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Motherhood: Year One


It might not be the coolest, but it's the coolest to me

by Meg Keene, Editor-In-Chief

Motherhood: Year One | A Practical Wedding

It took me almost a full year to feel like a mother. One day, as he was reaching his little arms up at me—possibly the definitive stance of his one-year-old self—I realized, I’m someone’s mama. And it turns out, that was the best thing ever.

I didn’t grow up with a lot of role models of happy motherhood. Troubled families exist everywhere, but money provides much of the infrastructure and support for solid homes. So growing up in an area where no one had much of it meant that many of my models of parenthood were unhappy. I was used to parents who didn’t like each other, home environments that were varying levels of run down and over-run with mess, emotionally absent or emotionally abusive parents, families lurching from crisis to crisis. It wasn’t that the mothers around us were not doing their best. It’s that having a baby at sixteen, or having two abusive husbands, one after another, or being unable to work your way up the economic ladder because of extreme post-traumatic stress shapes what your best looks like.

Here, in the currently money-soaked San Francisco Bay Area/Tech Industry/Lawyering social circles, motherhood is serious and competitive business. With a combination of time, resources, and a determination to turn out kids that climb to the top, there is a culture of motherhood that’s both foreign to me and exhausting. We mothers are supposed to read a lot about parenting, research everything, and make specific choices about what kind of parents we’re going to be. We’re supposed to Pinterest-ify our motherhood, while at the same time make sure that everyone knows that we’d never be focused on something as shallow and self-centered as what we’re wearing, or how our house looks (we have our children’s futures to attend to). And we’re supposed to bond by bitching (just a little bit). And why not? This intensive motherhood will wear a girl out.

But my experience of motherhood is a reaction to a different experience than most of my peers. In one of the most important missions of my life, I’m trying to prove that living rooms can be clean, kids can be dressed neatly (if not thoughtfully), and motherhood can be a rewarding—not emotionally scarring—experience. I am trying to prove that you can raise a kid without screaming (much). That motherhood can co-exist with a clean and pretty home (clean-ish, at least). That you can be a mom and still be fulfilled by your career and your relationship (most days). That it’s possible to have the emotional bandwidth available to put your kid first.

Some days I win that battle, and some days I don’t. Most days I’m proud of what a joyful little being we’re raising, but some days I crumple into a ball, wishing my best had been a little better. My best days of motherhood don’t look much like what I see hazily portrayed on many blogs. Starting from my rough pregnancy and an emergency c-section, I was never able to live up to the natural mother ideal. I couldn’t baby-wear after my surgery; co-sleeping didn’t work for our family; we were never really able to organize around homemade and organic food. And these days, my parenthood is fundamentally shaped by being a working parent with a consuming job. We never seem to have time for baby classes. I don’t have the chance to go on many playdates. I usually find out I’m supposed to have researched some sort of safety protocol about something (cribs, cabs, salt in food?) way too late.

But in the hard moments, I try to remind myself that my goals are simpler: I’m trying to prove to myself  that motherhood doesn’t have to be an overwhelming burden. I’m trying to model what good motherhood looks like for this particular child. Because I’ve seen what it looks like when stable motherhood just isn’t possible, and I know better, so I’m trying to do better.

Motherhood isn’t my primary identity. It’s not one I wanted, because it’s not one that I saw being worn with joy or grace very often. But it is an intensely amazing relationship. It’s a place where I’ve learned to receive love in a way I didn’t know was possible. It’s allowed me to open my heart, and it’s also filled my life in ways I needed. It’s kept my hands busy and my brain whirring, and it’s helped me relax.

I’m trying to get better at saying, “Motherhood is one of the best and most joyful things I’ve ever done.” Because it might not be the cool thing to say, but it’s the fucking coolest, to me. This one’s for my elementary school self. It’s for sixteen-year-old me and all my high school girlfriends. We know better. We can do better. And better can be awesome.

The true dictionary definition of awesome:

“Causing feelings of fear and wonder. Causing feelings of awe. Extremely good.”

Photo: Me and my kid by Eyes And Hart, personal for APW

Meg Keene

Meg is the Founder and EIC of APW. Her first book, A Practical Wedding: Creative Solutions for Planning a Beautiful, Affordable, and Meaningful Celebration, was published in January 2012, and has been a top three bestseller on the wedding bookshelf ever since. Meg has her BFA in Drama from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and son. For more than you ever wanted to know about Meg, you can visit MegKeene.com.

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  • Amy March

    I’ve re-read this piece several times, and I keep coming back to the idea of competition in motherhood. It seems inescapable- are you competing to be the best mother? The most relaxed mother? The most scrupulously non-competitive mother?

    I wonder how much of this ties into the broader social changes birth control has brought. It allows women to time pregnancy to permit a rich career, but it also makes parenthood into such a choice. You picked this, you must do it right, you must make it worthwhile, you must balance everything because you wanted this. I wish parenthood could go back to being considered a standard consequence of being a grown-up in a way. Not that it’s a punishment for having sex, or a necessary part of a fulfilling life, but also not this idea that it must be justified, earned, planned or competed over.

    • Jessica Nelson

      “I wish parenthood could go back to being considered a standard consequence of being a grown-up in a way.” I agree!!
      When my fiancé and I get married, we will not be using birth control (for religious reasons, although I also think there are pretty feminist reasons to not be on hormonal birth control as well). We are learning a Natural Family Planning method, but we know that NFP totally depends on our own diligence and ability to keep track of these signs (and not have sex at my most fertile times!) and so the chances of a baby coming are probably a little higher. Would it be best to get through grad school and the job search (2-3 more years) before having kids? Economically speaking, yes. But I’m also aware that I might end up finishing grad school with a baby, or moving while super pregnant or with a newborn or something. I probably won’t win any “best mother” awards if I’m trying to balance real-life baby with my thesis baby, but as long as my baby thinks I’m the best mother, that’s fine with me. :)

      In contrast, one of my friends had an unexpected pregnancy and has very publicly shared her struggles with it. She doesn’t feel like she has any role models of mothers who accomplished what she wants to accomplish, the baby has forced her to change her life in ways she didn’t want, she still doesn’t like babies in general. I appreciate that she’s sharing her difficulties in order to open up the discussion of mothers-who-don’t-like-being-mothers, but sometimes I don’t understand how she got married thinking that she could avoid parenthood altogether.

