Wow. It’s been a month. Sorry about that. As it goes with many of us, lately there aren’t enough hours in the day. There’s an impending move, furnishing this beautiful yet would-be empty new house, moving bug’s therapy to Charleston, suiting up for the battle of moving her therapy, working my tail off, that whole thing called sleep, occasional meals and oh… being a wife and mother.
Lately much discussion has swirled around these two identities: wife and mother. Like many, I read the article “How American Parenting is Killing the American Marriage,” by Danielle and Astro Teller, where the authors describe parenting as a religion..One bordering on cult-like where the participants lose themselves and their connection to one another once “converting.”
There are doubtless benefits that come from elevating parenthood to the status of a religion, but there are obvious pitfalls as well. Parents who do not feel free to express their feelings honestly are less likely to resolve problems at home. Children who are raised to believe that they are the center of the universe have a tough time when their special status erodes as they approach adulthood. Most troubling of all, couples who live entirely child-centric lives can lose touch with one another to the point where they have nothing left to say to one another when the kids leave home.
It’s been posted on Facebook, debated on Huffington Post, in living rooms and blogs alike. Women defending their all encompassing baby gated choices. It made women equal parts uncomfortable and empowered. It made my friends and I consider our parenting styles, think of how our mothers did it before us and our friends alongside us. Some of us probably vowed for more date nights…. since that’s the common “cure all” when things feel off kilter.
But… the issue I have with this article, these descriptions of these two battling identities is different. The fault I find with their article is the omission of the individual identity of the woman, our authentic self isn’t mentioned once. It’s parenthood, or mother, versus wife. What about Eloise the person? What about who I am outside these two titles that inform my identity? I agree with the Tellers on many counts. I think parenthood in this country is absolutely a cult religion which has it’s own language. I think it does have the ability to compromise our marriages. But more importantly, it makes us lose our sense of selves. If we lose ourselves, that which makes us unique women in our own right, then how can we actually be good partners to our spouses? Good mothers to our children?
I thought for a long time about when I was single and my friends and I struggled through dating and the failed relationships of our twenties. The insecurities we women were born with made us second guess our worth if a guy didn’t call us after a date. My mother imparted a piece of wisdom that helped me: “If you do not completely love yourself, then how can he really love you? You must form a partnership when you are truly at your best, not your weakest.” And in parenting, the main ingredient for most mothers is guilt. We are not entering into this relationship with our children always loving ourselves. We feel the need to defend choices, compare ourselves to other women. And then we take that guilt-ridden version of ourselves into our marriage and half-try. Partially show up. And then we wonder when it all feels too hard and off balance.
As we look at how the American style of parenting absorbs our lives, how the religion of parenting takes control, we need to first focus on how it consumes us as unique, authentic women. The marriage cannot get back on track if we women don’t have a grip on our own unique place in this world. Many will argue that women become a “we” when married. I argue that if you do not maintain your authentic self, feeding yourself whatever spiritual food you require, you’ll suffer both as a mother and as a wife.
I’ve told you before what life looked like after Landon’s birth. How I disappeared into a babbling, sleep deprived, speech therapy obsessed, Similac-coated existence and Bo became my roommate. Cracks in our armor were magnified, pain over what was going on with my newborn became twisted over time and thrown back at him. That year and change was messy between us. So yes, the two battling identities existed. But… they were only put firmly back on track when I focused sincere attention on myself. When I chose to give up mornings with Landon and instead rise early and run, go to yoga, go sit on the beach for an hour. When I moved our family out of New York because that city had become toxic to me. I chose me. I chose to feed myself the spiritual food of a quieter existence, near water, with a million wonderful things to offer Landon. In choosing myself, I was also naturally choosing to provide more for Landon and for our marriage.
Now the question that most of you are shouting at your computer… When? With what time do I focus on myself? Listen, I above most, understand that question. Like many of you, I am the bread winner here while Bo starts his company. I have the unique pressure of the layer of therapy added on top. And I, like many, have to work very hard at my marriage. Time is rare. But I choose myself now, so I make the time. I get up early. I choose myself instead of the morning “shift.” I choose nights with my girlfriends. I choose sometimes to go to Target alone. Wander those colorful aisles in a daze. Whatever I need, I have learned how to communicate it to my partner. I have not chosen to have a second child yet in part because I am still getting back to myself. I had to in order to even conceive of giving myself to a second child.
This formula of choosing one’s self is different for each of us. It might only be once a week. It might feel like sacrifice because you could be doing a million other things for other people. All I am saying though, is you have to choose you. You, the one reading this, who knows that what I’m saying is true. One afternoon with girlfriends. One hour talking to your mother. A night out once a month with other women. Choosing you has never been more important in our society. With the guilt and the pressure of motherhood and providing for our families, put yourself back on the list of identities.
Wife, Mother and Self.