Finding myself

September 26, 2007 | Motherhood | 27 comments

This morning I found myself watching Dora the Explorer. Not with the kids. Just me. I put the show on to amuse the little ones but somewhere around the 50, 000th time they heard “I’m the map!” they decided they had better things to do. The toddler ran off to play with his chalk board and the one-year-old had some pots to pull out of the kitchen cabinets, leaving me the only one watching Dora. It took me about ten minutes to notice. (More disturbing was the fact that, once I noticed, I continued watching. After a rough night with the newborn it was about at my level.)

With a snicker I thought, “Boy, ten years ago this is really not what I thought I’d be doing when I was thirty.” If you had asked me when I was twenty what I’d be doing on a random Wednesday morning when I was thirty, I would have hoped that perhaps I’d be in San Francisco for a board meeting for some tech company. Or perhaps in New York to visit a new client? Meeting with Goldman Sachs about taking the company I had started public? Sitting on the couch watching Dora the Explorer would not have been an option that came to mind.

As I shuffled over to the laundry room to throw some clothes in the dryer, I was reminded of a thread going around on a local mom’s email list. In it various mothers from my area are lamenting the fact that they’ve “lost themselves” since becoming mothers. I’ve heard countless friends, bloggers, and women on email lists voice this complaint, and have received tons of emails from another site I run (that has to do with motherhood) from women who want to know how to get their old selves back now that they’re moms. And certainly I can sympathize. The old me from my pre-mommy days is loooong gone. But does that mean I’ve lost myself? I used to think so.

I’ve been thinking about this for a couple years now. When it first came to mind was around the same time that I began to believe in God, so I felt like he might be just the one to help me with this matter. In some of my first efforts at prayer, I asked God to show me what his will was for me — i.e. how to find my true self that seemed to have gotten lost along the way, or perhaps that I’d never found.

Waiting for his answer, I passed the time by going about my daily life. I sorted laundry, wiped the kitchen table, changed diapers, all the while eagerly anticipating what the answer would be. Am I destined to achieve success as a published author or as an entrepreneur? Would my peers be impressed with me because of some amazing website I would create or because I would manage to make big bucks while working from home?

And then, after more than a year of waiting for God to reveal a glamorous and exciting path for my life, it hit me: this is what I’m meant to do. I am meant to be a mom, here in my little house in suburbia. I am meant to create a loving home for my husband and children, to help lead them to God (as they also lead me), and to humbly, gratefully, go about all the often mundane work that that entails. And maybe that’s it.

The peace that this realization has brought made me realize: when my life became consumed with my duties as a mom I didn’t lose myself. The hustle and bustle of living my vocation as a wife and mother had melted away a lot of worldly baggage and left me with a much more common, simple, plain — and authentic — version of my life. No, I hadn’t lost myself. I’d finally found her. It just took me a while to realize it because my pride didn’t like what it saw.

Thinking about all this as I did the laundry this morning, I was reminded of the part of the baptism ceremony this weekend where I vowed to reject the “glamour of evil”. I thought that “glamour” was such an interesting choice of words: it wasn’t the “destructiveness” of evil or the “horror” of evil, but the “glamour”. That phrase reminded me of the mindset I was stuck in when I felt that I’d lost myself since becoming a mother. Looking back, I could just imagine evil whispering in my ear, “But you could be so much more! Is this all you want from your life, to sweep floors and wipe spitup? When are you going to get back to your real life?”

I was tempted to look right past the plain housewife in the mirror to keep searching for what I thought would be the “real” version of me, the woman who impressed people with her accomplishments at cocktail parties and had a life that was fabulous by society’s standards. But I’m glad I didn’t. Because when I stopped looking for Alternate-Universe Glamorous Jen and humbled myself to accept my life as it is, being a plain ‘ol suburban wife and mommy, going about the little tasks of turning my house into a home and creating a rich life for my husband and children, I found joy that I could have never imagined. And I found myself.