      To be clear (because I know that marriage without kids is another debate), she and I come from similar conservative religious backgrounds (although not exactly the same — she’s Evangelical, I’m Catholic). We both grew up with “first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes the baby in the baby carriage” perspectives, so it’s weird to me that she’s struggling so much to accept the baby part. I wonder if it’s partly because of this “child-centered” perspective that’s so prevalent — she’s thinking her life HAS to revolve around the baby now that he has arrived. Way back when, she could’ve shared child-raising with her community; nowadays, she could put the baby in daycare…but neither of those options seems to be psychologically available to her. I think I like the community attitude of “welp, a baby got here, let’s all help you do this” vs. “you chose this special butterfly parent route, good luck achieving it on your own,” but I think it’s hard to maintain that when parenthood *is* generally a choice nowadays.

      • Lauren

        “I wonder how much of this ties into the broader social changes birth control has brought. It allows women to time pregnancy to permit a rich career, but it also makes parenthood into such a choice.” – I’d love to see more blog topics about this. I can’t say enough how thankful I am that modern advances have made parenthood a choice rather than a standard consequence of becoming an adult. I like that fact that it is a decision – it makes me feel like I can live my life more on my own terms. The ability to make such fundamental decisions really shows how far humans have gotten. And how people react to those choices we have? That’s the part that’s so interesting! Let’s keep the conversation going, APW!

        • Meg Keene

          It’s nice that it’s a choice, but yeah, the way society interacts with it is fucked. There are two options, really.

          You can get pregnant young/ on accident/ poor (which I lived through second hand, a very close friend had a baby at 19, many of my pretty close friends also had kids between 19-22). In that case, it’s your problem because you fucked up.

          Or, you have kids older/ planned/ when you can afford it, and then you picked special parent butterfly parenting, so it’s your problem.

          I’ve said this before on my travel with a baby post, but what’s SADDEST to me is that in this country we’ve started looking at kids primarily as a problem. SAD SAD SAD SAD. And I’d argue, looking at things the wrong way round.

          • http://brokensaucer.blogspot.com/ sera

            Ugh, it is sad.

          • p.

            I’ve been meaning to thank you (and the commenters) for your travel with a baby post and let you know that the post has made me a more sensitive traveler. Last month, I was at the gate waiting to board a flight and a kid sat on the chair next to me and started talking to me while his mom was on the floor nearby putting together a toy for her other child. Normally I might have come up with a reason to move seats because I’m not a natural with kids and never know what to say or do, but this time, I thought to myself, “It doesn’t matter if I’m a kid-person or not. This mom just needs someone to give her kid a little attention right now”. So I hung out with the kid until we boarded (even when the kid audibly farted causing the business man to my right to cover his nose). It was really no big deal for me and the kid’s mom was unbelievably grateful.

          • Michaela

            I definitely agree with this response. So much of what’s out there told me that having a kid would make my life hard, and joyless, and I wouldn’t get to do any of the things I loved anymore. Turns out, I don’t want to do most of those things anymore! This is the coolest thing I’ve ever done. I don’t know why I waited so long now, and I want to get pregnant again even though my daughter is less than a year.

            There’s also the idea that as women we should want ‘more’ than childrearing. While I appreciate where that sentiment is coming from, it has also made me feel incredibly guilty for finding my daughter to be enough for me most days, even though I have a graduate education and the ability to have a fancy career.

            And yes, as soon as my daughter was born I feel like I stepped into an adult world that I had only paid lip service to beforehand. My relationships with my parents and siblings have changed. I am an example to another human being now. And though that is a lot of responsibility, it feels very good to be in that role.

          • SamA

            As a (semi) planned, later in life, soon to be mom, the notion of ‘you picked special parent butterfly parenting, so it’s your problem…’ is what makes me reluctant to express how i really feel about becoming a mother. Cos, honestly, the truth is a lot more complicated than ‘omigod-its-such-a-blessing-we’re so-excited’ or ‘oh, crap-my-life-is-over’, which currently seem to be the 2 prevailing options.

        • CH

          Birth control has certainly introduced the notion that becoming a parent is a choice (and conversely that not being a parent is also a choice). But I’ve found that more often than not, most people’s lives don’t exactly go according to plan. And in a world where everyone thinks you have ultimate control over everything that happens in your life, it can be incredibly difficult to discover that really, you don’t. It’s great to exercise the control we do have, when we have it. But I think we’d all be a little better off if we realized that not everyone chose to be in the situation they’re in.

          • http://cuvikingadventures.blogspot.ca/ Jenny/Adventures Along the Way

            “And in a world where everyone thinks you have ultimate control over
            everything that happens in your life, it can be incredibly difficult to
            discover that really, you don’t.”

            Yes….about all sorts of things…

      • megep

        “I think I like the community attitude of “welp, a baby got here, let’s all help you do this” vs. “you chose this special butterfly parent route, good luck achieving it on your own,” but I think it’s hard to maintain that when parenthood *is* generally a choice nowadays.”

        Community support is so important. I’m grateful that I was raised in a neighborhood where there was a real “community parenting” aspect to life. It would be great to see more people feel a responsibility for other’s children. In my own life, I’m working on being better at supporting parents I know and being there for their kids.

      • Alexandra

        Just wanted to comment back (although you might not see this) that we got married in September, used NFP (much to the teasing of our friends) and I got pregnant in December. We also “used” NFP for religious reasons, combined with the fact that I’m 34 and didn’t want to get started on the project too late, since if I have infertility problems it’s best to find out ASAP. Well, no fertility problems, evidently! We were actually were charting and being careful about fertile times, kind of hoping to have a year of being newlyweds before the baby came, but hello deep end!

        Having had so little time to process the idea of being a mother, I’ve gone through a lot of anxiety about my old life being over. But I’ve finally come to a sense of peace about it, and I’m truly glad we’re getting to do this. I’ve found the key to peace is ignoring almost everything the wider culture has to say about babies and sticking to the Bible and my friends, who are nearly all mothers. They are very busy but very joyful. It’s sure to be a wild ride!

