There is a question, a common question, that I detest.
It's an innocent question, asked by people I've just met at a dinner party, a playgroup or committee meeting. I meet someone, we engage in the perfunctory and polite introductions, there is that awkward lull, and then I'm asked The Question:
"What do you do?"
I shuffle my feet uncomfortably, my mind casting around for an answer.
"Umm, er, I'm a Mom?" I say, shrugging apologetically.
Why do I feel so apologetic about saying I'm a Mom - like I should have a better, more interesting response? For some reason it feels wrong to answer that question with lively bits of information about myself - how I have a little jewelry business or I love to write - because that doesn't feel like I'm answering the question properly. Once I say I'm a mother, though, the conversation is always about the kids. Always. I feel like I slip into a kind of invisibility, like I'm an anecdote or an afterthought.
When someone asks me what I do, my subconscious starts screaming: I do everything and nothing! Why, what's it to you?
For some reason, that question feels like a challenge hurled at my feet. I'm defensive about it.
I'm learning, in recovery, to pay attention to things that make me defensive, because behind the defensiveness lurks something I'm not paying attention to, something I'm not owning.
It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out why it's a mine field for me, this innocent question. It's because I spent most of my adult life, my pre-kid life, answering that question without giving it a second thought. "Me? Oh, I'm an Executive Recruiter for a Global Firm," or "I'm a District Manager for an Insurance Company." Easy peasy. I didn't get all shuffley and apologetic.
I get prickly because I feel like I should be all chest-thumpy about being a mother, that I should want to wear it like a badge of honor. I can't say the truth: Oh, Jeez. You had to ask. Well, I'm raising two beautiful kids and that should be enough, right? But it doesn't always feel like enough, but I feel like it SHOULD be enough and I feel a little lost some days. I think I'm having an identity crisis. I'm trying to strike that balance between being a Mom and Having A Life. I have a right to both, right? Don't you think so?
So I just talk about the kids. It's simpler, really.
What we do doesn't define who we are, it doesn't paint the full picture, and yet we wrap our identities around it, measure our own worth around it. When I worked in Corporate America this didn't bother me, because I could shed what I did like a cloak and do something else anytime I wanted to.
Becoming a mother has changed the game on me. It comes naturally to wrap my identity up in what I do, but motherhood isn't something I can ever shed like a cloak. Nor would I want to. But it's a journey to learn how to be a Mom and not lose myself in the process. I drank over this for years, feeling stuck and resentful, like I wasn't allowed to be anything but a Mom. Even when I worked, I was the Mom Who Worked. I mourned the loss of my free, independent and ever-changing identity.
Now I'm a Mom Who Makes Jewelry and Writes. The only difference is I have acceptance that I'm a Mom first. I embrace it, now. It doesn't define me, it's just the Most Important Thing.
If it were up to me, though, I'd eliminate that question - what do you do? - entirely. From now on, I wish everyone would ask: "What are you becoming?"
Because that's what really matters.