If anyone understands the fear of losing your identity to parenthood, you’d think it would be your parents. They were once in the same boat, right? But now that they’ve become grandparents, it’s as if I no longer exist as their child.
I am simply the keeper of their favorite person in the world, their granddaughter.
Don’t get me wrong. I am absolutely grateful that my parents love my little girl so much. And she loves them. She’s excited to have so many grandparents (three grandmas and a grandpa in total!) and she talks about them constantly.
But when I called them to relay the good news—that I could stop home for a quick visit while on a work trip—I was expecting a bigger reaction. Instead, they wanted to know where my kid would be and couldn’t I please bring her with? Sigh.
And it’s not just my parents. There are so many times when I feel like I am just a vessel that carried my daughter into the world, my sole purpose keeping her from running into the street or catching a cold because she refuses to wear pants. Sometimes it feels like the entire purpose of my existence is to remind her to wash her damn hands.
The other day I walked into my daughter’s classroom, and her classmate referred to me by my first name. I cannot properly explain the joy I felt from hearing my real name used, not “so-and-so’s mom.” I mean, this is a 4-year-old child who was probably just excited that he overheard my name and remembered it, but it brought me an inordinate amount of happiness to have a name within the walls of that school.
Much of my life, I’m defined solely as a mom. It happens at her school, it happens as I chase after her in the park, it even happens at work. I had a former boss introduce me as a “new mom” to our recently hired supervisor. She may have thought it would help me connect with this father of three, but I suspect it set the precedent that I was a mom, woman, and then employee in his eyes—in that order.
My current position is different, and it may be why work is such a refuge for me now. Not only do I love what I do, but I feel like a fully individualized person. If motherhood comes into play, it’s either discussed socially or in reference to how I can bring a parental perspective to the conversation. It doesn’t serve to reduce me as a person.
I find myself asking my partner for permission to do things sans kid, whether that be exercise, go to the movies, hang out with friends, or write. He always reassures me that I don’t need to ask, that he is always going to be OK with it. This is a man with so many hobbies, he needs hobbies to give him a break from his hobbies. I know deep down I don’t need to ask, but that #momguilt is real y’all. And it is brutal.
It’s not just outside forces that push me into the mom identity. Deep down, I know I often do it to myself. It’s over-scheduling my kid and under-scheduling myself, or talking too much about my daughter with my friends who are probably so over it. It’s when my husband and I finally have a date night and find ourselves discussing bedtime routine strategy ad nauseam. Or when I should be relaxing, and instead, I’m making to-do lists for our household.
I recently realized that the only moments I’m by myself in a room is in the shower. Even then, my kid often busts in to either go potty or just sit and wait until I’m done. Mom can’t catch a break. It’s why I go to Target alone on Sundays. I might be surrounded by frenzied shoppers, but it’s practically a meditation retreat compared to my house.
I know I’m not alone in feeling conflicted about my identity. A recent study suggests that the reason new moms post so many Facebook pictures of their baby is because they are reconciling their new identity as a mother. According to the researchers, “when women felt more societal pressure to be perfect mothers and viewed motherhood as central to their identity, they were more likely to share child-related updates and photos. The majority of moms in the study did use their baby’s image as a profile photo at some point.”
I know I was guilty of this. I probably got an un-follow or two in the process.
My therapist often remarks that our identities are like a pie and we need all the slices. The mom slice, the wife slice, the individual, the friend, the writer, the career woman… even the daughter.
I want my parents to remember that I’m their daughter, too. Maybe it’s the only child in me talking (probably!). It’s admittedly selfish, but I want to enjoy the company of my parents without the smart and adorable distraction that is my child. I want them to be mom and dad, not Grandma and Pop Pop.
The truth is, I adore my dad, stepmom, and mom (hi guys!), and the irony of writing an essay about motherhood complaining about only being seen as a mother is not lost on me.
Perhaps this is just the circle of life Simba’s dad was talking about. In a blink of an eye, I will be a grandma, too, and my daughter will be the one struggling with her identity. That is, if my daughter chooses to have children.
No pressure, honey! You do you!