    • Kate V

      Don’t think its so much the effect of birth control, but the effect of (primarily white) middle class anxiety. Will only get worse (probably) as the middle class is squeezed.

    • Granola

      I definitely feel more anxiety around having to decide to be a parent. I know I’d like to be one, but because I have to make that choice, I keep feeling like everything needs to be “perfect” and I have to balance kids against all this other stuff and figure out when is the “right time.” Occasionally I wish there’s just be an “oops,” for which I’d be really grateful.

      Granted, this is an OK option for me personally as I’m stably employed and married — all the conditions under which I’d want to have a child anyway. I think it’s a fantasy of being freed from the responsibility of deciding. However, I’m also looking at this as an opportunity to practice rejecting that paradigm of perfection, so that hopefully I can continue to reject it when I actually have said kid.

      • Helen

        I’m the same – the recent post from Lady Brett on having children even if you kind of don’t want them initially, was a total eye opener to me. Made me realise that there’s zero ways that you can test how parenthood will actually be for you, so it’s ok if I’m a little ambivalent!

  • http://fancystephanie.wordpress.com/ fancystephanie

    “I’m trying to prove to myself that motherhood doesn’t have to be an overwhelming burden.”

    And thank you SO MUCH for that. I live in Los Angeles, and most of my friends have moved to Irvine/Laguna & are having babies. They are doing full on attachment parenting, making their own organic baby food, and becoming coupon queens. Most have quit their jobs, and a good deal are homeschooling. To be honest, it looks so damn exhausting. Their lives are consumed with their babies. If that’s what motherhood looks like, then I don’t want it. So it’s so, SO nice to see you posting things like this, and being honest about what motherhood looks like for you. It gives me hope that I can one day have babies and not have motherhood be the whole of my existence.

    • ferrous

      Agreed. I think it’s the paradigm of being child-centered (the majority my friends right now) vs parent-centered (my actual parents) in home life. How do you strike in between? I’m thankful there are pieces like this that make it feel ok to incorporate your children into your life, rather than let being a Mother run your life.

      • Jess

        I had a whole conversation about “child-centeredness” with my mom a few weeks ago. She was so confused by the whole concept, didn’t realize it was a thing, and thought it sounded awful.

        She brought up the fact that up until very recently, and even now only for certain economic statuses, leading a child-centered life wasn’t even an option for most women. Throughout time, women had a kid and strapped it to their backs/left it with family and went back to work because there were things that needed doing.

        Then she made probably my favorite comment, “I just don’t know what those women do all day. There’s only so much a person can parent without losing themselves.”

    • La’Marisa-Andrea

      Yes. And also, I think much of motherhood today is simply framed as BEING burdensome, if not physically (coupon clipping, making organic baby food, etc) but also emotionally. Hence, the constant conversations I observe that start with “I just want to be a good mother” or “I’m a good mother because…” So even if you aren’t physically running around with a bazillion tasks, then at least you better be consumed with thoughts about whether you’re a good mother, how to be a good mother, constant justifications and validation about being a good mother, etc. That shit is emotionally exhausting and I REJECT IT ALL. I just assume we all (those of us who ARE mothers) want the best for our kids. I reject the emotional drama.

      • Meg Keene

        Or really, the conversations always start, “I’m such a bad mother.” And that, I reject.

        • lady brett

          which, also, is so judgmental (purposefully or not). if i’m a bad mother for not making homemade baby food, you’re a bad mother for the same reason, or a worse mother because you *also* eat fast food. and where does that leave room to talk about/experience truly bad parenting, which is not the same as not living up to your own expectations?

        • Autumn Witt Boyd

          Meg, after you wrote about not calling ourselves “bad mothers” in a self-deprecating way, I’ve really checked myself on that. It doesn’t help anything. Has helped my internal monologue for sure.

      • http://brokensaucer.blogspot.com/ sera

        Again, you’re not being the best unless you are constantly worrying about those around you and if you are doing enough for them. I can’t remember where I heard it but instead husbands/fathers are more inclined to not worry about what others think about them and instead consider that their actions are the standard within their frame of reference. We should all just be thinking – “I am the standard” and cut out all of the white noise of what everyone else thinks we should be doing.
        Oh, here it is: http://www.npr.org/2014/01/24/265365876/a-parenting-paradox-how-kids-manage-to-be-all-joy-and-no-fun

    • Alison O

      This reminded me of why I appreciate the documentary, “Babies”. Parenting can look really different. Kids are resilient. Having been a teacher and a person in the world, I see it as easy both to mess up a kid and not mess up a kid. It’s like, is there love there, basic needs, adequate emotional regulation, good intentions? [Oversimplifying perhaps, but...] It’s usually enough. Beyond that, do what speaks to you and your kid.

      In the movie, in Africa the toddler covered in dust would walk up, nurse on mom in a standing position for a bit while mom shot the shit (or probably worked while shooting the shit, I don’t remember) with other women, then walk away and chew on some sticks she found on the ground or maybe the dog brought around. The kid in Mongolia would get wrapped up and left alone or with his older and wiser three year old brother in a yurt or maybe strapped to a donkey or something while the parents were out working for hours. The San Francisco baby had lots of attention in various forms typical of modern American parenting. I don’t remember the Tokyo one too well, seems like it was more similar to the SF baby, as you’d guess given the setting.

      Whether it’s your wedding, your parenting, your clothing, your work life, your relationship, your whatever, someone will always disagree and you just have to do you, respectfully, and I like how La’Marisa-Andrea said, REJECT the drama. Otherwise you perpetuate it.

      • Meg Keene

        I LOVE THAT MOVIE.

        The San Francisco parenthood totally stressed me the eff out. Though, honestly, I’m sure we’ve fallen into it way more than I’d prefer. He needs to do more chewing on sticks.

