Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Defining the Mommy: Identity and Parenting

On a work retreat, we wrote down what we wanted to be when we grew up on a slip of paper, then we guessed who wrote what.  I wrote that I had wanted to be an author/illustrator, a marine biologist, a veterinarian, and a colonist on Mars.

One of my coworkers wrote that she had wanted to be mom and a midwife.  Every single coworker guessed that the mom and midwife was my choice. 

Not a huge deal, but this small incident got me thinking about my identity as a mommy.  Why did the people at work automatically equate me to motherhood, and not to anything else?  Admittedly, I was the only mother there--but there is another coworker who has babysat the same children for years and loves kids, and another whose predilections towards yoga and vegetarianism make her the perfect fit as wanting to be a midwife.

At work, I talk a lot about Mo-mo, but I also talk about Batman, my friends, my family, my pets, my hobbies, my interests.  I've had conversations with at least two of my coworkers about what we'd do if we won the lottery.  I said that I would still want to work at least three days a week because I love interacting and working.
There are amazing, intelligent, women who are able to find fulfillment in devoting themselves to their home and their family without working outside of the home.  I am not one of them.  I could do it, but I know I would not be happy doing it long term.  In some ways, I feel as if I have to apologize for that.  But I'm also quite proud of my achievements and never want to sell myself short for all that I accomplish.

If I define myself through my work, but my work defines me through my motherhood, who does that make me?

My office place is made up of mostly women in their 20's and 30's.  Very few of us have children.  The organization is trying to become a more welcoming place for families, so those of us with kids are the guinea pigs.  I've worked it out with my boss so that I come in early and I leave early and spend more of the late afternoon with Mo-mo.  If I work during an evening, I come in late so that I can at least eat breakfast with her.  My boss is both encouraging and supportive and wants to create a welcoming, family-friendly environment.

But how does this effect the way my coworkers see me?  Do they see a woman working hard at juggling it all, or do they just see the mommy always putting her child first?

I'm not going to pretend I'm not a mother.  I love Mo-mo too much and it is a big part of who I am.  Nor am I going to resist being labeled just a mom.  You know what?  A mom is an amazing thing to be.  There should be no "just" about it.

All I can really do is work hard and learn fast.  I'll continue to play the balancing game that all working mothers seem to do, and be proud of my accomplishments in both parenting and at work.


  1. Before having kids I was always annoyed by people who had kids and only ever talked about them... and then I became one of those people. I have to really remind myself to NOT talk about my babies the WHOLE time... it's hard when you're a SAHM bc there's not much more going on!
    You hang in there... nothing is more important than being Mo-mo's mom! And show everyone that you can be good at everything you do!

  2. You have a 'mommy blog'. And yet you complain about people unfairly labeling you as a 'mommy'?

  3. Good point. I titled the blog "The Whole Mommy Thing" because I was going to do the more traditional milestones style blog, but it bored me. I'd like to think that I write about all aspects of my life, parenting and otherwise. I think it just startles me to be defined solely by motherhood. I suppose it's natural to attempt to define people by one single aspect of their life, and I'm still figuring out what that means for me. The purpose was more thinking through it, rather than complaining.