Most moms I know are wearing a lot of hats. They might have the teacher hat, the recreation director hat, the housekeeper hat, the financial manager hat, the chef hat, the cheerleader hat, the conflict manager hat, the taxi driver hat; the list goes on.
But amidst all of those hats, those roles, those tasks, those responsibilities, they generally think of themselves first as a mom.
I've told many women at the start of pregnancy that the identification of yourself as a mother often starts with that first glimpse of a positive pregnancy test. In your mind's eye, you are already holding that baby in your arms. Even when women were not planning or even desiring a pregnancy, that identity is hard to shake.
If you yourself had a great mom, there's the hopeful aspiration of being “as good a mom as her,” and if you had a mother that was less than ideal, there's the anxiety-ridden fear of whether or not you will find your way to being a better mother than what you had.
Either way, in the context of myself and other moms I know, the work of daily life is juggling the other parts of our self — our work, our other relationships, our own well-being — with that part that is genetically programmed at our core to ensure our kids have what they need. We are simultaneously weighted down and lifted up by being needed by our children. Even when we are complaining about the 24-7, 365-day-a-year job, it is also that which brings us the deepest sense of satisfaction, accomplishment and joy.
As women progress through this role as a mother, so much happens internally within ourselves beneath all the hats. With infants and toddlers, we are in survival mode — basic needs at the center to skate by on three to five hours of sleep, try not to forget to eat or hydrate and see if we can still put a sentence together with adults.
As our kids get to school-age, we are no longer knee-deep in diapers, but rather school events, academics and the shuttling to and from these activities. We might get a little time to exercise and have some time to hang out with adult friends, but time for self is still often at a minimum.
Then, as our kids grow and mature through all the complexities of peer pressure, relationships and academic requirements of high school and beyond, as they are searching for who they are without us, we are trying to figure out who we are without them. It's not like it is a clean break, as if there's some defined time when they are independent and “living their life,” but it does feel like there is a time when it's like we are standing in a doorway between their life as our child and their independent life they are meant to live.
The cultural anthropologist Victor Turner called this liminal space or liminality, from the Latin root word “limen,” which means threshold. When we stand at that threshold with each of our children, it is a turning point. We are holding them back so we can hang on to what we know and what feels safe, while at the same time we are pushing them forward to be who they are meant to be.
In physics, it would be seen as that potential energy where it has that imminent possibility to move forward. It is both scary and exciting to stand in this doorway with your child, as they navigate their emotions, desires, fears, hang-ups, talents and motivations to start to see forward to their life's potential. As a mother, I have had to look hard into myself and embrace what Kahlil Gibran wrote about children:
You may house their bodies but not their souls, For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, Which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams. You may strive to be like them, But seek not to make them like you. For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
So as our children move forward and find their identity, as mothers we too move forward and find ours. Our identity is not in the hats, or in the tasks, the jobs or the responsibilities. We are a product of all of our experiences and relationships in this world. And so, I believe that women who are mothers find themselves and grow into who they are with every step back and every step forward that we make with our kids.
Here's to opening that door and seeing the beauty on both sides of it.