Mother’s Day is one of the most appreciated days in the year for me – seeing things from both ends of the mother-daughter relationship and having many other important women in my life. Motherhood is definitely an experience that changes us forever and in so many ways. One of the first things you learn is to put another human being’s needs ahead of yours at all times and develop endurance for dealing with testing behaviours. Becoming a mother means to me protecting your child and watching out for her best interests 24/7, then also constantly asking yourself whether she is exposed to all the right things she needs to learn in order to make it in this life. Having my own baby even changed the way I looked at and cared about other people’s children.
Among other things I became more self-protective too. Fears that never crossed my mind before – when I visited some of the ugliest places during my earlier, investigative journalism years, when I walked alone the streets of New York city as late as 3 am, or rode every possible roller coaster that came my way from coast to coast – became more real for me. In fact, not only I started consciously exercising more care but my body’s physical reaction changed as well. Almost instantly I lost any taste for the thrills, and roller coasters started making me intolerably sick. I ascribed it to the maternal instinct kicking in at some primal level to make sure I’d be there for my child as long as possible.
All the things my parents did to protect me growing up made perfect sense after I became a mother. I started seeing my own Mom in a whole new light, with even deeper appreciation. Neuroscientists agree that motherhood causes permanent brain changes in women and some even compare it to discovering a new room in the house you have always lived in. Once a mother is, basically, always a mother – I believe this statement is true at so many levels. Most of us can agree it’s a function for life.
But the question I have today is – does motherhood define us? I know many women who do define themselves by being someone’s mother so my opinion on this might not be the most popular one out there. To explain what defining yourself with motherhood means I will use the description from Eckhart Tolle: you derive your sense of self largely from the function of motherhood and it becomes overemphasized, exaggerated and takes you over.
Here are a few of the problems I have witnessed with basing your entire identity on this single, however significant function:
- As much as we love our children and wish them the best of everything in this life, we may not realize that catering to the child’s every desire will backfire. This will spoil our children and create in them a completely unrealistic expectation of what real life is about.
- Another category of people identifies themselves with their parenthood role so deeply that they don’t realize how they are trying to fulfill their own dreams and aspirations through their children. You may have your own examples of parents who push their children into sports or performances so fiercely, that it becomes obvious how it’s done in a misguided attempt to boost their own ego through children’s achievements. In the most extreme cases, this is done even at the expense of their beloved child’s well-being.
- Allowing the identity of motherhood take over who we are, we risk being unable to separate ourselves from it long after our day-to-day parenting duties ceased to be necessary. I have seen some “children” who are well into their 30s or 40s and still heavily rely on their parents’ approval for choices they make and decisions they take in their adult lives. These are usually raised by mothers who don’t see an issue with their own imposing parenting style and are convinced they always need to have the last say when it comes to choosing what’s best for those they had brought into this world.
I understand how most of the things I described above are often done out of love for our children and maybe even out of the desire to be the best possible parent we can be. But how about learning to fulfill this ever-so-important role of motherhood (or parenthood in general) without allowing it to absorb your entire identity. Are there more to women than being mothers? Can you think of any other meaningful ways your kids would identify you besides being their Mom? If so, I would love to hear from you!