Identity

Of the pieces I’ve written recently, This is 38 is one of my favorites.  Some of the Huffington Post comments stung, though honestly they mostly rolled off my back.  But there’s one that I can’t stop thinking about.

The commenter noted that my post was all about my kids, and criticized me for having such a narrow life.

I was totally taken aback by that.  I have always been very aware of and invested it (overly so?) the other aspects of my identity beyond motherhood.  I work full-time.  I write.  I aspire and always have to raise children who know that while they are the most important thing in my life, they are not the only thing here.  And the truth is that I never really thought much about motherhood when I was growing up.  I’ve written before about how I never thought of myself as maternal.  I never babysat, I never daydreamed about my future children (or my future wedding, incidentally), I neither breathlessly anticipated motherhood nor expected it to be the missing piece that made my life whole.

And then.  Then I had Grace, passed through a season of darkness and bewilderment, and had Whit.  Once I finally caught my breath I looked around and I had two children.  As I wrote last year, I have been a mother over 10 years now and it is undeniably true that this is the central role of my life.  (I feel the need to acknowledge that I am both aware of and grateful for my good fortune in conceiving and bearing healthy children).  I have been changed in countless, indelible ways by becoming a mother.  One essential way is not a change so much as a return, to the page, to writing, to something I had forgotten I needed.  My subject chose me, and while that subject is not specifically “motherhood” it certainly arrived in the hands of my blue- and brown-eyed children, announced itself slowly but insistently as their lives unfurled with dizzying speed in front of me.

Over the last 10.5 years I have sunk into motherhood slowly but irrevocably and I feel a sense of relief whose gradual arrival doesn’t diminish its depth.  It seems this is something I always wanted and I love my children more than anything else in the world.

But still.  Motherhood is not some kind of missing puzzle piece, it does not render cohesive my diffuse sense of self and purpose, and it does not solve in one grand, sweeping answer all the questions that have always plagued me.  No.  And I always thought of myself as someone who has many other facets, kaleidoscope that I am: writer, wife, daughter, sister, friend, runner, nail-biter, redhead, reader, lover of the sky, hater of shellfish, insomniac, worrier.  I could go on.  In fact I struggle mightily to write bios because of this, I think: it’s hard to describe myself, to find the right adjectives.  Everything seems both too definitive and not complete enough.

The comment on the Huffington Post has burrowed into my brain.  Is it true that I’ve let the other parts of myself atrophy and wither, so that all that’s left is my identity as a mother.  Honestly, I don’t think so, but I need to consider that that’s how it may be coming across.  Surely that subject that chose me is focused on my children, though not exclusively.  I know both Grace and Whit are aware of the other aspects of my life, and they are accustomed to having to wait for my attention when I’m engaged in something to do with work, writing, or with their father or a friend.  This week they both go to sleepaway camp.  For the first time in 10.5 years I will be without either child for 10 days.  I know I’ll miss them desperately, there’s no question of that.  I guess whether or not I feel lost, and as though my identity has been lopped off, will tell me all I need to know about this particular issue.  Stay tuned …

Do you fret about your identity being too focused in one area of your life, whether that’s parenthood or career or something else?


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12 Comments

  1. Margaret
    Posted July 22, 2013 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

    I should clarify that I have a train to catch – that is the only reason I’m truly in a hurry!! xo

  2. Haile
    Posted July 22, 2013 at 9:03 pm | Permalink

    You have a following – clearly – that your writing resonates very deeply with. More than you know, I suspect. Don’t change that because one person does not “get it”.

    Motherhood is complicated, and your writing is lots of things, but it’s definitely not narrow.

  3. Debbie
    Posted July 23, 2013 at 3:58 am | Permalink

    Lyndsey,
    My life narrowed when I had five children under the age of six. My third and fourth were twins. In that narrowing I learnt the truest and most valuable lessons of my life. Patience, and mindfulness. I now have more skill to fully experience life in all its glory. Children have made me less narrow. I am open to more ways of seeing the world as each one of my children sees life differently. I love your words they are anything but narrow, they apply to any experience in life with or without children.
    Xo Debbie

  4. Posted July 23, 2013 at 7:21 am | Permalink

    Hi Lindsey,

    I appreciate your honesty and openness. This sharing our life with the world through writing can be downright soul-crushing at times (and I speak from experience.) I think we often write what we know, what we feel comfortable with–we write what moves us. I write about my parenting journey because that is the part of my life I wish to share. There are plenty of other parts of my life that I choose not to share. I think that commenter’s view of you holds no value whatsoever. He does not know you. He read one piece and made a snap judgement about you. I think the questions you are asking yourself about life and balance are good but let them come from your own inner voice. I read your writings regularly and there is so much depth to your writing. It is clear you have a strong inner voice and I think it has served you well.

    The best decision I ever made was when I am published in publications outside my own blog I don’t read the comments. I find that they can be so hurtful and from people who know nothing about me or my journey. That has really helped me stay true to my writing passions and not worry what other people think.

    Keep shining, my friend.