    • Kathleen

      This is an interesting perspective to me, because honestly, that doesn’t sound particularly exhausting. Maybe it’s because that’s how I’d love my motherhood to look (not so much full-on attachment parenting, but baby-wearing and homemade baby food, and I’ve always thought homeschooling would have certain benefits, though we’re years away from that decision) – and yet, with a full-time job to return to after a brief maternity leave, I can’t see how motherhood will resemble that at all. Work is exhausting enough on its own; work + baby can only be more exhausting than that, and motherhood alone seems like it would be less exhausting than trying to combine the two, even if you really go all-out. Work + Parenting seems to completely rule out most of these nice “extras” that I look forward to on some level (e.g. homemade baby food, just to talk about the near term) as being options at all, since pre-baby, work alone leaves me so exhausted I don’t know where the baby (due this spring) will fit.

      • http://fancystephanie.wordpress.com/ fancystephanie

        Yeah, IDK exactly why being a stay-at-home mom is so exhausting, either. I grew up with a mom that owned her own business and homeschooled 2 kids. She and my dad shared a lot of the housework/cooking, and my mother wasn’t tired all the time.

        You know, maybe this whole, “I’m so tired from being a mom!” thing is just a sick competition between women. The most tired mom is the best mom…

        • Meg Keene

          IT’S PHYSICALLY EXHAUSTING is why. It’s so. Goddamn. Tiring. You probably don’t remember your mom being tired because you were older, or she covered it well. Sleep is shitty for a lot of us, and being with a baby full time is… well, probably not as tiring as construction work, but almost.

          Moms say to other moms, “I’m so tired,” because… they are. And it’s not a socially acceptable thing to say to non-moms. I mean, I was up at 11 and 2 and 4 and 6:30 last night, and I have a sleep trained kid. But at least I’m not running after him all day, I’m just having a stressful day at work :)

          It’s not a competition though. I think we pretty much all are looking forward to being less tired with bigger kids!

        • Meg Keene

          Also, I should clarify. There is a difference between the “it’s the hardest job in the world,” rhetoric (which A) Is not true, B) I don’t know that it’s a job in the first place, it’s a relationship, and C) We need to put a metric on what we define as hard.)

          But TIRING? FUCK YES IT’S TIRING. Way more so for people home with their wee ones.

      • Meg Keene

        Um. Just piping in from a home with a baby to say IT’S EXHAUSTING. Work is tiring, sure, but work has NOTHING on being with a small child all day, and that’s before you start baby wearing and food making and homeschooling. Therefore, RESPECT for people that do it, but I do feel like it’s important to reality check how bone tiring that really is.

        My weekends are way, way, way more tiring than my weekdays, and I do work pretty hard on the week days. It’s not a comparison you can make qualitatively, of course, because the good and bad parts of working and the good and bad parts of being with your kid are totally different (they both have real joys and pains). But I keep him in the mornings for awhile, and when I drop him off and go to work, I know life is going to get WAY less tiring for awhile.

        The extras thing is a separate question. People I know who stay home do a lot more of them, partially because you simply have to fill your time when you’re home with a baby. It’s… boring. It’s emotionally fulfilling, but it’s boring also. Of course, historically you were not home with a baby, you were at work at home with kids. So when we remove the full time labor of say, running a farm, it gets a bit boring. When I’m home with mine, I do laundry with him like a crazy person. If I was home all the time, we’d be doing homemade baby food and classes up the wazo, because both my kid and I are Busy People. Not being home with him, I generally don’t make time for those extras, unless I personally enjoy them. End of the day, homemade baby food and purchased baby food are all the same to baby (sadly, he prefers the smooth smooth textures of purchased), and with two incomes we can afford purchased, so I’d rather hang out and read books during my time with him. We do make time for playdates, and other things I find enjoyable though.

  • Stephanie B.

    “Motherhood isn’t my primary identity.”

    I really appreciate hearing this perspective, because it isn’t one that I often hear. I wonder how many mothers feel that way but are hesitant to express it, because there is such a strong cultural pressure to make being a mother one’s primary identity.

    • Aly W

      You know, I think there’s a strong cultural pressure at least in feminist circles to say that being a mother isn’t your primary identity.

      For me, identity is a funny thing. It felt so important to me in my 20s when I was very strongly identified with my queer femmeness, I think because I was still creating it. Then I got a little older and gradually felt less defined by that identity even though I’m still queer and still femme. When I had kids in my early 30s, I spent the first couple of years exploring and fleshing out my mother identity, so during that time it was the identity I felt most connected to and immersed in. Now a couple years after that, I don’t think about my various identities much. Some days I’m all mom, some days I’m all writer, and I wish I had more time to be a queer femme.

      I think new parents should feel free to immerse themselves in their parent identities if that’s there thing. It’s only when it becomes a problem for them or their children that it’s a problem at all and only they and their children can make that call.

      • Beth

        “You know, I think there’s a strong cultural pressure at least in feminist circles to say that being a mother isn’t your primary identity.”

        I agree with this. I’ve been a mum since I was 21 (not in the least bit planned, but chosen inasmuch as I had abortion open to me as an option but decided against it at that time). It is my primary identity, definitely. I didn’t have a career before I had kids, I was at uni, I went back when first one was teeny and got my degree, but I’m absolutely not willing to work full time when I have small ones, so I haven’t built up any career to speak of (I work in a library 16 hours a week-definitely not my primary identity!). Raising kids has been pretty all consuming (and I do think, whether you go for comeptitive parenting or not, that just tends to happen..) and I just haven’t had the opportunity to develop another ‘identity’. So yeah, being a mum has defined all of my adult life so far. I don’t think it’s wrong when that’s not the case for others, but in many circles I do often feel like less of a person for being ‘just’ a mum.. maybe the grass is just always greener…

        • Meg Keene

          I don’t know that something else is my primary identity. I mean, it’s not like being a wife is my primary identity, or being a business owner is my primary identity. All of those things play into who I am, but my primary identity is just that I’m… me… I think.

          I mean, that said, I had a lot of time to define who I was as an adult before I had kids, since I had a kid at 32. So I think that factors into it, probably. And since I do work full time, raising a child is a big part of what I do with my time, but there are other parts of my life that are also having huge amounts of time invested in them.

          But this that and the other, I mostly mean to say, it’s not that I have some other primary identity, I just think of myself as Meg first, and then mother/ wife/ etc. second.