27 Comments

  1. The classy librarian

    YOu are sooo very lucky to be able to JUST be a mom and a wife. My husband left our family when the youngest child was 15 mons. I had 4 children under the age of 8 at the time. I loved my children and being a mom and even being a wife, although our marriage was a terrible one. Nine years later, I am a part time working mom, choosing to forgo working long hours and the paycheck to still be with my kids, to take them to music lessons, watch soccer games, help with homework and make dinner. I turned down a full time position doing what I would like to eventually work at – a reference librarian because the hours were all evenings and all day Saturday. I felt like I’d shot myself in the foot and yet I knew this was best for my kids. Although I’m good at what I do – my vocation is motherhood and marriage (which was taken away from me to some degree). And I’m best being a mom.
    It’s true that our society and women especially, no longer value motherhood and marriage. I am the tail end of the baby boom generation and I wonder as we move into our “golden years” just how golden the memories will be for those who’ve chosen the almighty career over family.
    Your blog is interesting and I do enjoy reading it – brings back memories of when my kids were younger!
    God bless,

  2. La gallina

    I always imagined myself with a fabulous career and exciting fast-paced life. I thought that moms were just about the dullest, most pathetic creatures on earth.

    Imagine my surprise when my first child was born (and I left my fabulous career as a waitress), and I couldn’t tear myself away from him for more than a trip to the bathroom. (Thank God for SURPISE pregnancies!) I knew that there was no fabulous career on earth that could top the feeling I had as a mother.

    I have never once felt like I lost myself since I became a mother. Not even close. I really found the real me that was buried under that cynical feminist.

    Now I’ve got four, and I could not be happier with my life as it turned out. Who knew I could be a nurturing mother and wife, learn how to cook, garden, knit, and do laundry every day. And who knew how much joy I would find in my life as a “dull, pathetic mom.”

  3. sarah-naded

    beautiful, jen. it is so sad sometimes to hear the lies that motherhood takes away femininity, when actually it is femininity in its purest form. your children are blessed. a decade of the rosary is coming your way.

  4. Sarahndipity

    Great post (as usual). 🙂 I never felt like I was “losing my identity” per se when I became a mom. Who we are is so much more than any job or role. I had to go back to work for financial reasons and I would love to be a stay-at-home mom. I have no attachment to my job whatsoever. I realized about six months after college that the corporate world is NOT what it’s cracked up to be at all. Our lives would be sooooo much less stressful if I could stay home. We would no longer have to spend weekends in a frenzy of housework and errands. The classy librarian is right that you’re very lucky to be “just” a mom.

    I guess I find it somewhat strange that some mothers feel they’re “losing their identity” when they give up their careers, though admittedly this is partly based on my own limited and less-than-impressive experience with the corporate world. I find it equally strange when some stay-at-home moms feel like they’re “losing their identity” all over again when their children leave home. I’m actually reeeeeally looking forward to having an empty nest. 🙂 I guess the point is that “what you do” is not “who you are.”

    Also, I became a mother pretty young (24), so I never really had a chance to travel a lot or do a lot of the things that other mothers say they miss. I wonder if the transition would have been harder if I had been older. On the other hand, I do struggle with not being able to do the things that other 20-somethings can do, like go out more and travel. When I had my daughter, a lot of our friends were still living with their parents!

    I’m also a poet, and that’s one area where it is important for me to be successful. I have been published a few places, and I would love to have a book of poems published eventually. I certainly don’t write poetry for the money – there’s literally no money it in at all. I just love to do it. But I admit I worry about if and when I’ll publish a book and compare my accomplishments to that of my peers who are poets (many of whom do not have children yet to keep them busy). I know I shouldn’t do this but it’s hard. I guess I do feel like being a poet is part of my identity. I really do believe that God gave me this talent and wants me to use it, although it’s obviously not as important as my vocation as a wife and mother.

    Ok, I’ve written another novel here … back to work. 🙂

  5. Sarahndipity

    I just remembered another irony of this whole situation – when my husband and I were dating in college and thinking about marriage, he said he thought it was best for mothers to stay home with their children. His mom had stayed home and so had mine, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to. I eventually decided that it really was the right thing to do, but I struggled with the idea and thought it would be hard giving up my career. Just typing that makes me want to laugh out loud! God has a great sense of humor, doesn’t he?

  6. LilyBug

    Before I became a mom I was terrified of losing my identity and terrified of giving up my goals and my life for a baby. Then the baby came. I have found that I have not lost my identity. I’ve just assumed a new one that includes motherhood. I still ahve those goals; I still have my life separpate from my baby. But I’ve got a new life with my baby too. And that’s okay.

  7. Karie

    Dear Anon,

    I think you are purposely misconstruing what Jen is trying to say. According to our faith, which may not be yours, the highest calling of women is motherhood. It doesn’t have to include actual children but to serve others with love. I saw your blog and you mentioned a young lady who although doesn’t profess our faith, still responds to love, to which I say, God be praised. Perhaps we can pray that she finds Him more fully. We cannot condemn anyone for the choices anyone makes, but we can realize when we have been tricked by the evil one for wanting things that won’t really make us happy. The world is an evil place and does make a lot of people unhappy when they follow its precepts rather than following God’s desires. Once of our most recent saints, Gianna Molla was not only a mother but a doctor. She spent time working in a hospital while her children were young and still at home. She even died giving her last child life. She separated herself permanently from her family because her child’s life meant more to her than her own. Was that an “evil” choice, or was she trusting God to be the better parent?

