So I’m totally aware that I’ve more or less taken a major blogging hiatus. That was never my intention, but somehow I’ve become totally MIA when it comes to this. For the past 4.5 months I’ve been sucked into motherhood in a way that has left me barely able to focus on much else. Somewhere along the way I’m certain my brain has officially turned to mush. It takes effort for me to make myself watch Good Morning, America or read some news stories just so I can make myself think about something other than what is immediately before me: diapers, a very chatty two year-old, and sleeplessness.
When I was pregnant with Harris I really didn’t expect to have any kind of identity crisis once he was born since I had already been a stay-at-home mom for two years and was pretty used to the gig. But somehow the reality of my 24/7 job hit me in a new way. I think part of is it just the season that we’re in and the demanding needs of two young children, but there are just so many times that I look around and think, “My world is so small.”
And yeah, when it comes down to it, I know how significant and blessed this job of motherhood is, and often I’m moved to tears when I realize how short these years are and I want my babies to be babies forever. And I love that even the most monotonous day affords me an opportunity to incarnationally live the love of Jesus and unite with Him. But still. That’s all on the one hand. In the other hand are the parts of me that aren’t currently very alive. The parts that used to be some of the strongest pieces of my personality but have been pressed down to make room for all the mothering I’m doing. Things that I used to spend so much time thinking about and learning have barely gotten a second glance in the past few months. I’ve found myself thinking lately that there is so much more of me beyond my role as a mother, but for some reason it’s hard for me to be in touch with it right now. I feel very one-dimensional. And that makes me sad because I used to think things and write things and talk about things….things that had nothing to do with parenting. Or rather, things that had nothing to do with the daily monotony of parenting like naps and pacifiers and chicken nuggets.
In some ways I long to be the person I used to be, or the person that is somehow hidden inside of me. To engage in the things that make me feel like ME.
But since I’ve gotten to a better place, I realize this reverse ID crisis just supports my contentions about the “integrated life” we need to strive for. We need to have things in our lives that are just for us—that are ours. We need to do things and be things that God made us to do and be. We can’t deny who we are once we become moms. But, I think once we are moms, our mommy roles and resposibilities become so intertwined with who we are, that we can’t deny the ways that makes us more “ourselves” either. We need it all—meshed or intertwined or mashed up or whatever word suits you—to feel like and to be the real us.
I’m not saying we should have our kids at our sides at every waking moment or that time away from any one facet of our identities can’t be really good for us, but I’d love to hear about ways women have been successful at integrating their lives in the day to day……
No single part of our lives represents the whole of who we are, no matter how great or fulfilling or miserable it is. There is such a temptation to talk about life, ourselves, motherhood as a single entity, as something that stands alone. It’s certainly easier to give advice and make decisions and write articles and preach sermons when we distill something to a single point, but that doesn’t reflect the true integration and complexity of real life.
This is true for what’s best in us and what’s not. We can be a combination of success and failure, confidence and uncertainty, strength and weakness. That’s the beauty of being human. –The Mommy Revolution
I love that. I’ve thought several times lately about how I’m so much more than a mother. Yes, I am a mom, and that part of me is deep and defining and will last for the rest of my life. But there’s more, that’s not ALL of me. Being a mom is so wonderful, and I would hate to minimize its importance, but at the same time I wonder if there’s also the tendency to exalt it to a status of “the greatest thing you ever could dream of being in the whole entire universe no matter what and you’d better not even think of letting anything else get in the way.” In some ways it is the greatest thing I’ll ever do, but in other ways it’s probably not. I don’t think there’s as much of this tension in the role of being a father. Most fathers I know aren’t made to feel guilty if they aspire to more than just fathering their children. In fact, dads are usually expected to have other ambitions in life. While there’s nothing unambitious about wanting to dedicate all time and effort toward mothering and being a homemaker, I can’t help but feel that if we’re not pursuing a career alongside being a mom, we should at the very least try to regularly engage those parts of us that have nothing to do with mothering. I haven’t been doing that, and sometimes it feels like my soul is shriveling-up.
