Monday, April 17, 2017

It's okay to have motherhood as your identity

When I first became a mother, I thought I had lost my identity.

Suddenly, what I cared about was no longer allowed to be important. The person I used to know felt muted as I spent my days changing diapers, making bottles, cleaning up spit up, and getting up at hours I didn't want to get up. Our baby was certainly cute and fun, and motherhood had always been a dream of mine, but was motherhood "enough"? Wasn't there "more to me" than simply a diaper changer and a bottle washer?

I just wondered what it all meant. Why was this supposed to be so fulfilling?

I went back to school when my oldest was three years old, and I had a few hours every day where I was my "old self" as I attended classes and meetings for my masters program. It was an awkward time for me as I tried to reconcile "my independent identity," the person I was before motherhood (a leader, jokester, self-absorbed, but studious) and "mother Ashley" (someone whose hours were spent in constant service to little people with few opportunities for the limelight). Now that I had time to be both identities, I didn't know how to mesh them together. As time progressed, however, I realized I didn't want to be that old girl anymore. That old girl, while she received approving nods for her contributions and was well liked by her peers, missed real opportunities to make a contribution. In reality my student-self was less effective than I had previously given myself credit for. My experience as a mother had made it possible for me to contribute more of the things that really counted: humility and hope, faith and charity.

That old girl had never been brought to her knees, completely humbled because she felt at a total loss at a child's wild and unruly behavior.

She'd never felt like she was failing at something only she could do.

She'd never spent days upon days at her breaking point: a noise level that was intolerable, the house thick with messes, and kids who wouldn't sleep-- wanting out, wanting to give up and give in, and yet knowing she had to keep going.

No, she'd never done anything like that. She'd never been privileged to be the servant of someone day in and day out. She hadn't done anything that could truly knock some of those rough, selfish edges off of her heart.

Motherhood had made me better, not robbed me of my identity.

I know many women who have more than one "identity" and they balance them beautifully: career woman, business owner, artist, nurse, professor, writer, AND mother. But I also know now from my deeply personal experience that when somebody asks you what you do you can say, "I am a mother" and say it with pride and a smile on your face. Because motherhood broke me. It changed me. There's more to me now than there ever was before. I love in a different way now. I grieve in a different way now. I'm kinder, gentler, more patient, more understanding, more forgiving, more caring, and more hopeful.

To think that I could be given all of that in exchange for my "identity"!

Our Savior taught, "Whosoever shall lose his life, shall find it." It's a promise to all who sacrifice. Every time you give up sleep, every time you rock that feverish baby, every time you make dinner when you're dead tired, and every time you change the laundry for the 1000th time, it changes you. You have to opportunity to become something new. You get to become somebody new. You become more like your Savior. You'll more intimately know the One who gave up everything for you.

And your new identity--who you are--becomes more of a contribution than any earth shattering idea or worldly praise could. Because you'll be someone who deeply understands hope for tomorrow, because you've used it in your own life. You'll be somebody who has really used faith and humility. And you'll be somebody who's reaped the benefits of charity because you've given of yourself in a way that no way but motherhood can provide.

Being a servant, being Christ's hands for His children on this earth is more identity-expanding than any other activity you could engage in.

When you become a mother, you don't need to mourn the loss of the girl who once was. Instead you can celebrate the girl who you have become, or who is yet to be: one with first-hand experience in faith, hope, humility, and charity-- all divine attributes of our Oldest Brother. I am grateful to be a partner with him in raising His children. And I am so grateful I have motherhood as my identity.

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