      • La’Marisa-Andrea

        I agree in some feminist circles this is true (pressure to say that motherhood isn’t one’s primary identity). Certainly when I was in college, this was true. But my experience in the actual world now? It’s something I hear a lot about, but not something that I actually experience personally.

        • Meg Keene

          I agree, in that I’ve felt like that’s a more theoretical feminist pressure than one I actually experience in the real world.

          That said, I don’t think there is anything WRONG with motherhood being your primary identity. I mean, hell, things could change and it could be mine at some point. It’s just not really now, mostly because motherhood in my life has proved to be a relationship not an identity. Before I had a child, I thought it was the other way round, but it just hasn’t been for me.

          • http://brokensaucer.blogspot.com/ sera

            There it is: motherhood as a relationship rather than an identity.

          • Meg Keene

            HA. There was originally a whole part of the essay about that, but then I was like “Eh, I think I might have said this before?”

          • http://brokensaucer.blogspot.com/ sera

            I’m not sure you could ever say that too much. Maybe the answer is that we should identify as ourselves first and then identify our marriages and parenthood as relationships that can’t be defined by how others are doing it. Sure, we have similarities – husbands that don’t do chores, wives that don’t cook, babies that poop – but we have to define what we do in our relationships to others by, well, our relationships to those people. We aren’t all alike so we can’t all do it the same way. What is normal and what is best can’t be normal and best for everyone, it just can’t be.

          • http://abasketcase.blogspot.com/ Basketcase

            identify our marriages and parenthood as relationships that can’t be defined by how others are doing it
            I needed to hear this tonight. Thank you.

          • Lauren

            That bit about motherhood as a relationship is Jessica Valenti’s from “Why Have Kids?”

          • http://brokensaucer.blogspot.com/ sera

            I haven’t read it but I will look into it…

      • Beth

        “I think new parents should feel free to immerse themselves in their parent identities if that’s there thing. It’s only when it becomes a problem for them or their children that it’s a problem at all and only they and their children can make that call.”

        This as well. I have an 8 month old. Of course it’s my primary identity right now, he’s only just come out of me! It will change. But I constantly feel bad that it’s all I have going on now, as if that makes me less of a woman, less of a feminist, less of a person. But actually, I couldn’t cope with having much more on right now. Well done if you can, but those of us who cant are normal too!

        • http://abasketcase.blogspot.com/ Basketcase

          I’m in the same place with a 10 month old.
          I’ve struggled with post natal anxiety, and so it has been all thats going on. In part this is good because its all I can cope with, and in part its bad because I need more, and I know I need to get outside my head more often.
          And yep, definitely feel like less of a person. Like I have less to contribute to our relationship. Which is nuts, as my husband keeps telling me!

    • La’Marisa-Andrea

      I wonder this too because it’s not something I hear often. So I say it practically all of the time for a few reasons: 1) It’s most definitely true for me 2) I’m ok with that being my truth 3) I want other women who have kids who feel the same to know there are other women who share similar views and 4) I want to change our cultural landscape generally about mothering, feminism, womanism etc and understanding that for a lot of women, motherhood ISN’T their primary identity is critical.

      • Meg Keene

        I thought about that line, and edited it after I wrote it some. Because as time goes on, it’s more of my identity. But I think my real identity is about being… ME, you know? Motherhood is this awesome part of me, but it’s not all of me.

        • La’Marisa-Andrea

          The same is true for me. I think of myself in terms of me first…

  • Molly P

    Great article, Meg. I am not a mother yet (or married quite yet) but I always find your insights to be very profound and I like to read what your thoughts are on these topics because your perspective is so unique and unlike all the other hullabaloo you hear on the internet regarding parenting and marriage. It makes me feel relieved that my life doesn’t have to end once I have little ones of my own… and that just because these things weren’t always modeled very well for me, doesn’t mean I’m going to suck at it.

  • Emma Klues

    I love how dictionary definitions can be so perfectly clarifying. APW = awesome, every day.

  • megep

    We don’t have kids yet, and realistically (AKA financially) it is a bad idea for us to have kids for at least 2 more years. We’re totally happy with that time line–but I’m already worried about when we do have a child, because I worry that my friends will drop me like a hot potato. I should clarify that I have one group of friends that I think will be overjoyed and supportive and amazing, as I’ve seen them be that way for other new moms…but they live 1000 miles away. The friends I have here in my (relatively) new town? Well, let’s say that they’re kind of “too cool” for kids. I’ve heard them talk about the few friends with kids, and it’s not mean-spirited…it is just as if they cease to exist for them as real people anymore. He isn’t “John” anymore– he’s “John, but he has a kid now.” They just assume that having a kid is the same as being turned into a zombie–a similar looking, but haggard version of yourself incapable of the same types of intelligent interaction. I don’t want these assumptions to be made about me, I don’t want to have to fight to prove I’m not “[insert various mothering stereotypes here] kind of mom” and I don’t want to have to do all of that while also helping to raise a kid who will someday be a productive, compassionate member of society!

    Someone mentioned that for those of us for whom birth control is readily accessible, parenthood has become a choice, and so we feel compelled to prove that it was the right one. It’s annoying (but ultimately a great privilege) to have the new problem be: will my friends be asshats about me having a kid? Now if we could just vanquish that problem with a pill…

    • p.

      I’ve been struggling with the decision about whether or not to have kids and your comment made me realize that one of the reasons this decision is tough for me is because I ‘feel compelled to prove that it’s the right decision’.

      • Meg Keene

        Phew. Which is such a new (and I’d argue kind of nonsense) construct. If you do it, it becomes your life, and you make the best of it. If you don’t, you have another life, and you make the best of that.

  • Briana

    As a small business owner and sometimes-work-at-home mom to a nearly 3 month old, just wanted to say thank you for sharing!

    Something that surprised me about motherhood and that I also took from your piece is how the most common narratives of motherhood frame the idea of choice in a pretty backwards way. A lot of blogs and small talk and other sources of mom-conversation would have us all believe that babywearing, for instance, is a (CRITICAL TO YOUR CHILD’S DEVELOPMENT) choice, while the all-consuming nature of motherhood is an inevitably not even worth questioning. Turns out, it’s often a toss up what your circumstances/sanity/baby will allow in terms of all the details, but also your baby isn’t an automatic Kryptonite against your power to deal with your set of circumstances in the way that fits your lifestyle and family.

