Who Am I?

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I recently stopped nursing our last little one, and it was harder on my emotions than I expected.
I expected that I would be grateful to have a little extra freedom. I expected that I would be glad to hand over some of the nighttime routine to my husband. I expected that I would be happy to have my body belong only to me again.
I did feel all of those, but only a little.
Overwhelmingly, rather, was a sense of loss. A loss of part of myself, of who I am.
It took me by surprise until I realized that for over nine years I have been either pregnant or nursing. No breaks at all.
Of course that would become a major part of my identity! Nine years is a long time. Almost a decade of being identified as a pregnant or nursing mommy is certainly enough to cement that into who I am as a person.
All of those big emotions (and I am normally not an overly emotional sort of person) made me pause and think hard about who I think I am compared to who I want to be.
As a mom of four children, eight years and younger, it is so easy for that one piece of me to become my entire identity. I’m a mom. It’s what I do twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Even when I am away from my babies, my thoughts are still full of them.
Yet I recognize that I must be careful. Of course being a mom is and always will be a large part of who I am, but I need to guard carefully against it becoming all that I am.
Someday, after all, these babies will not be babies anymore, and being a mom will not fill up quite so much of my time. Or my house.
I must be careful to keep my heart close to God, to make sure that my primary identity is as His child. He is, ultimately, the most important piece of me, the One who is with me always.
I must take care to remain close to my husband. He will, Lord willing, be my dearest companion still when the children have homes of their own.
I must be mindful of my own self. I need to continue reading, continue learning, continue making my art, continue cultivating deep friendships.
I believe wholeheartedly that if I lose myself in my children, I and they will be the poorer for it.
Yet that piece of who I am is so consuming that I cannot just drift along and expect to hold on to the rest of my self.
I must be deliberate about caring for the other pieces of me. The more I cultivate all of the fragments of me, the richer and deeper the whole of them will become.
Those of you with children, what do you do, or for those whose children are older, what have you done to keep yourself from getting lost in your identity as a parent? I am still a mother of little ones, and I need your ideas.
I don’t often write about parenting issues, but I supposed that this particular struggle was one that was common to many. I pray that my written thoughts will spark your own heart-searching.

10 thoughts on “Who Am I?

  1. Commenting here rather than on Facebook because a) this will be long, and b) I don’t want to start any Mommy Wars. What I’m sharing with you is my journey through a similar identity crisis, in hopes that it will help you, not trying to cram My Way Of Mommying (TM) down anyone’s throat. 🙂

    My version of this identity crisis started when I became a mom. Pregnancy was a surprise, and it wasn’t something I had really been planning/hoping/dreaming for; it just happened, and bam, I was a mom. For a long time, I resented my children, because they “got in the way” of “my REAL calling” from God. My identity as a person was set, and then the kids came in and screwed it up. 😉 I remember many times asking God/my husband/myself, often in tears, “Why did God give me the talents he gave me if all I was supposed to be was a MOM?!?!”

    From that point I went to the other extreme. If God wanted me to be a mom, then by golly I was going to be the Best and Most Pinteresty Perfect Mom EVER. We would do Educational Crafts! We would Homeschool! Every Moment Would Be An Opportunity For Learning And Spiritual Enrichment! The enemy gave me an impossible picture of what a Good Mom (TM) looked like, and I did not measure up.

    Fortunately, I settled somewhere in the middle. God reminded me that the gifts he gave me and the callings he put on my life did not change when I became a mother. My children were surprises to me, but they were not surprises to him. What was more crucial for me to realize is that God gave my children to ME. Not the crunchy-granola homeschool mom down the street. Not the high-powered CEO mom on the other side of town. Not the Perfect Pinterest-y Crafty Mom who makes owl-themed bento boxes every day for her kids’ lunch. ME, in all my scatterbrained, creative, snarky, slightly warped, short-tempered, stressed-out, uber-affectionate, kid-snuggling glory.