  8. :o)

    Beautifully written and so true. I love the connection between the ‘glamour of evil’ and the lies perpetuated by the media that a woman cannot be fulfilled without a career. There is no more important job than loving and taking care of someone else, being a wife and mother.

  9. LilyBug

    Don’t forget the religious life. That’s a pretty great life vocation too. You see; I think we are all called to a vocation in life. Some are called to motherhood; some to careers and some to both. I am a firm believer in multiple vocations as there are many many ways to serve God.

  10. LilyBug

    Don’t forget the religious life, smiley face. I believe we are all called to a vocation. Some are called to motherhood; others to the religious life; others to career or service and, yes, there are those that are called to multiple vocations. There are many many ways to serve God and, yes, it is a great one but I don’t know about it being “the important.”

  11. Maria

    I had a similiar experience to you. The transition from work to full-time motherhood was difficult for me, especially the first year, and I really had to struggle for my self-identity and self-worth. I think this was for a couple of reasons, but alot of it was due to the “glamour of evil” as you say. I discovered I was addicted to praise from outside authority figures to bolster my self-worth and pride. I had always recieved excellent grades, then good reviews and comments at work. Suddenly I didn’t have that anymore, and it was extremely difficult at first. Now I can see how important it was for me to learn this about myself. I was often doing things in my life, not out of love of God or others, but because I would be praised. I’m slowly learning to purify my motives in life in a new way.

  12. patjrsmom

    At our women’s scripture study a few nights ago, I shared a quote from Thomas Merton that seemed so profound, but yet so simple all at the same time:

    “Ultimately, the only way I can be myself is to become identified with Him in whom is hidden the reason and fulfillment of my existence.
    Therefore there is only one problem on which all my existence, my peace and my happiness depend: to discover myself in discovering God. If I find Him I will find myself and if I find my true self I will find Him.”

    His words resonate through your post (above the din of Dora and that self-serving Map ;-)! ).

    God’s Blessing on your journey,
    Jane

  13. Kristen Laurence

    Beautiful, Jen, and so true.

  14. Kathy

    Oh, I get it. The map on Dora helped you to find yourself! Seriously, what a beautiful post. As the mom of five, I agree that there is nothing better (at least in my world) than being a mother.

  15. Abigail

    Ditto, Maria! Of course, I had a hard time adjusting to the first 2 1/2 years of stay at home motherhood!

    I had what I can only describe as “a fame addiction.” I went to a good college on scholarship. Starting at age 18, I sit in our school assemblies and dream how to one day win a Medal of Honor from the school, to “pay them back” for accepting me. Combine that, with a Betty Fredian view of housework, and I was in for a rough transition to stay-at-home motherhood.

    Once I got my head straight on the true meaning of “work”, which is serving God with a true heart rather than doing socially approved things for fame and money, I surprised my by discovering just how innately fulfilling this new work is. That’s not to say that I’m doing it well yet, or that I don’t have stressful days. It just that good days or bad days, I’m not “itchy” anymore.

  16. Karen E.

    Oh, Jen, I’m right there with you. Great post (and, coincidentally, my Poetry Friday post was this same theme, though much condensed and not nearly as nicely done. :-))

  17. Joshie

    I agree. The “glamour of evil” really takes away a LOT of our merit. Even when we do good things…pride ruins alot of our efforts. We end up doing good things for the wrong reasons, or doing the wrong “good things” because they are more glamorious than the “good things” we are called specifically to do. Very thought-provoking Jen!

  18. Kristen

    I loved your post, and yet, I don’t think it is wrong to say to Jesus, I am in pain. This is hard. You have a lot of little people there to care for. Boy do I remember how that felt. If we aren’t honest about how hard it is, then we might start telling ourselves things about how it “should” be. In this job, thankfully, there is no should. You survive, and usually, surviving is enough to endear yourself to your kids. That’s the mercy of it all!

    I had my first five kids in six years, and a couple had special needs. I remember those early years as a blur…now that all the older ones are teens, and my littlest ones remind me how hard it is to shepherd wee ones.

    I can honestly say, I really like the woman I’ve become because God sent them to me, and helped me love them enough to do what they needed me to do.