    …which, by the way, makes me want to send the dirtiest of diapers onto this whole competitive motherhood thing. You just can’t ever be sure the reasons behind someone’s choice (or lack thereof) to pursue certain aspects of motherhood.

    • Kate V

      Great comment! I will also add I find it interesting that the narrative of TOTAL MOTHERHOOD aka doing things “(CRITICAL TO YOUR CHILD’S DEVELOPMENT)” as you say, is occuring in our culture at exactly the same moment that women are almost the majority of the total labor workforce (47%). Coincidence? No – just as we start to achieve parity, here appears this totally consuming motherhood narrative presented to us as the only way to do it.

      • http://brokensaucer.blogspot.com/ sera

        damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

    • Meg Keene

      I love this comment. Yeah, I’m increasingly learning that all these idealized/ politicized/ super charged “choices” in motherhood are just not that clear cut. I mean, at least for me. There are people they seem clear cut for, but that doesn’t really jive with my reality, so I’m not totally sure what their secret is.

      IE, back when I started, I really was rebelling against the whole attachment parenting all consuming model thing. But then I discovered I A) couldn’t consider baby-wearing for at least six weeks, really longer after surgery, it’s just not an option, B) Liked it when I could start it, C) Had a baby that hated it. And NOW, I have a toddler in a clingy phase, so I’m getting to do all the wearing that I didn’t get to do before (though trust me, we still have a stroller and use it, sometimes it’s just practical).

      But there are people who very politically don’t even get a stroller… and then somehow get away with it. I suppose they have less willfull children? ;) I don’t know, but in my experience none of it is clear cut.

      But yes, your kid changes you, but you still have the choice to be you, and do you. IE, you can still work if you love it, or go out to eat if you love it, or wear sparkly dresses if you love them. (Or you know, do none of those things and do whatever YOU is.) But stuff does change, for sure. I never thought I’d want to be around him so much when I wasn’t working, but I’m glad I do. (PS, I’m not sure the logic of how much I’d be away from him had previously occurred to me.)

      • Elemjay

        Babies and little children make choices in this too. I was the loon who made all her own baby purees (many of which were organic) which my eldest daughter ate obediently til she was about 14 months old. She then went completely off all sorts of food and turned into a fussy eater. What’s THAT all about? Doesn’t she appreciate what I did for her?? No apparently not. Bang goes that piece of modern parenting dogma.
        ALSO with all this babywearing I think people are setting themselves up for some chronic back problems. Being pregnant causes enough slipped discs and other problems – never mind carrying a toddler in a sling. I love my 2 girls very much but not enough to give myself terrible back and neck pain – sorry kiddoes.

        • Meg Keene

          Yeah, I think that’s exactly it, and it’s the piece we often leave from the conversation. We can make the parenting choices that are right for us (though I think for most of us they’re just not that clear cut… we’re not sticking to a dogma, we’re muddling along). But babies/ toddlers/ kids are little people, and they make choices too. And different things may be right for them than are right for us (IE, my mom wanted to stay home with me, I really clearly remember that I wanted to be in full time pre-school, #social.)

          Like when David proudly served his homemade carrot puree, and the kid was like CARROTS ARE GROSS. He sticks to that too. He will not, under any circumstances, eat carrots. Take that.

        • Briana

          Yes yes this exactly. Parents (or other adults!) so easily shoot the judgey eye at other parents regarding any of the hot topic parenting “choices,” but it seems people have forgotten there are often extenuating circumstances regarding how kids are fed/clothed/carried/cared for/etc…and sometimes, those extenuating circumstances = a really stubborn baby or a kid with health problems, or an infant who just will. not. stop. crying. unless he’s not wearing pants. (not speaking from experience or anything…)

          And you know what? Even if your kid DOES love the baby carrier or the organic food and you ARE able to utilize those parenting techniques, the judgement is still so misplaced. Our value system regarding parenting (and um…everything else) feels so off, as if the make-or-break on the scale of good parenting has anything to do with your brand of baby food.

      • Laura

        Okay, I’ve seen the phrase “baby-wearing” at least 4 times now. What does it mean?

        • Alyssa M

          Have you seen those slings or packs that people wear on their torsos and put their babies in? That’s baby wearing. I couldn’t tell you why on earth it’s controversial, cause it seems pretty simple to me, but I guess every single choice you can make about a baby is controversial these days.

          • Laura

            Ah! Thanks for clearing this up. Yes I have seen those, and I also have no freaking idea why it’s so controversial. I didn’t realize that it was, and it wouldn’t cross my mind that it would be. If you like them and they work for you awesome and if not don’t by them. Isn’t this how it works with other daily things? Like bras or coffee pots. It does seem that every single choice you make about a baby is controversial. Of course, in my (sort-of) parallel universe, apparently hair clips and napkins are controversial. The world has gone bonkers.

          • Alyssa M

            I would SO not be surprised if there was controversy around mother’s bra choices! Bonkers is right.

          • Laura

            Oh I never even thought of that. The whole nursing thing. Giant hugs to all the mommies out there.

        • Meg Keene

          Just wearing your kid in some kind of carrier. A front pack, a back pack, a sling, what have you. It’s long done and practical as shit, but it’s recently become a parenting philosophy. NOW. Some of my favorite parents and people are really really into it. Some of my other favorite parents and people do it when it works, and don’t when it doesn’t <— Me. And you know, some people just don't.

          Google image search it, but that get's a little… cray. Apparently. I just did.

          • Laura

            Google image searching usually ends with me feeling a little more disheartened about the world as a whole. (See: “bridesmaids in pants”.) Ok. So. Baby wearing as a parenting philosophy? I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around the idea of this as a philosophy. I’m comparing parenting to wedding planning here because the two seem to be fraught with judgement and unsolicited advice: Is this like when someone asks me “what’s the theme of your wedding?” and I stare at them blankly for a second and then answer, “getting married!”? Because I feel like, if someone asked me “what’s your philosophy of parenting?” I would say, “feed it and keep it relatively clean. and when it gets older teach it how to do those things for itself and how to not be an asshole.” Obviously, parenting is way more complicated than that (a wedding is not… a marriage is though) but. Baby wearing as a philosophy? Ok. My brain will have to work on this for a while.