    Practically, what that meant is that I had the freedom to be Myself, and do the things that make me Me. I still play cello professionally. I run. I write. And all of those things are things I do without the kids. But when I come back from those things, from things that nurture my mind, body, and soul, I am a much better and (at least somewhat) more patient mama.

    Sometimes the Guilt Monster rears its ugly head to tell me things like, “If you REALLY loved your kids, you’d be homeschooling them, because that’s what Good Moms (TM) do!” or “If you weren’t so selfish, you wouldn’t need all that time away from them.” But God knew what he was doing when he gave my kids to me, rather than someone who’s wired differently. Each decision I’ve made has been with a lot of prayer, and I have responded the way I sense him leading. And that’s going to be different for every other mom out there.

    Practically speaking, I have found exercise to be critical in maintaining my mental health. It took me until three years ago to find something I actually enjoyed; up until then I was not a fan at all. But the difference it’s made in the way I feel on a daily basis is pretty dramatic.

    I also maintain a pretty strict Quiet Time while Selah is napping. It’s easier now that Caleb is in all day school, and next year there will be two in all day school (but Selah likely won’t need a nap anymore; le sigh). And during Quiet Time, I am Not A Mother. I mean, obviously I respond if the kids need me, but that is my time to write, to do contract work, to practice if I need to, or sometimes to just sit and read a good book. 🙂 That’s the time I stay in touch with the Me I was before kids and the Me I will be after they leave.

    I hope you find some of this at least somewhat helpful, or if not than then at least sort of amusing. 😉 Hang in there! Those hormones are so annoying. 🙂

    • Thank you, friend. I feel like we have explored this Mommy thing together from the beginning, so it is always helpful to hear your ideas and point of view. I’m interested that you have found exercise to be so critical for you. How did you find something you enjoy? I still haven’t found that. I’ll do it, but I certainly don’t enjoy it. I’d much rather be curled up with a good book! 🙂

      • Haha, me too, especially when it’s cold out! (And no, I don’t run when it’s cold. I’m not THAT crazy. Plus my lungs don’t do well in the cold).

        For me, I think it was our trip to New York for my brother-in-law’s wedding when the kids were 5, 3, and 1. That trip combined pretty much everything that terrifies me: traveling with kids, crowds, unfamiliar locations, big cities, and being with my in-laws. But we didn’t have a choice, so we did it, and I was surprised that we not only survived, but had a good time.

        I think that trip was something of a light-bulb moment for me, and within a month I had started the couch to 5K program. I’m not sure why, just that I figured okay, I’ve tried several times to Become A Runner and failed, so I’m going to do this, and if I still hate it at the end, then I will say I am Not A Runner and be comfortable with that thing about myself. And I did hate it at first; I’d say it took me a good 5 or 6 weeks before I didn’t hate every minute of it. And I still hate every minute of it sometimes, but I always like the way it makes me feel when I’m done. It regulated my brain chemistry well enough that I no longer required my anti-depression meds. To paraphrase whichever writer it is, I don’t always enjoy running, but I always enjoy having run.”

        That said, running is definitely not for everybody, and I’m not going to be like those runners who insist that it is. I know you’ve tried it, and if you hate it, then you hate it. Nothing wrong with that. It’s different for everybody. I have friends who hate running, but love Zumba (something I cannot ever see myself enjoying; dancing? In a GROUP? *shudder*); my mom loves long walks, and others of my friends hate cardio but love strength training. It’s just about trying different things and getting past the initial “I HATE THIS THIS SUCKS WHEN WILL IT BE OVER” first few weeks of anything.

        I think the other thing that was crucial for me is that I DON’T do it every day. Couch to 5k was just three times a week, which was key for me sticking with it. I’d tried a lot of things that were “YOU MUST DO THIS EVERY DAY,” and then if I had a day where I was sick or hurt or busy or whatever, and I missed it, my Inner Perfectionist would pipe up to say, “Well, you blew it. Might as well quit.” But by the program saying, “Hey, you only have to do this three days a week,” that gave me the freedom to make it work for me instead of me feeling like I had to work for it. I tried to run MWF, but if one of those days was busy, I’d push it back. Setting up a manageable schedule was key for me.

