adventures in adulthood, marriage, motherhood

Identity Crisis

I go through periods of struggle when I think of my identity, my label.  So many other adults are parents and something else.  Most of the time that something else is a career.  I do have many something elses, besides being a mom, but they don’t bring a paycheck with them.  Why is it that money seems to be the validating factor for an acceptable label?

I’m a stay at home mom and I absolutely love it.  I also make sure the house is kept up, the meals are cooked, the yard work taken care of, the bills paid and budget balanced and my people loved.  Tim and I joke about how he makes the money and I spend it, but we both know that we couldn’t do our jobs without the other.  Ours is an equal partnership where both of us get to do what we love.  Even though our roles look more traditional, even a little archaic from the outside, we have both chosen our job titles and both have equal power in that decision.

Even though I am completely satisfied with my job and station in life, I panic when asked about it.  Recently I met someone new and she asked me what I do during the week.  It was a normal, nonjudgemental question, but somehow I turned it into this critical, judgey moment.  For some reason I was completely confused about how to answer.  My mind blanked and I frantically tried to recover.  “Do you mean on a typical week or this week specifically?”  Because, really, the answer to that question is so different every week.  Sometimes I spend a lot of time at the boys’ school, helping out, sometimes I don’t leave my house for days on end because I’m either scrubbing it clean or I have discovered some much needed project that just HAS to get done RIGHT NOW.  Other weeks, it’s yard work, or errands, or coaching, or chaufferring the boys to whatever current sport they are playing, or laying on my couch reading because I need some rejuvination time while the boys are at school.

But none of that can be wrapped up into a nice and tidy label.  And for some reason, “Stay at home mom” sounds so lame.  I am even ashamed to write that out loud because I’m proud of my job and I love it and I’m lucky enough to be able to do it.  I don’t know why I struggle with the label so much.

Even when asked about “what I do” at social functions or when meeting someone for the first time, I tell them, but then I add on, “…well, and I used to be a teacher.”  I’m not sure why I feel the need to extend the answer.  When Tim gets asked that question, he doesn’t add on his previous five jobs before his current one, most people don’t either.

I admire other parents who are self-assured in being work from home parents.  I look up to those that have careers outside the home while simultaneously taking care of their people.  I respect men and women who don’t have kids and are passionate about their career and life situation.  Most of all I stand in reverence of the confidence.  I want more of it.

I know that we all aren’t perfect at our jobs and in life.  Sometimes we drop the ball on certain responsibilities.  Other times we get lazy.  And sometimes outside forces make living and breathing painful.  Those are not the parts I’m talking about, the personal crisis lies in the identity as a whole.

Just the fact that I’m so sensitive about this flabbergasts me.  I pride myself on being an individual and not conforming to what other people think about me.  For example, I have no qualms about walking around in public in a bikini.  And by in public, I mean water parks, beaches and the like, not the grocery store.  Geez, I’m not THAT weirdly confident.  I know I have stretch marks and my body goes out in places it didn’t used to.  It’s also not huge in other places most would like the size increase.  According to American beauty standards and some public opinion, I probably shouldn’t be walking around in a bikini.  But, here’s the thing, I don’t freaking care.  I feel free and brave and I love it.  Besides, those one piece bathing suits pinch and pull in places I can’t even talk about.  Pinching, pulling, constricting, covering up.  I won’t do that, it’s not me and I don’t care if anybody disagrees.

So I’m fairly confident in most areas of my life, but this whole job title sends me down a personal existence rabbit hole.

I do know one thing for certain, I’m not questioning my position in life because I want something different.  The other day I was walking Clementine around the block and I walked past a group of kids I didn’t recognize.  I heard them pause and say with a sort of reverence, “Oh, look!  That’s Jack’s mom.”  I was so proud in that moment.  Yes, that’s exactly who I am.  I am a lot of other things too, but that, being Luke’s mom and Jack’s mom and Tim’s wife, those are the labels that make me swell with joy.

Maybe I am too worried about others’ perception.  I only panic when asked about what I do.  Never when I’m in my day-to-day element do I get anxious about it.  Maybe it’s because I don’t want others to think of me in the traditional terms my job title may imply.  I want my answer to show all of who I am, but I guess they aren’t asking about that.  All they are inquiring about is one aspect of my life.  I hate the fact that this is a usual small talk question.  It implies that your job title and description hold heavy weight in your identity.  I wish it were normal to first ask questions like, “What are you passionate about?” or “What are your hobbies?” or “Who are the people in your life and what are they like?”  That might make things weird though because most people don’t want to go that deep when they first meet someone.  Starting off with, “So, what are your struggles in life?” probably isn’t a good idea.

The normalized small talk questions aren’t the problem.  It’s me and my hangups that are the issue.  I always feel a justification of how much I accomplish is needed for proof of my meaningfulness.  But I already know my worth, I shouldn’t need outside validation.  I guess that’s where the root of the problem lies.

Yes, my job description doesn’t always look neat and tidy.  The answer to, “But, what do you do all day?” is never a short one and is always evolving.  I think what I need, is to borrow a little of the confidence and fierceness I have in other areas of my life and bring it over to this one.  No, I’m not really using my college degree.  No, I don’t need a masters to do my job well.  No I don’t technically get a paycheck.  And no, I don’t need anybody else’s validation of my worth.

What do I do?  Who am I?

I’m a wife and a mom and I work from home.  That is the simple and complicated answer.

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    Reply Stacey November 3, 2015 at 11:20 pm

    …AND you’re a writer. Glad to see new posts, I was just getting ready to bug you about the fact that I missed them.

    In Europe, or at least the mythical Europe I read about in an online post, apparently they think of our typical “what do you do?” as a super boring question. Instead they ask about where you want to go on vacation next.

    I dig that.

    Also, it’s ok to feel conflicted. I think part of the challenge of motherhood is that we feel so unseen. There’s a piece of us that wants to feel like we are interesting, acknowledged as multidimensional characters and not “just” one thing. But small talk questions don’t really allow for that.

    As someone who needs to work for our family situation to operate well, I have no qualms about admitting I totally envy you!

    And at the same time, I want you to know that people tend to ask about Justin’s work and not mine on the regular. I think maybe they think it’s a hobby? Ha. It makes me crazy for the same reasons you feel conflicted. We just want to be seen and validated.

    There’s nothing wrong with that. I just think the comfort only comes later once you’ve gone past small talk to the part where “what you do” is one of the LEAST interesting things about you. Or, at the very least, there are so much more interesting things to talk about.

    Here’s what I know about you: you’re damn funny, a great listener, and an intelligent, thoughtful reader and writer with good ideas to share. You’re a great partner with Tim and fierce for your boys. You could do anything for your day job and I’d still think you’re cool, but I respect you for doing what works for your family, other people’s opinions be damned.

    Ugh such a long comment (on my phone of all things) but whatever, I think this means I need to call you soon.

    • Reply Lindsey November 4, 2015 at 8:44 am

      Yes!!! I need a phone date with you soon! Thank you so much, you get it and you are so kind. I do think that feeling unseen and not validated is the hard part. Also, there are so many misconceptions of SAHM’s. I always feel the need to clarify that I am a FEMINIST SAHM ha! Here’s the thing though, Tim and the boys see me, they are so good about validating me and appreciating me, so really what am I worried about? Then the guilt comes from knowing that I care so much about others’ perceptions. Stupid guilt.

      I love the European small talk question! I am totally going to use that the next time I meet someone new. Talk to you soon!

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