My Defining Moment As a Parent Was One of Non-Definition

Apollo and Diana Attacking the Children of Niobe
Apollo and Diana Attacking the Children of Niobe Jacques-Louis David, 1772 (Via Wikimedia Commons)

Many parents come to a place of reflection where they look back at their child-raising adventures thus far and consider their defining moment, or moments, in parenthood. In my case, it only hit me that I had arrived here upon letting go of the notion that I needed to have such a defining moment.

Being Mommy was really a novelty at first. I’m sure it’s this way for most of us. I really never envisioned myself as a mother, even though I strangely suspected that I would have little ones in tow one day. Maybe I thought this because it’s what most of us are expected to do.

But at some point I was compelled to reproduce, and it happened. And it was fun, and difficult. But preparing to play mommy was, well, exactly that: playing a role, almost like it wasn’t real. I mean, the baby was real. I knew that much. I was very comfortable with Mackenzie from the beginning. Don’t hate me for saying that. It’s not to brag, but I was surprised by the fact that I did not struggle to adjust to caring for a newborn. “You don’t seem like a new mother. You seem to really have the hang of everything.” That was the nurse at the first pediatrician visit. I didn’t want it to get to my head, but inside I glowed with pride.

You know what though? I felt like a mother, but only because I knew that’s what had happened. It was still like playing house, with someone playing the baby now. It was as if Mackenzie was going to stand up on her own and tell me she had to go home now, and we’d be putting our toys away while our moms, the real moms, shuttled us home for dinner, bath and bedtime.

In the days that followed her birth, as in the days that had preceded it, I defined myself as Mackenzie’s mom by doing things that I thought I should be doing as a result. I chatted with internet strangers about nap schedules, daycares and babywearing. I was ecstatic about my homebirth experience, even though it had hurt like hell, and started talking to pregnant and TTC (that’s internet speak for “trying to conceive”) women about it everywhere I went. I became a champion pumper. I tried cloth diapering in an attempt to cut down on waste. (I failed, FYI.) I was proud to be a new mom, and I thought about it all the time. I even started writing for a parenting blog, heh. Motherhood became the focus on my life, with everything else a sort of dreamy afterthought.

Toddlerhood then descended upon our young family, and with it came the toddler’s baby sister. Work issues happened. Life was messier, and more frustrating. I lost sight of the signposts ahead, telling me where I was supposed to turn next. Suddenly I couldn’t remember why I wanted a second child so quickly following the first. She was not a mistake, but I felt like I had done something wrong nonetheless. And all at once, I didn’t think about parenthood as a status anymore, because I was too panicked over how I was going to make all the pieces of my life fit together again. Suddenly those pieces were bloated and overstuffed, like when you pull a new bag of cereal out of its box, pour yourself a bowl, and then try to shove it back in. That box always puffs out like the cereal wasn’t meant to go in there, as counterintuitive as that is because you’ve actually just taken some of it out. That’s what I felt had happened to me, suddenly and sadly. Giving up so much of my life to two very young children felt like I had lost some of my contents, and when I tried to stuff everything back inside, I got frustrated that nothing seemed to fit right anymore, and I was just bloated and uncomfortable. Alright then, this is a terrible analogy. But I think some of you will understand.

The struggle to stuff all the parts of my life back into a deformed box made me remember something important, however. That was the very fact that I indeed had other pieces that made up my life, other than parenting. Being the mother of my girls, and maybe even that Universal Mother concept I had in my head and was attempting to emulate, was now a huge part of my life, but not the only one. Somehow I had lost sight of that. Motherhood would forever be an essential part of who I am, yet it did not define me.

So the irony is that it was only when I stopped trying to live the definition of motherhood, or at least my vision of it, that I had my defining moment as a parent. At this very moment, I looked around and observed that I have a kid in preschool learning to read, a toddler who is potty training, a husband reading the kids a bedtime story while I type this post, a career I considered abandoning before doing a 180 and committing to seeing it through, and a multitude of other things that will completely overwhelm me if I think about them too hard. But as daunting as this life is, it is mine and the mommy thing is only one part of it. That is the way it is supposed to be, for me, and it feels good knowing that I don’t need a defining moment to appreciate my parenthood journey.


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