    Cheers!

  19. Denise

    What a great post!! I am currently teaching a childbirth class to five couples all expecting their first and one of the messages I’ve been trying to convey is that motherhood will change you, but instead of “mourning the loss”, try to stay positive and enjoy seeing the new parts of you that emerge. The changes involved in being a mom don’t have to be a loss of an identity, but as you’ve said, a richness and depth you might never have imagined.

  20. LilyBug

    I have a question that I want to pose in the best possible light. I mean no rudeness when I ask but sinceerly wish to understand your position. Here’s the question:

    Why is it that many stay at home moms (maria and the smiley-faced mom come to mind) feel the need to elevate what they do at the expense of what non-stay at home parents do? It seems these moms want to make stay-at-home motherhood more important than any other vocation.

    As a working mommy, I find motherhood to be a very important vocation – yes – but I serve God (and my family) in other ways that are important too. Should I feel bad or selfish because I work and leave my baby in the care of another?

    So, you are a stay-at-home mom. That’s great. Your vocation is necessary and vital. You don’t need to keep defending yourself. Or do you feel the need to? Who do you feel is against you? I, certainly, am not. Though I don’t feel called to be a stay-at-home mom at this moment in my life, I am not opposed to the idea of moms staying at home.

    Again, I hope I am not offending. I sincerely wish to understand your position. Thank you.

  21. Jennifer F.

    LilyBug –

    My attempt in this post, as with almost every post I write, is to share my story and the conclusions I’ve come to about my life. Though I did say that I think the “glamour of evil” may have sort of lured me down a different path for a while, that’s *me*. That wasn’t the path for me, personally. I have lots of friends who are working moms, some who read this blog, and think they’re great mothers.

    This is something I run into frequently as a part of sharing my story, e.g. if I write a post talking about how happy I am to be Catholic, some feel that I’m insulting Protestants; if I write a post about how I’ve come to believe that Christianity is true, some atheists feel that the entire point of the post is to say they’re wrong; if I write a post talking about how much my life and my marriage has improved since converting to NFP, some think that my entire purpose is to call out people who use contraception.

    With this blog, I’m telling my story. It’s not an attempt to defend what I do or insult people who haven’t come to the same conclusions about their lives. I’m just throwing it out there in case anyone finds it interesting.

  22. scmom

    Beautiful post Jen. I feel sad for women who think they lost themselves in motherhood. I don’t think they ever knew themselves to begin with. If you are lost in motherhood it hasn’t been a concious choice (marriage and all that comes with) — which it should be. It should be a vocation of choice. I wish that young people put more thought and prayer into what God wants from them instead of falling into it by accident or by default.

  23. :o)

    To lilybug:
    I am not and never have been a stay at home mom. I was a single parent for 12 years. I was merely stating that women are called to take care of others, that is the highest and most important aspect of being a woman.

  24. LilyBug

    I agree, smiley faced icon. Women are called to take care of others. I was merely trying to point out that that calling doesn’t always have to pertain to one’s personal children. Nuns, for example, take care of others. So do teachers. But, I’m glad I understand your point better. Thanks

  25. LilyBug

    Come to think of it, aren’t we all called to take care of others? Men included?

  26. Red Cardigan

    Jen, I love this post! Beautiful, true, funny, sincere, wonderful–the list goes on and on. You’ve said something important here, and I hope lots of moms will read it and take heart.

  27. Katherine T. Lauer

    Jen: Thank you for writing such a thoughtful, beautiful post. I linked to your blog from:

    http://beofish.blogspot.com/

    I’m a Catholic, married 21 months, with a 10-month-old son. I left law school to marry and start my new vocation. You can imagine that I’ve suffered the loss of worldly accolades!

    Just yesterday I was trying to explain my new vocation to a childhood friend who is an atheist, shacking up with her boyfriend in hopes that he will marry her, and in her eighth year of pursuing her PhD. I wrote to her news of my husband and son, then thought to write news of me. “The thing about the motherly vocation is that all of me circles around my husband and son.”

    I couldn’t think of big and impressive pursuits of mine that are *not* connected to my husband and son. I felt frustrated with the impression I left with my old friend. Reading your post, I am reminded that my vocation is big and important even if not independent. If I disappeared from this house FOR EVEN ONE DAY, my husband and son would fall apart. For all my invisibility, I am the glue that holds this home together.

    I hope God is happy with my work! Thank you for giving me better insight to my vocation as I’m in the midst of St. Paul’s dying to self.

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