The Reluctant Mommy Blogger
It happened again a few days ago. Someone asked me what I write about.
I, naturally, wanted to jump into a hole.
I would venture to guess that there are few other occupations where people get as cagey about a simple inquiry into what, exactly, they do as some writers get when asked about their chosen subject matter. If you sell cars, you probably don’t have an existential crisis when someone asks you at a party what make of automobile you shill. Teachers don’t start questioning every decision they’ve ever made when they’re asked what and who they teach. But writers sell a little bit of themselves every time they put some words out there for the (theoretical) masses to read. When it comes down to it, all we have are our experiences, ideas, and the net of words that holds them together. We become so transparent that our identities are located in the things we say.
So without fail, almost every time I’m asked what I primarily write about and I say motherhood and my family, I clam up. Not only am I writing – a practice that requires me to have an incredible amount of confidence in myself – but I am writing about the most terrifying, fantastic place I’ve ever been.
The intersection of my maternal and writer identities is a *slightly* vulnerable spot for me, laden with all kinds of anxieties.
They are going to read what I write and think I’m a terrible mother.
They are going to read what I write and think that I’m a wonderful mother, and then I’ll be a liar for presenting myself that way.
They are going to read what I write and think I’m vapid and empty.
Or, maybe worst of all,
They are never going to read what I write because they’ve written me off from the start as a one-dimensional human being who derives her meaning from a single role she plays in another person’s life.
I’m only a mother.
Of course, these thoughts I’m putting into the minds of these fictional readers are really just the voices of my own insecurities. We are often more cruel to ourselves than anyone else would ever be. Whenever I find myself trapped in that self-loathing labyrinth, I try to convince myself that I should be hard on myself because doing so prepares me for the harshest condemnation some faceless critic of my writing and parenting chops could ever throw at me.
The truth, though, is that no one is that cruel (or at least, no one that I really care about). I am the one who sees my identity retreat into my child as she grows. I am the one who encourages other moms to find a hobby outside of their kids, but then realizes that the one thing I have going for myself outside of parenting her – writing – is centered around that part of my life. Being the primary caregiver to a toddler is my life right now. I’m thinking about my daughter all the time, even when I’m sleeping. My default setting has become Emily, Cee’s Mom.
I know I’m not alone; I’ve seen many parents suffer an identity crisis when their children reach the toddler years. It’s hard to avoid this inclination to place all your chips in the parenting pile right when your child is demanding more of you than s/he ever has before. We live in a time where we believe that if we don’t make ourselves available to our children 24/7, we’re short-changing them. Be present, we’re told, and we err on the side of caution by whittling away at our own identities. We can always give a little more, and we do until we realize that we haven’t been completely alone and lost in an activity we derive pure joy from – an activity that has nothing to do with our kid - in six months. Several months ago, a friend whose kids are now leaving home gave me some advice that has echoed in my brain every day since then:
Don’t put all your eggs in the mommy basket like I did. Leave a couple out for down the road when you want to be Emily. The transition will be easier.
I always just assumed that if I created so-called “me time” each day, I’d be immunized against any shred of soccer mom germ that lay dormant in my system. When I was pregnant, I swore to never be a mombie. Even now, I constantly remind myself that the best thing I could do for C is take care of myself. But the irony of the fact that I try to make time for myself because I want to be better for her is not lost on me. Emily – not the wife, not the mother, not the maker of quesadillas – is a good enough cause, worth edifying for her own benefit and not for that of others. And therein lies the problem: once you become a parent, it becomes so easy to believe that parenthood trumps any other priority in your life. By today’s new parenting protocols, you’re failing your kids if your every action is not directed towards their benefit.