Ask yourself this question: “Who am I?”
If you answer “mom” or “so and so’s wife” and struggle to find any other descriptors for yourself, this post might be for you.
Before you misunderstand me please know this: mothering is the most important thing I do right now. But it’s not the only thing I do.
One of my favorite Modern Family episodes is the one where Phil decides to stay home to “console” his wife on their kids’ first day of school. Because Phil consistently misinterprets the needs and feelings of everyone around him he has, lovingly yet misguidedly, assumed that his wife would be lost and empty without her kids at home. He completely misses her cues that she’s excited to have a day alone to read and go for a run and decides to stay home and keep her company, much to her chagrin.
See, Phil has bought in to a common way of thinking that tells mothers that they should find their ultimate fulfillment in simply being a mother.
That it should be their every joy to simply sit and play on the floor with their babies and that every parenting moment is pure and utter bliss because “they’re only small for a short time” and so, therefore, if you’re a truly good mother you will have this sunny perspective despite your personality/interests/gifting. You will give up anything that doesn’t include your children and let your every focus throughout the day be on them. (PS – if you need to unfollow a few Instagram accounts because they help perpetuate this lie, go ahead and do that now.)
I’m not sure where this philosophy of ideal mothering came from but it’s been around a while. I know plenty of moms who have given up nearly everything in their lives to be a “good” mom. They have very few, if any, personal interests to which they give their time and having “me” or “alone” time is considered unnecessary and selfish. I’ve felt this pressure, so I’m assuming you have as well.
This is literally the struggle I find myself in today, so bear with me as I hash this out with you in real time. I recently told some close friends that I was feeling guilty for hiring a sitter so I could get time to write or just sit and drink coffee and be alone. That my husband traveling so much was taking a toll and that I needed to set aside my writing and passions to fully support his dreams. Thankfully, they insisted that I not, because they know that me doing this would actually make me a worse mother and human in general. (This is for another post but if you don’t have a few people in your life who know the worst things about you, and that will tell you the truth and to whom you can tell the truth and who can vote for different presidential candidates and still love and accept and encourage each other…find some. Stat.)
Any time we are asked for marriage advice, we encourage the couple to have something they do as individuals, that doesn’t involve their spouse. We have seen this help each person maintain their own personal identity as well as ward off feelings of resentment. It also helps to combat co-dependency.
I would argue that the same is true for motherhood. Especially if you find your only identity in the value you have as a mother. PS – all of this can apply to you women who are married and don’t have children. If you identify only as “His Wife” this message is for you as well.
The other day my husband called me. “Guess what?” he said “Someone came up to me and asked if I was Lindsay Bentley’s husband.” they had recognized him from my blog. He was so sweet and encouraging. See, my husband is in the music industry so 99% of the time that anyone recognizes me it’s because I’m “Hank’s wife”. I’m fine with this. It’s the life we’ve chosen and the city in which we live functions this way, but he was so kind to acknowledge and affirm that I am someone separate from him. He wasn’t threatened by this and encouraged me to continue writing.
Don’t be ashamed to pursue and preserve an identity outside of your husband and children.
Because not only will your kids fail to meet all of your needs and expectations, but your kids really can’t bear the weight of being your whole world. They will fail in providing you with fulfillment and satisfaction because 1. that’s not who humans are created to be for each other, that’s God’s job; and 2. they are too immature to handle that kind of responsibility.
So when they realize (usually subconsciously) that their mother being “ok” is dependent upon them, the child whose aim is to please others and be responsible will feel the enormous burden of keeping mom happy and maintaining her emotional health. They may resist growing up and leaving the home because they haven’t been given the cues that mom wants them to. They may, deep down, believe that mom actually needs them to stay home with her the rest of their life and that mom isn’t able to function without him, or him without her.
I wonder if this may be one of the reasons so many young adults are not leaving home and starting carreers and families in their early twenties the way cultures always have in the past.
The kids who are more rebellious may view mom’s “need” for them as a weakness and use it as a way to gain freedom from a heavy-handed or over-involved/helicopter parent, acting out in destructive ways to prove their individuality and independence.
When a mother has an identity separate from her kids (this isn’t necessarily a job outside the home, but it can be) I believe this helps to release the children to fulfill the purpose that God intended for them. They are able to fully pursue their passions and gifting because they aren’t being swayed either by mom’s emotional needs or strong personal opinions, because their mom is ok without them and respects that each person, mother and child, is an individual in need of independence and freedom. She’s setting an example of balance.
This is part of the reason I exercise. My kids will complain that they don’t like going to the gym, but again, I explain that working out is crucial to me being a decent human. To be honest, as an introvert who isn’t naturally a “small child” type of person, I need time away from them daily in order to be able to continue being around them without feeling like I’m slowing dying in a haze of oatmeal and potty accidents.
If this is a new concept for you, start small. Set aside a time where you get to read, work out, cook, anything fun that you enjoy, uninterrupted, for 30 minutes. Ha! I know. That seems laughable. And at certain points in your mothering it will be impossible. But 2 years old is old enough to follow simple guidelines and play alone in a safe environment for a short amount of time.
Here are a few examples of hobbies/jobs/interests that mom friends of mine enjoy aside from their children: writer, musical performer, stylist, clothing designer, artist, pole fitness instructor, track coach, gardening, makeup artist, rock-climbing, speaker, therapist, pastor, store manager, record label executive, human rights activist…. These women are all also incredible mothers…
Alone time is really good for all people, children included. I do a little experiment at home when my kids are fighting, whining, etc. We all go in separate rooms (or outside) and spend some time alone. This usually cures it. In my experience, children who never leave their mother’s side are generally more anxious and whiney. Obviously there are exceptions, but this has just been my observation. Give them the freedom to find out who they really are, separate from you. Some of my kids’ most creative and brilliant ideas have come during time spent alone.
I think it’s crucial for children to witness their mother doing something they love that doesn’t include her children. They need to see their mother as an individual human with interests and desires and shortcomings and strengths.
Because really, the best way to raise a narcissist is to let them grow up believing that the very reason you wake up every morning is to serve their every whim and that your world would not exist without them.
Don’t get me wrong, becoming a mother was absolutely the most incredible thing that has ever happened to me. I adore my children. But they don’t wholly define who I am. And in order for me to continue being a half-decent parent, I have to keep in touch with the “other” side of me.
My goal here is to empower and encourage fellow women to pursue the person the God put you on this earth to be. You may be a mother, yes, but you are also so many other things. Pursue those things that God put in you and on your heart. Set an example for your children of wholeness, balance, and dependence on God, not humans for fulfillment.
Be free to be the person you were created to be, without apology: wife, mother and…fill yours in here…there can be more than one…
live well. be well.