Motherhood and identity
Various aspects of motherhood
and identity ebb and flow in order to meet the needs of caring for
our children. But certainly there are experiences we have as mothers
that also prompt a change in the shape of our identity.
Pflock and Devra Renner
I am at a department store with my 9 year-old son. We are
riding up the escalator when I notice the music. The song transports
me, I am riding in my own time machine. When we reach the top, my
son asks me a question. I look down at him and realize, "Wow,
what a difference between hearing that song then and hearing it
now." Back then I was listening to the Talking Heads and dancing
on a bar in Mazatlan during my college spring break, and now I am
with my son buying school clothes. And I am thinking, "What
happened to that girl who danced on the bar? Is she still around?
How did she become someone’s mother?" My nine year old
notices that I am drifting off. He asks me again, only this time
I hear the question "What are you thinking about?" Now,
the question is, do I tell my son about the person I used to be?
Do I explain that I’m feeling caught in the middle of not
knowing how I got to where I am while also wanting to be here more
than anything else too?
The circumstances that
bring us to how we define our identity are unique to each mother
and may in fact define each of us differently as mothers -- but
no matter how you get there, motherhood and identity are contrapuntal.
Various aspects of motherhood and identity ebb and flow in order
to meet the needs of caring for our children. But certainly there
are experiences we have as mothers that also prompt a change in
the shape of our identity. Maybe it’s comparable to the chicken
and the egg. Which came first? The desire to have an identity, or
the desire to have one’s identity be that of a mother? Or
are they one in the same? It sometimes can feel as confusing as
the study of Jewish Mysticsm, known as Kabbalah. The common belief
is that no one under 40 should study Kabbalah, and even if you dare
to do so, the more you study, the greater your risk for losing your
mind. While it is easy to say that becoming a mother certainly affects
our identity (and some would argue our mind) pinpointing exactly
how it all came to be this way is a challenge.
The word "identity"
seems finite, as if it is merely one thing, "our identity,"
"my identity," yet our roles overlap and build on each
other. While the word "identity" may sound one dimensional,
identity has a multitude of dimensions. We can apply the same concept
to the word "music." Aren’t there millions of different
songs? Styles? Singers? Yet all of it is labeled “music.”
A single song can bring
on a flood of memories: old boyfriends, special occasions, fashion
fads, long lost acquaintances, a first kiss, the loss of a pet,
a wedding day, the birth of a child. The list is endless. Identity
has timelessness to it as well, yet also exists on a continuum of
time as women span our life cycle. We can be daughters, wives, mothers,
teachers, doctors, musicians, mechanics, and friends, and this is
just part of the ever changing list of how we identify ourselves
and each other. It also identifies how we present ourselves to the
world, personally and professionally.
While getting dressed
in the morning I am a wife. My husband and I listen to the morning
news, catch the weather report and hum along to a few songs from
our pre-parenting days on the radio. Once I leave the bedroom, I
am a mother -- preparing lunches, reviewing homework, loading everyone
into the car. Some mornings it is done with no background noise,
other days a cartoon may be on TV to occupy an early riser while
the others catch up. The morning drive brings an identity transition.
On the way to school the music is "kids’ choice".
Following drop off, I revisit myself as the girl who danced on the
bar in Mazatlan as the Talking Heads play away on the radio. The
music I am listening to often takes my mind to different places
and may even cause me to speak or act in different ways but it does
not really change who I am. If the phone rings and my son’s
school needs me for something, I am still a mother. If the phone
rings and I need to stop by my office, I am a dedicated employee
and still a mother. If my husband calls to meet for lunch, I am
a loving wife and still a mother. I can be each of these things
as easily as I can change the station on my radio. It doesn’t
mean that I will never go back to my favorite station; it just means
that I enjoy a little variety every now and then.
Maybe an identity crisis
is formed with the realization that time has marched on and you
are listening to a new drummer. Your music is now on the oldies
station, you aren’t even classic rock anymore. Oh the hurt!
A woman’s own childhood is also a component of what makes
up her identity as a mother. Your own mother or father rocks you
to sleep, many years later you rock your own baby. The music is
the same, the lullaby is one you remember, yet the experiences are
identified differently. Feel the identity shift from your own childhood
experiences to that of your motherhood experience. You are remembering
your past, the child you once were, now an adult, creating an experience
for your own child to remember should they listen to the same lullaby
with their child. Something as simple as a lullaby, a familiar tune
of childhood, evolves into far more, it morphs thru generations,
attaching to it different identities all within the role of "mothering."
I’m back at the
top of the escalator with my son. Now I hear his question, "What
are you thinking about?" I look down at my son, his eyes all
on me, his mother. I answer, "I am thinking about the first
time I heard this song. I was in Mazatlan, Mexico during my college
spring break. I was dancing on top of a bar to this song by the
Talking Heads." My son takes a long hard look at me and replies,
: september 2005