  5. Posted July 23, 2013 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

    I should have written after I read your This is 38 article because it resonated so much with me. It articulated in so many ways things that I have experienced and felt as a mother of 3 and a PhD who has tried to balance some sort of a career with motherhood. I can’t imagine anyone saying it was narrow, but I think it is a worthy avenue of questioning about the extent to which we are able to see ourselves outside of motherhood. Something challenging, and yet there should be no apology for one’s children being the center of their life either. As I’m writing it makes me wonder if this is just another line of inquiry shaped by the women can have it all framework which has a tendency to blame women/mothers either way – the binary of too career focused or too motherhood focused. In any case, thank you for your eloquent thoughts – they resonate with me and I appreciate them!

  6. Posted July 23, 2013 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

    I’ve been following and reading along for a few years now. I think anyone that has knows that you are not narrow-minded. Your children highlight how you see time passing, and that is your primary subject. But there are plenty of things you write about that encompass your family, your values, your fears. Further, I think it’s absolutely lovely that you’ve consistently written about your perspective of your children – it’s a wonderful gift that they will appreciate later in life. And being present and making your children the focus of your life – at this stage – I would expect nothing less of a great mom.

  7. Posted July 23, 2013 at 5:38 pm | Permalink

    So, you know how I feel about mean commenters. I don’t need to go into that.

    Re: identity, a few thoughts.

    1. Who is anyone to judge what each of our lives should include and how we define our identities? All that matters is what you think, and if you were off track, I think you would feel it. Yourself.

    2. I’m sorry, but “MOTHER” is probably one of the biggest pieces on the pie chart of my identity, yes. This is life. What is bigger than giving life and raising human beings?

    3. Why is it “bad” to focus on motherhood, especially when our children are young? Why is it seen as a weakness?

    4. What did this person expect you to write about when posting to the Huffington Post PARENTS page?

    I’m unapologetic — I am many things, I have done many things, I have been many places, and my world is as big as I want it to be. And yes, motherhood is a huge part of my identity and definitely my biggest source of inspiration. And I love it.

    (and you. xoxo)

  8. Kirsten
    Posted July 24, 2013 at 9:09 pm | Permalink

    Holy moly. The depth of feeling and thought from your commenters here is astounding, Lindsey. Really. (And I’m not someone prone to hyperbole.)

    So much wisdom & kindness shared here – this is a place that is both safe & inspiring to consider and identify what it is that gives our lives meaning.

    Certainly, the ill-considered and ill-intended comments of someone who doesn’t think about how their comment might sit with the author shouldn’t have the weight that it does, but OH I know the sting. My only comment (beyond what’s been so beautifully shared here already): mothering has its seasons. This season of Almost Big, of kids who are independent but love to be with us but begin to sprout wings? It’s the most heartbreaking of all, because we see how brief it is, our time of living one with them.

    If this is what 38 is? Then so be it. 48 will be a much quieter season full of very different things, and we will be glad, *so glad* that we took the time to measure this season by the growth on the doorframe, the adventures together.

    My 2 cents. Thank you for inspiring me to get back to this.

  9. Posted July 27, 2013 at 9:36 pm | Permalink

    Why is it that no one writes scathing comments if a man talks about fatherhood being the center of his identity?

    Hmmm.

    As the noted philosopher Dave Chappelle has said, “Haters gonna hate.”

    admin Reply:

    That is a very good question!

  10. Posted July 29, 2013 at 7:06 pm | Permalink

    Although I’m not a parent (yet–I do hope to be a mother someday!), I have thought a lot about identity and what defines me. And I wonder if we can ever really be fully defined by one thing. I take the stance that we can’t. Sure we prioritize and sometimes our values say a lot about who we are but even you don’t strike me as just a mother. We are a sum of all our parts. Take one thing away (even the smallest thing) and we become different. That is why it can literally take a lifetime to get to know someone. Every tiny interest or neurotic tick is vital to defining us — these are the things that bring people together (and unfortunately other times tear people apart).

    I’m not entirely sure where I”m going with this. I think that what I want to say is that you shouldn’t have to choose. There are times in your life where your priorities and realities pull you in different directions. Does that make you any less you — I hope not.

  11. Posted July 31, 2013 at 4:49 am | Permalink

    I have to agree with another commenter who said that your children are woven into your writing. I’ve never perceived them to be the sole focus of your writing. Having said that, I think once a mother is born, it’s nearly impossible to separate her from the fabric of her existence. Motherhood informs so many of our decisions, consciously or not. As a reader, I want to tell you that I don’t visit this space to read about your kids. I love to read about them, but ultimately I continue to visit because I connect to your journey, the themes you write about, and to you as a person and a writer. xx

  12. Posted August 6, 2013 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

    I suspect that like me, one who never really anticipated motherhood and struggled mightily to adjust, you have found the delight in how being a mother enhances all those aspects of yourself that needed to bloom, and brings forth parts of your soul you never would have otherwise known. Brush those comments off and stay true.

    admin Reply:

    Yes. That delight. Exactly! Thank you for this. xoxo