  • Gill

    Please keep posting about your feelings on motherhood, Meg! We need more varied and different dialogues about this as much as we need on weddings. As someone who deeply wants to be a mother but is equally dreading all that it will mean for my personal identity/life as well as the pressure from without, I’m quite terrified.

    • Court

      I have a son a few months older than Meg’s and have experienced much of the same range of emotions she’s shared this past year. I always said I didn’t want kids because I thought they’d hold me back and stop me from achieving the things I set out to achieve. The most profound thing I’ve discovered is that I am the same person, just with a kid. I still devour books. I still go out to dinner with girlfriends. I still stay in my PJs until noon on weekends. So for my personal identity/life in an odd way, not much has changed. I mean, obviously something has changed, but on a fundamental “who am i” kind of way, it’s still the same.

      I don’t think you stop being terrified but I also think that concern (if I can downgrade it from terrified) is what keeps me true to myself. I know I don’t want to loose myself to motherhood and that goes a long way.

  • http://brokensaucer.blogspot.com/ sera

    What’s amazing to me is that as we move through womanhood, we are challenged to identify ourselves on our own, then as a wife within a marriage construct, then as a mother within the parenting construct. It’s as if society squeezes on us tighter and tighter as we move through these rolls, but never with defined direction and always with unattainable “norms.” And, while going through each stage, it’s as if we have to repeat the same identity rediscovery all over again. And we’re always damned if we do and damned if we don’t. Being yourself in any stage of life is always complex and difficult if liberating.
    I worry sometimes if there really is a place for me in this kind of judgmental world, but then, Meg, you write something like this and I am reminded that there are others with the same hopes of just doing the best that we can. Thank you for being yourself and having the strength to tell us about it. <3

    • Ashley Meredith

      What I love about APW, and especially the discussions, is the way you’re reading along and suddenly realize something new and interesting and a bit tangential. I was reading your comment and realized:

      My life would be a lot easier if I did identify myself as a wife. I hadn’t really considered before whether I do or not, but I don’t and I probably never will. While I wouldn’t undo my marriage, I miss being single, a lot. I miss having total control over my own life and choices, doing what I want, when I want, without having to consider someone else’s feelings and wants and needs. (Side note: I do worry: if I feel this way about marriage, how could I EVER be a mother, which requires all that to the nth degree?) I am sure that being pushed and challenged in these ways is making me a better person, and I would like to be a better person, even if that means being pushed and challenged, so, fine. But it occurs to me that our marriage would probably be much smoother and happier for at least the next 15-20 years if I DID identify as a wife rather than being just Me. It would make life so much simpler. I could never choose that path… but maybe I get now why there’s some societal pressure that way? And, by extension, to make motherhood a primary identity? It kind of glosses over a lot of the conflict of finding the balance, which is attractive, but in my view finding the balance is where greatness lies.

      • http://brokensaucer.blogspot.com/ sera

        I don’t want to say the wrong thing here. I certainly have days where I wish I had no one to expect anything from me, that I could just do what I wanted on a whim. But, I wouldn’t trade that for the love I feel for having someone worry about me or appreciate the kind and conscientious gestures I may make. I don’t think choosing to identify as a wife would make being a wife any easier. Somehow I have a feeling that your strong will and independence is something that your husband loves about you. If he wanted a someone to bend to his every whim and make him martinis when he got home from work, perhaps he would have chosen a different wife. Please, PLEASE, continue to define yourself as YOU and don’t lament over a vague unattainable identity of wife.

  • Janna

    This is kind of missing the point of your piece (which I loved)… but where did you get your sparkly sequin dress? I’ve been looking for one…

    • Meg Keene

      Forever 21 for $30, of course. I mean, it’s always on the verge of shredding, but…

      • Janna

        That’s perfect. Although that means I have to brave Forever 21…

  • JenClaireM

    Thank you so much for this. Being recently married and at the point of contemplating children, I get terrified by the idea of parenthood as this overwhelming, totally consuming thing, so it is so good to hear a perspective where motherhood isn’t your primary identity. And also this: “I’m trying to prove to myself that motherhood doesn’t have to be an overwhelming burden.” I really need to hear that that’s possible, and I’m so grateful that you’re writing about it.

    I also really appreciate hearing that motherhood is joyful and one of the best things you’ve done. I feel like that element of parenting gets left out of a lot of the social media sharing and writing about how hard being a parent is. And for those of us who are contemplating it, it’s really good to be reminded that it’s not all exhaustion and expense, that there are parts of the experience that are awe-inspiring and amazing and worth it.

    • http://brokensaucer.blogspot.com/ sera

      It’s true. Social media seems to reflect either a) being a mother is amazing because “I” present being a mother as easy and perfect, or b) being a mother is terrible because of all of these reasons.
      I recently heard an article on NPR which talked about the study that gauged people’s happiness as lower if you don’t have kids than if you do. But the questions asked to those who were polled did not include anything about joy. I think joy is actually different than happiness because happiness is thought of as something to be achieved as an overall state of being, while joy is actually fleeting moments of pure uninterrupted happiness, like the actual moment when you laugh out loud or smile so much your cheeks hurt. Moments of my wedding were pure joy, and I hope that, if I do have a child, there will be moments of joy as well.

  • Kate V

    This is so incredible. An inspiration!

  • http://www.peacelovemusicgrows.com/ Emily Hackethorn

    Love this post, Meg! Happy Birthday, Mama & Baby!

  • Laura

    There was recently a really interesting documentary about expectations placed on mothers called “The Motherload” available on the CBC here (unfortunately you can only stream it if you’re in Canada): http://www.cbc.ca/player/Shows/ID/2429069222/

    Three quotations from this documentary really resonated with me:

    1. “Motherhood is the unfinished business of feminism.” Studies show that while men and women are on a fairly even university and workplace trajectory in their late teens and early twenties, as soon as women hit the average societal childbearing age (mid-20s to mid-30s) their participation in the workforce, and their salaries, plummet. Workplaces are not designed to accommodate the fact that people, especially women, have other demands on their time.

