I am a mother. There is no denying it. There are two little humans who belong to me. I am fierce and protective. I teach my children to be competitive. I like to laugh about the insanity of it all. I’m snarky. I say things like, “Man, those last 9 months of pregnancy are really rough and “No one has two kids so they can re-live the first year over and over again.” I don’t make cupcakes or use Pinterest. I resent being the first parent called if my child is sick. I want my children to strike up friendly conversation with strangers. I feel happy and proud when they eat big, healthy meals. I accept that I will not always be able to protect them from evil, darkness, and grief, so I do my best to prepare them to face these things with open and resilient hearts. I tell my children that being a mom is a lot of work. I don’t hide my feelings from my kids, but sometimes I wonder if I should. I love my kids with all my being, but sometimes I think it’s nobody else’s business but my own.
Let’s be clear though, this is not a list anyone else needs to follow. There simply isn’t one way to be a good mother, just like there isn’t one way to be a good human. There are millions of iterations of motherhood that result in millions of kind and generous humans. My mothering style is based on who I am, what I believe, and importantly, what kind of children I have.
There are 318 million people in the United States, and every single one of them came out of a woman’s uterus. Therefore, it really should not come as a surprise that the mothers of the nearly 4 million humans born in the last year did not all become instant soul mates. However, there is an expectation that motherhood should not only be a defining piece of our identity, but it should make us all friends.
The prevailing dialogue about motherhood as an identity, the mommy wars, the playground politics assumes two things:
- Motherhood is – and ought to be – a primary identity for women with children.
- Motherhood is not as diverse as other identities like working professional, home owner, gay or lesbian, or even father.
This post started out as a piece about what kind of mother I am, but I quickly realized that the topic was about as broad as what kind of human I am. Motherhood is, of course, a part of my identity, as I imagine it would be for any woman who carried, birthed, raised, or adopted a baby. And motherhood is a way to explore your identity and your relationship to the world around you, if you choose to explore such things.
It surprised me how much the world expected me to connect with other mothers, simply because we had children around the same time. Suddenly I was in a club I didn’t know I had joined, and there were so many unspoken rules that I wasn’t sure I wanted to be a member at all. At times, it felt like I was supposed to want to stay home with my baby and soak up maternity leave Instagramming every moment. Or research organic mattresses and make my own baby food. And at mommy groups, I sometimes felt a pressure to agree with the predominant point of view, rather than voice my own.
As my children have grown, I’ve become much more comfortable with my particular style of motherhood. And I make an effort to neutralize the direct or indirect judgments when they arise. I’m a fan of saying, “Well, I think most kids can walk and eat a sandwich without choking by kindergarten – and if they can’t, we still shouldn’t judge.” Or “There’s lots of ways to approach X – it all depends on what works for you and your kids.” Or simply, “You do you. I’m all about that.”
I’m especially aware of language that doesn’t consider some of the special challenges faced by many mothers– the loss of a child or pregnancy, children with special needs, or parenting alone. I try to be curious about how motherhood intersects with other identities, ask questions, and not assume that we are the same.
The next time you find yourself at the playground or playgroup, bring with you a spirit of curiosity. There’s no winning team in mothering. Just lots of ways to get across the finish line.