The Identity Struggles of a Stay at Home Mom

Do you ever feel adrift in your own life?  What am I doing?  How did I get here? How do I do this?

My pastor in college once told me that the issues and struggles we have come in layers. We don’t deal with them once, and then everything is better.  Its more like the layers of an onion.  The first layer is the hardest, but God brings us back to those struggles or painful parts of our past to deal with little by little.  I feel like its cyclical; that certain times in our lives we have to face whatever it is, and its pretty intense.  Then there is rest, peace, a time of healing and even blissful forgetfulness.  And when we are rested and ready, it comes back, and we must painfully peel off another layer. But this time it is a bit easier, goes deeper, and we are better for it.

Since I became a Mother, I have dealt with something of an identity crisis.  This has been one of those struggles that comes in layers for me.  I think perhaps this time I have found wisdom and peace in it, and then it rears its ugly head again.  This isn’t something that we talk about often, but I think perhaps many of us struggle with it.  I hope that by sharing a bit of my story, you will feel empowered to share yours.  (Perhaps you are beginning to notice that this is a theme in my life- call it a mission of mine.  To share my struggles, that others may feel empowered to share theirs- and we may all find strength to walk with God in this together)

I have always thought of myself as very secure and sure of who I am.  There was a time there in Junior High… but even the strongest of us struggled then, right? I was a good student, had great friends, enjoyed life, was a pastor for many years, loved my husband, travelled widely, enjoyed the outdoors, was an avid reader- there were so many ways that I proudly identified myself.  And I looked forward with great joy to the day I would add being a Mother to that list.  How I longed for the moment when I would lay my eyes on my baby for the first time.  And she was gorgeous, perfect, my baby.  How I loved being her Mom.

We made many sacrifices so that I could stay home with her- my husband worked two jobs, we had two people live with us, we even got food stamps.  But it was worth it to us.  So much more than we had anticipated- as she had quite a few special needs, and numerous appointments a week that first year.

But when I came out of the fog of that first year, I looked at myself, and was unsure of who I had become.  All I could see was Julia’s Mother.  A beautiful thing, don’t get me wrong.  But was there more to me than that anymore?  Where was that playful, spontaneous, adventurer I once knew? All I could see was a tired, complaining stay at home mom that was just trying to survive the day.

Another year passed and we had our son.  He was a strong spirit from the start, and we all adored him.  He loved the camera, and got me started doing Children’s Photography.  When he was about 6 months old, I started my own business as a Children and Family Photographer. I was thrilled to have something that was just mine.  I had spent the last three years with everything in my life centering around my children. Even the books I read were about them.  Now I had something that stimulated my mind, and my creativity, and gave me a feeling of being able to breath deeply again. It was wonderful! I didn’t make any money really, as I ended up doing so many family sessions for friends, but I didn’t really care.  I had found something I was good at.  Something I could be proud of.

I don’t think I had put my finger on what was so deeply bothering me until then.  Working and going to school always gave me a feeling of accomplishment and worth.  I  knew what I was good at, and I felt appreciated for it.  Parenting has not even a hint of that.  We will never be an expert, or even great at it.  There is always miles for us to go, and mountains of things for us to learn.  There is nothing to point at to say, “Wow, I did a really great job.” The house will always need cleaning, the dishes are never done, the kids are always needing to eat better, or watch less TV, or be kinder, or smarter, or… There are no awards for us.  No promotions. No pay raises.  No bonuses.  No work conferences, or quarterly evals to hear what we are doing well.  But we do hear what we need to do better, don’t we? Because there is always more to do as a parent.

Occasionally we will get a sweet moment of cuddling with our baby.  Or the 4 year old will snuggle up to you and tell you how much he loves you, or the 6 year old who doesn’t touch people will spontaneously hug you, or your husband comes home with a bouquet of flowers because he wants you to know that he sees all that you do.  These moments I cling to.  These get me through the days when I don’t know who I am anymore, or how to go on.

Now I looked forward to people asking me what I did, because I had something to tell them that didn’t lead to an awkward pause. I felt proud of what I did, and was relieved to have something to say now.  When everyone talked about work, and how they fit everything in, I no longer felt embarrassed.  I had something to contribute now!  I had something to place me in this world.  I was no longer identified only by my children, but I was appreciated for my art as well.

It sounds terrible all written out like that.  How selfish.  And how could I let society tell me who I am or who I should be?  I never thought I gave into that, but I see now that I have.  And I’m unsure what to do about it.  Because, I really do need something that is my own.  I need to have some identity and sense of self apart from my children.  But I also need to take pride and a sense of identity in them.  And I still believe that the deepest part of who I am is as a daughter or God.  Almost 7 years into this parenting thing, and I’ve got none of this figured out.

Long story short (this is becoming a book!).  When I was a little ways along with my third baby (Will), I decided to take some time off from photography. Working nights and weekends was getting to be too much, and I knew adding another baby to take care of would make it even more of a strain.

Now its a year and a half later, and I’m facing something of an identity crisis again. I am so proud of my babies, and LOVE being their mother.  I don’t want to send them to day care, or find time away from them.  This time it feels more like a struggle to be able to have something in my life that I can work hard at and do really well.  I want something I can be proud of.  Something I can accomplish.  Something I can work hard at and succeed in. Something tangible.

Does this make any sense to any one? I hope everyone knows that I would not even dream of missing one day with my kids.  I have chosen this life, and I love it. I’m just feeling like maybe I can find that adventurous, creative, spontaneous person I once was deep down in there.  Hopefully, she has changed.  Matured.  Probably not.  But I miss her.

So, I am starting my photography business again.  I will do some things differently this time.  I find myself giddy about the prospect of being something of an artist and expressing myself in this beautiful and timeless way. Going through my work to get my website up is making me much more excited than I thought I would be.  I’m looking forward to having my own business and career again.  This time I hope to make it much more of a career, and to take it farther than last time.  And I hope to find myself not only in my art, but in the smiles of my baby and the love of my family as well.

So, press on fellow pilgrims.  We fight a good fight.  I know many of us struggle with this.  I pray that we would continue to find ourselves in our children, family, God, friendships and times alone.  I pray also that we would never judge each other as mothers, but we would respect and take care of each other in every way possible.  We are not alone in this journey.  Let us support each other and care for each other, and maybe take some time to care for ourselves as well.

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