        I think the other thing that helped me stick with it was that the program started REALLY slow. I was already “ahead,” so to speak, at the beginning, in that I could do more than the program required. For me, starting with something I didn’t think I could physically do (“Day 1: Run FIVE MILES” for example,) was crucial. It is easy for me as an overachiever to get impatient and be like, “Walk two minutes, run thirty seconds?! What will THAT accomplish? It won’t burn enough calories! It’ll just be a waste of time! GO BIG OR GO HOME!” and then burn myself out and/or hurt myself within the first week.

        Hope some of this helps!

  2. Elizabeth, I completely relate (obviously, haha!). And I completely agree with you that if we let “mommy” be our primary identity, we are in danger of losing our true identity in Christ—I believe motherhood can even be an idol! Thank you for sparking that thought. To avoid it, I think it simply takes constant focusing and refocusing. A writer I can’t remember at the moment said that it’s important to differentiate between our roles and our purpose. Motherhood is that former and not the latter.

    • Our roles vs. our purpose. I’m going to have to spend some time really thinking about that, I believe! And yes, I would agree that motherhood can become an idol…something I have to guard against. It seems hard that the things we want to do especially well for God are the very things that tend to take precedence over God.

  3. I don’t know how possible it is to totally manage it. Oh, how I grieved when my youngest flew the nest! Mothering was an all-consuming, constant, never-ending job that I poured my whole self into for decades, and then, suddenly, I was unemployed. But in addition to maintaining my identity as a child of God (most important), another thing I learned from a wonderful mentor was to keep my marriage primary. Which is SO hard, because kids need us and their needs are so constant and big and urgent, and they are helpless. It’s easy to set our marriages on the shelf, just for a moment, until we realize, sometimes too late, that we haven’t taken them down and dusted them off for a long time. My friend told me that before their first child was born, her husband told her, “WE are the family. The children will come into the family, but the two of us were here before them and we will still be here after they are grown and gone. So this relationship is the most important.” They worked together to keep that perspective while raising kids, and their marriage was always an inspiration to me, as it was so strong and God-centered and obviously happy. Their example helped me a lot. So: commit to date night, time away together, letting the kids wait sometimes. Nurture your first family, your husband and yourself. And support one another in regularly getting time on your own or with friends to recharge and to nurture yourselves as individuals, too. It is important, not a selfish indulgence but a wholly necessary discipline so that you are best equipped to do all your jobs as God intended.

    • Thank you. That is helpful, the idea that Daniel and I were already a family and our kids JOINED our family. You’re right that it is so very hard to prioritize our marriage when the children always seem so very urgent. Which, it seems, is always the way with the best thing…it is always the harder thing. You’ve always been so helpful as someone who is further along in this journey, all of the times you spoke in Apples of Gold or the Friday morning mom’s group. Thank you for always being willing to share your hard-won wisdom. You are beautiful!

  4. LOVED this post and these comments!!! I love all your posts, but this one really hit home. Thank you ladies for sharing all this great advice. (((Hugs))) to you Elizabeth as you transition from one season to the next. ❤

    As a mom of four, ages 12, 9,7, and 4, I am currently THRILLED to be in the season of older kids! We are out of diapers but not yet to the stage of teen drivers and dating. We are currently having fun with our kids, with a little less mess and a lot more sleep!

    I can definitely relate to your post and these comments. I do feel like I lost my identity and self confidence over this past 12 years, and gained a whole lot of fears, worries, and insecurities along the way.

    I don’t really have any advice. I’m just thankful to see other moms feel the same. You are right Elizabeth, the struggle is common. Goodness, I love my fellow moms SO much, even those of you I’ve never met but I can read your heartfelt words and know I’m not alone. Couldn’t make this journey without y’all!!! ❤

    • It IS more fun when lots of people comment! 🙂 And yes, sometimes just knowing that you are not alone in the way you feel is enough to help you keep going one more day. You are an amazing mommy and I’m so glad to have you as a friend.

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