When I look in the mirror I don’t see my kids’ mom anymore. I see me.
When I first moved to Brooklyn, I hung out at the playground with my daughters every day, hoping all three of us would make friends with our new neighbors. The girls found playmates easily, and gradually, I started to get to know their mothers – but often, I didn’t remember their names. I just remembered their kids’ names. I suspected they had the same trouble.
One day I ran into one of my new mom friends at the corner store, and she smiled at me. “Hi, it’s me, Katie! And remind me again…” she trailed off, confirming my suspicions.
“I’m Molly’s mom!” I said brightly. She looked confused, so I tried again. “You know, Molly, from the playground?”
She gave me a strange look.
“Yes, but what’s your name?”
My face got hot. It hadn’t occurred to me that she wanted to know my name, not just whose mom I was. After all, most of the time I only thought of myself as a mother. And I didn’t mind – I loved being a mom. It was pretty much all I’d ever wanted to do, from the time I was old enough to play house and put my baby dolls in diapers.
When my kids were little, I disappeared into my identity as a mom, sort of the way people disappear into relationships and lose themselves in the process. I spent my days wiping bottoms, packing snacks, reading stories and drying tears. But now that my kids are a little older – old enough to do nearly everything on their own and not need me quite so much – I bristle at being called “just a mom”. And yet, I have to be careful not to call myself “just a mom”, either.
The other day, best-selling author Glennon Doyle Melton tweeted the following, after being called a ‘mommy blogger’:
If a man wrote a #1 NYT bestseller and ran a non profit that’s raised $5 million – would media call him a daddy blogger?Asking for friend.
— Glennon Doyle Melton (@Momastery) November 15, 2016
The answer, obviously, is of course they wouldn’t. A man gets to be his own person first, and a father second – or even, third or fourth. But mothers are supposed to be mothers first, and we’re judged harshly if we do anything society sees as incompatible with mothering.
Remember when Chelsea Clinton’s husband was pictured walking their daughter to her first day of preschool, and the press jumped all over her for missing out on a milestone because she was working? Imagine if the situation had been reversed, and Chelsea had walked the kiddo to school with her husband nowhere to be seen. Would anyone have asked where he was? Would they have criticized a father for missing such a big day in his child’s life?
Truth be told, I’d have hated to miss any of my daughters’ first days of school. I want to be there for every bedtime story, every breakfast. I aspire to be the perfect mom, better even than any ridiculous standards set by People magazine. But I can’t. And not just because I got divorced after 10 years of marriage and I share custody of my kids. I can’t be the perfect mom because I have a whole lot of things I love to do besides being a mother.
When I tuck my youngest daughter into bed at night and snuggle up with her to read a bedtime story, I often tell her it’s my favorite time of day. “This is my best thing,” I’ll say to her. And it is. But it’s not my only best thing. Here are some of my other best things:
Swimming way out into the ocean, out past where the waves break, floating on my back and staring up at the sky, thinking about nothing.
Running in the park, all by myself, pushing my body to the point of exhaustion and sweating away my anxiety.
Getting deep into a writing project, focusing so intently on trying to make the words sound the way I want them to that I forget about everything else, even my children.
Going away with my boyfriend for a long weekend and doing only grown-up things, shedding our identities as parents for a few days.
Of course, I love my children. I love being a mom. But if you ask me what my name is now, I’ll tell you it’s Elizabeth – not “Molly’s mom”.
Images via tumblr.com and courtesy of the author.
Comment: How do you feel about using labels to define yourself?