One of my favourite things about expecting a baby was the daydreaming – imagining not only what your child might be like, but also what kind of mother you’d be. Oh, I had a vision — I’d be efficient, nurturing, a great cook, creative, and a role model of a strong woman. I crafted myself a sort of idealized job description for motherhood. And when my kids were babies, I somehow managed to do things exactly as I’d imagined. I made organic baby food. I used cloth diapers. I breastfed for a long time. We co-slept. I kept my house clean. I knitted. I wrote a master’s thesis while on maternity leave. If I met that young mother now, I’d find her really annoying, frankly.
The image of the mother I thought I’d be began to diverge from reality sometime around when my kids started moving and speaking and having opinions of their own. The vision was still there, but it got dimmer as life got busier. I became less concerned about organic food and living up to an image of motherhood, and more concerned with just trying to survive what motherhood was throwing at me.
For over 13 years now, I’ve been in the thick of being a mother, and haven’t ever stopped to think about who I am as a mother. With Mother’s Day approaching, and my own mother quite fragile this year, I’m thinking more about motherhood as part of a woman’s identity. I am more than Puck and Daisy’s mother, certainly, but that’s a crucial part of who I am. My mother is, well, my mother, but it’s taken me over 40 years to realize that’s only one part of who she is, and there are aspects of her personality that are not part of her ‘mother’ identity. We are all so much more than someone’s mother, someone’s sister, someone’s partner. For women, ’mother’ is just one colourful filter that’s been layered over all the other identities and expectations in our lives, and our dreams of who we might have been or could become.
Who am I, as a mother? Like a kaleidoscope, the definition shifts depending on which way the lens is turned, and who is looking.
Maybe I’m the Pulled-together and Doing it Right Mom: mother of the super-achieving young teen who gets 105% on algebra tests and wins ballet scholarships. This mom has everyone’s schedule memorized and juggles multiple priorities. Clearly, this mother has her shit together. Otherwise, how could she have such a wonderful, talented, and smart girl?
Ironically, parents at the other end of the school hallway might think I’m Messed Up Mom to Be Pitied: mom of the boy would barely goes to school and who struggles to learn. This is the mom who’s always talking to the teachers and the principal, and who looks sad and frazzled. Cleary, this mother does NOT have her shit together. Otherwise, why would her kid be struggling so much?
With the right filter, I might be Living the Dream Mom. This mom works from home, writing and heading a non-profit she’s passionate about. She gets invited to speak at international conferences about health care and social work. She has two lovely kids, two cats, and a dog. She’s got a great house and sends her kids to private school. She makes her kids cookies, homemade granola bars, and clam costumes. She posts adorable photos of her pets on Instagram. She has great friends who make her laugh.
If you twist the lens to bring that one into focus though, you get Chronically Anxious and Feeling Out of Control Mom. This mom hasn’t worked full-time in months, and often feels physically ill from worry about making ends meet. This mom hasn’t had a vacation in three years, and her clinical anxiety often leads her to make excuses to avoid going out with friends. She feels like she goes days without a meaningful conversation with her partner, because they are both exhausted from trying to keep up. This mom feels lucky to work from home, because she doesn’t know how she’d manage to be Messed Up Mom to be Pitied if she had to work from an office and hold down a 9-5 job.
All too often, I’m just Slacker Mom. This mom wants a damn nap and five minutes in the bathroom without a child or cat barging through the door. This mom does not want to think of what to make for supper day after day, when no one in the family likes the same food anyway. She’ll just order pizza (again). She’s the mom who cannot keep on top of all the reminders from school about class snacks or field trips, and she hasn’t checked her kids’ homework agendas in weeks. This mom is guilty of picking up the kids at school without having looked at herself in the mirror all day. She may have even found yogurt in her hair yesterday. It probably just blended in with all the grey hairs she’s developed lately.
In reality, of course, I’m all of these mothers, and many others, too. One is usually more in focus than the others at any given moment, but they’re all there, each layered on top of the image of the mother I thought I’d be.
Other people view my mothering through these lenses. The lenses that really matter to me, though, are the ones my kids see me through. So, I asked them what kind of mother I am (a sort of 360 performance review).
Daisy’s response: “You are the best. You’re fun, but you’re firm. You’re smart. You don’t share your chocolate, though. And you like really weird music.”
Puck’s response: “You’re my mom. You love me. And I love you.”
The job description I initially crafted for myself before my kids were even born was complex. It was filled with high expectations and lots of activities. Puck and Daisy, though, made me realize that it’s not about what I do: it’s not the meals I make (or don’t), or the vacations I take them on (or don’t), or the educational opportunities I provide them with (or don’t). It’s about being me (flaws and quirks and all), and loving them. That’s all. It’s the loving, not the doing.
My house is a mess, our lives our messy, and the job description with things like preparing organic food has been replaced by “order pizza and other duties as required”.
I’m making it up as I go along.
But viewed through my kids’ lens, I’m a loving, firm, fun, chocolate-eating, Bananarama-dancing, smart woman.
I am a mother. I am a woman. It’s complicated. And I like that.
Happy Mother’s Day.