At the same time, I also wonder if this is a process that God is using to strip away those parts of myself that were nothing more than a false identity. When I’m not “that Emily,” then who am I? When all else gets lost in the busyness of family life, where did I go? Was that really me to begin with? Was I ever really “that Emily” or was it just a neat label that I was happy to identify myself by?
Something else I’ve been thinking about for awhile is this:
I discovered that the path to God is the path of agape, of self-giving love. When John wrote in Chapter 4 of his first Epistle, “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love,” he wasn’t talking about just any kind of love. I “loved” traveling and sleeping in on weekends and pretty much anything that involved me doing things for me without having to make sacrifices. But that’s not the kind of love John was talking about. The kind of love that leads to God, that God is, is agape: self-emptying, other-focused, inconvenient, sometimes-painful love.
When I started to seek God by seeking agape, everything changed. For one thing, the carrot stick disappeared; that siren song of the self-focused glory days to come when I no longer had children in diapers was silenced, the tension gone. My life as a mom of little ones was no longer in such sharp contrast to my future life without young children: either way, I’d be serving others. I found that this was the meaning of life, the secret to lasting happiness, the hidden key that unlocked the mysteries of the spiritual realm that I’d spent my whole life trying to find.
And, ironically, after I came to embrace the idea of a life dedicated to agape, I actually ended up with more time for myself. Because in my secular mindset the other-focusedness of the childbearing years was a temporary situation that you would extricate yourself from as soon as possible, my mentality was to just hold my nose and plow through it. I would have thought that to further embrace selflessness would lead to mental and physical collapse! But what I realized, through Christianity, was that a life of agape is not a life of running yourself ragged. To truly serve God and others to the best of your ability is to humbly accept that you are only human, and that there are limits to what you can do. Using the Rules of Life of religious orders as examples (I once posted the daily schedule of the Missionaries of Charity here), I began to see that it was simply not optional that I regularly find time for rest and prayer. I saw that the other-focused life doesn’t mean that you can never take a time for recreation and relaxation — quite the opposite, in fact. It means that you must regularly take time for recreation and relaxation, but that you put these activities in their proper place, realizing that they’re not the meaning of life. — Conversion Diary
So maybe my truest identity is made up of the parts of me that reflect the life of Jesus. And the best way to know God and imitate Jesus is to live as a servant. And right now, that looks like serving my kids. That “life’s vocation isn’t as much what you do as much as it is whom you serve. This worldview basically said that each of us is put on this earth to serve others, and your vocation is simply a matter of discerning whom you’ll serve and how you’ll serve them. In other words, there is no living for yourself. There’s no optimizing your entire life around what you feel like doing.”
And I’m thinking that perhaps the point is that that kind of serving and agape love is what God is trying to develop in me so I become another kind of “that Emily.” Not in a way that diminishes the other parts of myself that God has created and gifted me in, but in a way that shows me how to prioritize the needs of the day while still using what available time I DO have to be proactive in doing things that are nourishing to my soul instead of meaningless worrying and chattering about Harris’ sleeping patterns. Maybe motherhood isn’t the point, it’s just the current vehicle for my spiritual journey.
I’m not thrilled to be in this place, but I have the feeling that it’s really a good thing. In some ways I think my discontent is a gift because it’s stirring me to ask some hard questions that I probably wouldn’t have thought of if everything in my life as a mom was great!!! and wonderful!!! and I’ve never been happier and more fulfilled!!!! It’s funny how I’ve moved through seasons of my life where I feel like I finally have it all figured-out, who I am and where I’m going. And then a few months later—BOOM! I just have no idea. But again, I think maybe God is stripping away things that were never as much ME as I thought they were and creating and revealing a new part of my soul.
Well. Here we go.