lot of pressure put on women to set themselves aside. I almost want to cry when I hear a mom go “well, I used to do that, but then I had kids.” I am completely aware of what a job it is, so … I am still on the fence.
    That said, while I agree with you completely, I also read the previous post. I was yelled at A LOT as a kid and I do believe it’s caused some anxiety. I admire the blogger’s exercise in self control and willingness to admit a flaw. I am a yeller too and would like to improve this aspect of myself. That said, I didn’t read the About Us so maybe I missed the self-righteous tone.

    • Thanks for reading and I so appreciate your comments. I, too, admire Hands Free for her thoughts about not yelling. It wasn’t really that post in particular that bothered me, it was the idea behind the rest of her blog. That she’s chosen to give up the smart phone and the outside activities and ambitions in her life to fully dedicate that time and energy to motherhood, and further, that her idea is somehow “revolutionary.” I wanted to give a counter balance to her argument. I think that we, as mommy bloggers, have present more truths and narratives about motherhood, and a truth for me is that my ambition makes me who I am. My ambition got me to motherhood, why would I forsake it now?

      Anyway, I’ll not pressure you into motherhood, but I will say that motherhood is and should be what YOU make it. It is the greatest adventure on earth and how you choose to venture it should be up to you and your partner (or not, if you choose to go it alone).

      I hope that you’ll consider stopping by again soon!

      • Thanks so much for your thoughtful reply. I completely understand what you’re getting at. I don’t think sacrificing everything for your children is always good for them either. But not a parent, so I have no idea. Great advice! I will definitely stop by, just to live vicariously for awhile.

  7. I have felt this way FOREVER! Thank you for artfully expressing it. My mother once told me “I didn’t lose my personality when I became your mother, I am still a real person and I have feeling’s too!!!” Now I am a mother, and I can fully understand what my mother was telling me all those years ago. I am so thankful she raised me the way she did. She was caring, attentive, and loving. She was also a real human being and she had good days and bad days and some days she was too busy to do certain things, (even if I begged, kicked and screamed.) She was a funny woman who was full of life and positive encouragements, but she could also scare the crap out of you when you were in trouble. I am so happy my mother didn’t give up on herself to become my mother. I am so grateful that she was a real person who showed real feelings, because she taught me how to be the woman and mother I am today.

    • Thank you so much for stopping by my blog and commenting. I’m so grateful! Your mother sounds like a woman that we should all be emulating. The moms who are graceful, giving, loving and yet fearsome are always that moms that I deeply admire. I think that’s awesome. I’m sure that her lessons resonate with you more by the day. Motherhood is really special that way…

      I hope that you’ll choose to read my blog again in the future!

  8. Thank you for writing this. It was a pleasure to read and in many ways articulated how I feel but have been struggling to express. I think for many years I did surrender but with my elder son now seven I am realizing that I am an “evolving and complex identity” and that acknowledging and celebrating that makes me a better mother and a better person. I think your thoughts also apply beyond motherhood. I am sure there are many people who have found themselves trying to perfect one area of their lives without paying attention to all the other aspects that make them who they are.

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