    2. “Working mothers today actually spend MORE time with their children than stay at home moms did in the 1960s.” I was really surprised by this, but the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. Moms today are under so much pressure to do EVERYTHING with their children and for their children, which rationally makes no sense, since our kids’ chances of getting into Harvard will not be materially altered by us feeding them baby food out of a jar instead of puréeing organic vegetables.

    3. “Women today bring the professionalism they can no longer bring to the workplace to the management of their homes. They are CEOs as well as moms.” This statement was spoken as a voiceover while showing an image of one mom who had colour-coded spreadsheets of her children’s after-school childcare arrangements. That statement really hit me hard because, although I don’t have children yet, I definitely recognized myself as somebody who could view my own role as mother this way. I will be reflecting on this seriously as my husband and I start trying to get pregnant (not that being organized is bad, but I’m not sure my family should have a CEO).

  • http://www.bsinthemidwest.com Brianne Sanchez

    Love the line about motherhood not being your “primary identity.” I have an 8-month old and that’s totally how I feel.

  • Hayden

    Longtime reader and lurker here, making my comment debut on APW just to say I love hearing your perspective on motherhood. My pregnancy was also not what I expected–I got gestational diabetes despite having zero risk factors for it, I had a 40 hour labor with no progress and finally an emergency C, despite studying Hypnobirthing and deeply desiring a “natural” birth. Then my baby was a lazy nurser, not gaining weight, and I had to start supplementing with formula 2 months in (after agonizing and nursing/pumping constantly). It was hard, and I’m not going to say I accepted it all with equanimity. But what has surprised me the most is how much I have found myself going with the flow in terms of day to day parenting. I’m an anxious person but that anxiety has not transferred to motherhood–I just enjoy it (my kid is 7 months old today) and frankly, I wasn’t sure I would. Like you, I find myself doing everything in my power to make it enjoyable and to feel happy, because I want to like my life and I want my son to see me happy and productive. I know it’s possible, too, because my mother was and is someone who vigorously enjoys life, while also being an extremely nurturing and supportive parent. I have days where I feel guilty or insecure, but overall, I find myself easily letting go of things that vaguely seem like a good idea–e.g. cloth diapering, baby-led weaning–but that I just don’t have time to research or implement. I’m not saying these things aren’t valuable in themselves–I’m sure they are–but I have been stunned by how easy it is to just do what works for me and let the rest go. That’s not a luxury I’ve ever really allowed myself in any area of my life….I’m so Type A. But I’m finding a lot of peace in my new role as a mother, despite the undeniably more stressful day-to-day logistics of being a parent.

  • Laura

    I love these posts because they make me feel hopeful that whether we decide to have kids or not, and whether one of us decides to be a stay-at-home parent, etc. That we can reclaim parenthood to fit ourselves and our children and to make our family reflect our values, whatever that looks like. I am tucking these “mommy” posts away for when it’s time to wrap my brain around this.

  • Julie

    Discussions like these make my head hurt. Why must everything be a competition? I am an old mom, who successfully raised three kids. I am the mom who did not schedule playdates, extra-curricular activities, or every waking minute of my children’s lives. Did I work with them? Of course. But they got to be kids until they started school.

    Is your child clean? Does he/she have food to eat? A roof over their head? Parents who care enough to work with them and see that they’re safe? Is the house clean? (Child clutter doesn’t count.) Then you’re golden. Each child is different, and your parenting approach will be different with each. If you’ve got the basics covered, stop beating yourself up. It doesn’t help.

    Comparing yourself to other parents is not productive. Everyone’s battles are different, and appearances are deceiving.

    You don’t have to participate in whatever competition is going on.

  • Anna Plumb

    I don’t think I’ve commented or emailed since I sent you a email with a fist-bump for us both becoming female parents, back when we were both pregnant. And I’ve been bad about keeping up because it turns out that non work-related internet is the thing I sort of abandoned post-kid (just ask Marchelle).

    But I love that whenever I check in I get to read something like this, and know that you are doing well, and also that you are going through a lot of things I am going through. You write about things in a way that makes sense and articulates a lot of what I’m experiencing (I hope that is empathizing, and not minimizing).

    One thing that that I know you are saying that I wanted to comment on is the gratefulness for being in a place in my life where I am *able* to be a non-harried mother. We have four (soon to be five as my mother in law is moving here) grandparents and two siblings in town, plus tons of friends who will babysit. We both have jobs that allow us enough flexibility for doctors appointments, and we have an excellent daycare option that we can afford. With all of this bountiful luck, I do feel like I should make an effort to be a happy, fulfilled (in non-motherhood relationships and work) mother. It entails a lot of repetitive motion (like cleaning up toys every night because I believe having a glass of wine in a clean living room once the kid goes to bed), but it doesn’t involve the kind of stress that would come from economic insecurity or a lack of community. So when I am having a day where I feel like a failure, or think I will kill myself i I have to wash another bottle, I try and remember how fucking lucky I am (while also allowing myself to hate washing bottles).

    other random things upon which we are potentially in agrement:
    – WHY WOULD YOU EXPECT KIDS TO LIKE FOOD WITHOUT SALT IN IT? Have you had food without salt? IT IS NOT YUMMY. My 10 month-old just ate spicy pork ribs and it was awesome. Flavor > bland, people.
    – I had the “I should be making all this food” guilt for a little bit until my mother, who started a natural food store, told me repeatedly how insane I was. She basically yelled, “HAVE YOU SEEN THE AWESOME BABY FOOD THAT IS OUT THERE? YOU WORK FULL TIME! GET THE BABY FOOD AND SHUT UP! And I was all, “oh, right. That’s fair.” He is starting to want more real food instead of purees, though, and I’m having multiple panic attacks thinking about how to plan three healthy meals for a child. I can’t plan meals for myself! How in the frick do a feed a child and train him to be a good eater if I willingly eat beans and rice for days if left to my own devices. Where is that damn french daycare when I need it.

    I’m sorry this is so long. Apparently I’m just gonna comment every six months and have it be a bizarre manifesto that makes me look insane (sigh).